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Mayron Tsong, one of UNC's remarkable new pianists*, cast new light on her special art in a wide-ranging recital presented in Hill Hall on January 14. She began with two short pieces by Rameau, whose music rarely turns up on piano recitals. The "Musette en Rondo" and "Le rappel des oiseaux," a contrasting work, are both from the master's Pièces de clavecin (1724), and thus they predate music normally played by keyboardists on big grand pianos. In the past, selections from this set served, occasionally, as encores. It was a delight to hear them at the outset of a program that spanned two centuries.
Haydn's sonatas turn up fairly rarely here, too, so the appearance of the C Major work known variously as the "English" Sonata or "The Clock" Sonata was noteworthy, and Tsong's performance of it brought out its classical charms in crisp detail. The slow movement was ravishingly beautiful, reminding us that there's more emotion and passion in Haydn's music than many regular concert attendees realize. (Perhaps it's due to too many routine performances, elsewhere....) Tsong played Haydn during her debut recital, in November 2003, so the fact that she returned to his music on this occasion gives hope for more in the future.
It was also revealing to experience her interpretation of Chopin's familiar Barcarolle, Op. 60. Her approach here — and elsewhere during the program, too — was somewhat restrained, permitting the lyricism of the music to emerge in ways it doesn't always.... One of the most remarkable things about this particular performance was the beauty — and clarity — of the inner voices. The reading embraced the audience and carried those present to a far-away and gentle place.
Prokofiev and Rachmaninov figured in Tsong's debut program and impressed then, so her renditions of two of the former's early Pieces, Op. 4 — "Réminiscences" and "Suggestion diabolique" — and of the latter's big Sonata No. 2 were eagerly awaited. In both cases, restraint won out over bombast, although there was plenty of sound, and the music was richly contrasted and shaded. The program was short enough that readings of the other two Prokofiev numbers might have been managed, but the bits performed were tantalizing enough. Like many contemporary artists, Tsong has forged a merger of the original (1913) and revised (1931) versions of Rachmaninov's Second Sonata, infused with some of the composer-sanctioned changes made by Vladimir Horowitz and then enhanced a bit more by the performer. This seems to be a piece that is anything but sacrosanct, so purists must merely accept the fact that each of the composer's own versions have charms, delights, and — yes — problems. We asked Tsong to relate the specific alterations she made, and she replied:
"The most substantial difference between my version and the Horowitz version ([...] a blend of the original 1913 version and the revised 1931 version) occurs in the last movement, which is essentially a rondo — loosely, my version is ABACAB-Coda. Horowitz cuts the C section. In my opinion, the inclusion of this section creates a larger arch to the form and makes a better transition from b minor to D Major. Another difference is in the first movement. I like to include measures 162-169 of the original version — [simply because] it's so gorgeous! ... I closely follow Horowitz's fusion of the original and revised versions for the end of the second movement because it is heart-breaking not to include the last page of the original. It is to die for!"
Concluding, Tsong quotes from the introduction to John Browning's edition, published by International:
"We know the virtues and beauties of the 1931 version, But, once we examine the 1913 version, we cannot help but fall in love with its many glories: the climax and sumptuous fortissimo chords in the first movement, the ravishingly beautiful last page of the second movement, and the dizzying virtuosic splendor of the finale."
As elsewhere, the performance allowed the music to glow from within without overwhelming with power and fireworks. There was plenty of exceptional technique, but it served the score's singing qualities — qualities that have been, in the hands of others, secondary to the music's undeniable virtuosity. As given, it was revealing, for it cast new light on one of the most important works for solo piano from the 20th century.
As it happened, we were privileged to hear this program — or most of it — twice, and she gave it at least one other time before the Hill Hall presentation. A week earlier, in a private home with an exceptional piano — in an exceptional room — Tsong performed before a small, invited audience. Seated close to the artist and her instrument, the sound was more immediate and stronger, in the smaller venue, so there were some differences in perceptions and listener responses. The point that matters here, however, is that every performance is different, so there were subtle changes in the readings between the run-out and the final concert. This is worth remembering when one has an opportunity to hear back-to-back performances — one might be better than the other or not, as the case may be, but they will most certainly not be exactly the same!
*UNC's other "new" pianist, Thomas Otten, performs with the Vega String Quartet on the William S. Newman Artists Series on January 22. See our Triangle calendar for details.