A piano recital from a superbly well-prepared young man who obviously enjoyed his playing

Waikanae Music Society presents:
Lixin Zhang – a piano recital

CHOPIN – Ballade No. 1 in G Minor Op.23
Piano Sonata No. 3 in B Minor Op.58
Nocturne in C Minor Op.48 No.1
MOZART – Piano Sonata in C Major K.330
LISZT – Vallée d’Obermann No.6 from “Years of Pilgrimage Bk.1 S.60

Lixin Zhang (piano)

Memorial Hall, Waikanae

Sunday, 1st August, 2021

I, and the larger than usual audience, came to this concert with huge expectations. Lixin Zhang is a young man of 19 who had cleaned up all the main piano competitions in New Zealand and was this year a Silver Medallist at the prestigious Gina Bachauer International Young Artists Piano Competition. And indeed, from the very first chords of the Chopin Ballade, or more importantly, from the first pause after the first chords, it was evident that we had an exceptionally talented young musician here. He played an old fashioned, traditional recital, with a large helping of Chopin, a little Mozart and finally Liszt; nothing more modern or adventurous, but then this was the core of the piano repertoire, and is what people expect at a piano recital.

Chopin Ballade No. 1 in G minor (Opus 23)

A Ballade is is a musical form virtually invented by Chopin. His Ballades are not settings of literary narrative poems, as they don’t have a coherent narrative. They “are music free in form, highly original in thematic development and harmony, with an astonishing varied musical palette” (from programme notes). Like Nocturnes, Scherzos, and even Polonaises, Chopin made this his own musical form. This Ballade is one of Chopin’s most popular works, used in a number of films. It starts with a boldly stated chord, then a pause. This pause determines the character of what is to follow, and with this pause Lixin Zhang asserted his vision of the piece. A dream-like passage followed the opening chord, but there was no trace of nostalgia in Lixin Zhang’s reading, He played it with a sense of freedom, yet giving the impression that he was just improvising the music. There was thought behind every note, every phrase. His playing was forceful when force was required, lyrical when a singing quality was called for. He brought out the brilliant treble passages with his rapid clear finger work, but not at the expense of the strong rhythmic base. He highlighted the dramatic contrasts. It was a well considered performance.

Chopin Piano Sonata No. 3 in B minor (Opus 58)

The last of Chopin’s three piano sonatas is a colossus among the sonatas written after Beethoven and Schubert. Though it adheres to the traditional sonata form, in four movements, it is a very complex work. It needs a pianist who can grasp the architecture and densely argued relationship of themes. The melodic lines contrast with powerful virtuoso passages. The first martial section of the sonata leads into a lyrical song-like second theme. Lixin Zhang’s piano sang beautifully, his phrasing was meticulously clear. He was undaunted by the meteoric fast passages of the second movement and brought alive the dramatic contrasts of the second theme. The heart of the sonata is the third movement, Largo, a Nocturne with its sorrowful undertone. Was it longing for Chopin’s Poland, or some other loss that the composer, in failing health, had in mind? – who knows? It is moving music straight from the heart. In Lixin Zhang’s hands this theme was like an aria, a gentle song. The last movement with its heroic subject is an exuberant rondo with great technical challenges, but Lixin Zhang coped with these effortlessly. Every note, every phrase was carefully considered, without losing a sense of spontaneity. A lot of thought went into this performance.

Mozart Sonata in C major (K330)

This one of Mozart’s most popular works for the piano, one of three sonatas he composed in 1783. It is a charming, playful work. Yet this playfulness required great control. The first movement is sprightly, requiring crisp articulation. The second movement recalled graceful operatic passages. The third movement was played at a fast clip – too fast, I first thought, but with Lixin Zhang’s clarity and sensitive phrasing, it proved just right. There was something almost childish in the way Mozart took delight in humour. Think of “The Marriage of Figaro”.

This piece showed another side of Lixin Zhang’s musicianship. This Sonata required a lighter touch than did the Chopin and Liszt works.

 Chopin Nocturne in C minor (Opus 48 No. 1)

A Nocturne, like a Ballade, is a musical form that Chopin made his own. This Nocturne is one of a pair, a short, modest little piece, but so moving, that you, the listener get caught up with it and perhaps even feel like singing or humming along with it. From the first note there is an air of expectation. Every note foreshadows some magical sequence. It was played convincingly. There was something old-fashioned about the reading, recalling pianists of the past, when pianists could afford to play with freedom giving vent to spontaneous feeling.

Franz Liszt Vallée d’Obermann, No.6 from “Year of Pilgrimage” Book 1  S.60

The Chopin Ballade and Nocturne shows the departure of early Romantic piano music from traditional musical forms. Liszt’s Vallée d’Obermann goes a stage further, finds a musical narrative in literature. It was inspired by a now largely forgotten novel of the same title and tells the “story of a young man enthralled, but also also overwhelmed, by his encounter with nature and the feelings of longing it engenders in him”. (Programme notes).  Liszt seeks to depict extra-musical ideas on the piano; landscape, emotion, transformation and consolation. He creates a soundscape, using a palette of tone colours. The music is improvisational, a challenge for the performer. He has to be able to depict different moods and emotional turmoil. Again, it is the gaps between notes that defines the music. Lixin Zhang’s playing was notable for its singing quality; not a note too harsh. He made the most of the wonderful Fazioli piano, arguably the best instrument in the region.

After the well deserved applause Lixin Zhang played Glinka’s Lark as an encore.

This was a sensational concert by a young artist. If you had never heard of him before, don’t worry, he should have a great future ahead of him. Full credit to the Waikanae Music Society for including this promising young artist in their concert series.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *