Breathtakingly accomplished piano playing from Ya-Ting Liou at St. Andrew’s

St.Andrew’s Lunchtime Concert Series 2021

Dimitri Shostakovich: Prelude and Fugue No. 5 in D Major
Franz Schubert: Sonata in C minor, D. 958
Vladimir Horowitz: Carmen Fantasy (after Bizet)

Ya-Ting Liou piano

St. Andrews on the Terrace, Wellington

Wednesday, 21 July, 2021

Although Ya-Ting Liou is a regular visitor to Wellington and plays recitals all over New Zealand, she is hardly recognized among New Zealand’s best known pianists. This is undoubtedly due to her excessive modesty, because she is, without any doubt, technically the most accomplished pianist you are likely to hear.

She opened the programme with Shostakovich’s Prelude and Fugue No. 5. This is not Shostakovich of the Leningrad Symphony. This is Shostakovich introverted, meditating on Bach’s Preludes and Fugues. The Prelude is chorale like, the Fugue is like a clarion call. Ya-Ting Liou gave it a powerful, crystal-clear reading.

The Schubert is a grand powerful work written in the shadow of Beethoven, but Schubert was a very different composer. Whereas Beethoven’s mind set was dramatic Schubert’s was lyrical. He thought of songs, singable melodies. Ya-Ting Liou emphasized the dramatic quality of the piece, the grand chords, the contrasts at the expense of, what I thought, lyricism. It was a valid reading and I appreciated her impeccable playing, but I, with my Middle-European background, would have liked to have more singing, the song-like themes brought out more, with more flexible phrasing. It was a clear, consistent, but somewhat driven performance. Yet it is significant that the work is in C minor, the key of Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony, his Pathétique Sonata and his 32 Variations, works that suggest disquiet and restlessness and gloom.

The second movement, Adagio, has an air of sadness, while the third movement, Menuetto, is a graceful dance movement, but whatever lightness this might have suggested was banished by the furious Tarantella last movement heading towards darkness. This was Schubert making a grand statement, not the loveable little Schubert with a song in his heart, who was everybody’s friend.

Vladimir Horowitz’s Carmen Fantasy was the highlight of the concert. Horowitz was perhaps the last of the era of pianists basking in their ability to show off their brilliance. It was a time when every middle class home had a piano, many middle class girls, and indeed some boys struggled to master the piano that dominated the parlour. People valued, appreciated sheer virtuosity. Ya-Ting Liou’s playing was just simply breathtaking.

Seldom would one have the opportunity in a lifetime to hear such daemonic brilliance. Yet, when after the concert I complimented Ya-Ting Liou on her playing and complained that I couldn’t find any music played by her on YouTube, she said, with a self-effacing smile, that she couldn’t record anything to make it available for people anywhere,  because her playing is just not good enough – maybe in twenty years’ time!

We must really applaud this superb artist for her modesty. In the meantime make the most of any opportunity to hear her.

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