HAYDN: Piano Sonata No. 60 in C Major, Hob.XVI: 50; SCHUMANN: Carnaval, Op. 9; LISZT: Sonetto 104 del Petrarca; Concert Paraphrase on Verdi’s Rigoletto; LEON KIRCHNER: Piano Sonata No. 1 – Young-Ah Tan, piano – MSR Classics MS 1375 [Distr. Albany], 69:07 ***(*):
This is certainly an ambitious program, mostly very well played, and the only thing that keeps it from receiving a four-star recommendation is Young-Ah Tan’s Schumann. There’s so much competition in Carnaval that she would have to have something new to say in the work for her performance to register fully. As it is, this is a highly competent rendition, but it might have been more prudent to include a piece less central to the Schumann canon—maybe Davidsbündlertänze or Humoreske. Nonetheless, Tan is fleet-footed (or fingered) and ever-sensitive to Schumann’s poetry, but compared to, say, Eric le Sage’s mostly well-received version on Alpha, Tan’s version is somewhat missing in éclat especially in the brilliant final pages, and she has a tendency to over-pedal, a habit that puts a damper (no pun intended) on the Préambule.
But then there’s the fact that Tan boldly tackles the music of three centuries and shows equal affinity for all. She takes one of Haydn’s grandest, most taxing sonatas (along with Sonata No. 62), written for the German-born English virtuoso Therese Jansen, and turns in a performance that’s stylish, alive with nuance and flair. Her Allegro molto finale isn’t as molto as I’ve heard in other interpretations, but then again, the slower tempo doesn’t lessen the stature of the movement—indeed, it tends to make it seem less pert than Jenő Jandó does in his lightning-quick rendition on Naxos.
After this work that takes us to the heights of late–Classical era rigor, it’s good to observe that Tan is as comfortable with Liszt’s effusive, heart-on-sleeve brand of Romanticism. This music is thrice familiar and available in dozens of recorded renditions, but Tan is not outclassed here. She captures all the stagey swagger of Liszt’s Verdi tribute, the inwardness and longing of the Sonetto 104 del Petrarca. Here, she compares entirely favorably with my benchmark recording by Louis Lortie (on Chandos).
Perhaps the most useful inclusion is the bracingly acerbic Sonata by Tan’s teacher Leon Kirchner. This piece is certainly not new to recordings; there’s a classic version by Leon Fleisher (available from ArkivMusic) that’s undoubtedly a barn-burner. But then so, pretty much, is Tan’s version. She sets out on a mission wherein she’s resolved to take no prisoners, and her steely virtuosity stands her in good stead throughout the tough pages of Kirchner’s Sonata. The disc would be just about worth acquiring on the strength of this performance, but then the Liszt and Haydn interpretations help to make this an appealingly varied program to boot.
MSR’s sonics are bright and very immediate; this is mostly a very good piano recording, though there is just a hint of edginess or glare to the sound, which may tend to accentuate (to her detriment) the effects of Tan’s pedaling in the Schumann. Cutting back on the volume helps a good bit; a slight treble cut will help even more. A small matter, as far as I’m concerned. This is a fine showcase for Young-Ah Tan’s considerable talents, and I recommend it to one and all.
In celebration of 150 Years, Vaughan Williams!