Notes and Editorial Reviews
Before discussing this disc, I need to make a disclaimer. In 2006 I was one of three people judging the annual Kosciuszko Foundation competition for young pianists. We were all but bowled over by the then-16-year-old Claire Huangci, whose effortless technique and deep musicality consistently surpassed her fellow competitors, earning our unanimous votes for first prize. Now 24 (as of March 22, 2014), Huangci has been developing a busy international career filled with concerto engagements and recital dates. For her solo recital CD debut, Huangci serves up two beloved ballet suites arranged for piano. The performances largely reveal the high degree to which her remarkable natural facility has musically ripened.
Pletnev’s transcription of the Tchaikovsky Sleeping Beauty Concert Suite has become something of a repertoire staple among younger pianists. Not only does Huangci match Pletnev’s own recording for sheer virtuosic aplomb and alluring tone color, but she also brings her own ideas to the table. For example, she takes “The Singing Canary” at a faster tempo, and with almost no pedal; conversely, she holds the tempo back in the movement depicting Little Red Riding Hood and the Wolf and makes the bass-register clusters sound much more vicious. The grand Mazurka finale may lack Pletnev’s infectious rhythmic snap, but Huangci’s compulsively detailed dynamic shadings more convincingly evoke Tchaikovsky’s diverse instrumentation.
A Distinctive Recital Debut from Claire Huangci
Aside from a few places where Tchaikovsky’s syncopated accents don’t register as clearly as they should, you easily could dance to Huangci’s deliberate and carefully calibrated reading of Pletnev’s Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy transcription.
In the Prokofiev Romeo and Juliet Suite, Huangci’s multi-leveled leggiero articulation in the opening Folk Dance commands attention, although she doesn’t observe the composer’s small tempo adjustments in the following Allegretto. While there’s something to be said for Huangci’s graceful, contained way with the Minuet, I find that Andrei Gavrilov’s heavier-gaited touch and more forceful accents better convey the music’s sardonic subtext. The Young Juliet’s rapid scales are impeccably dispatched, and if they don’t quite scamper with abandon, Huangci compensates with brilliantly defined left-hand chords and counterlines.
You could make a pianistic case for Huangci’s wistful, sustained approach to the Dance of the Girls with Lillies, but again, Gavrilov’s dry-point articulation and sparse pedaling is closer to the composer’s orchestral sound world. He also achieves the near-impossible feat of playing the three opening staccato 16th-notes so that they sound both detached and pedaled at the same time, as Prokofiev marks them. Although Vladimir Ashkenazy’s reference recording ultimately takes top honors for tonal warmth and sharper attention to detail, Huangci’s affinity for the composer’s underestimated lyric gift makes itself felt in every bar. In all, a highly distinctive debut from an emerging and blossoming keyboard talent, and I look forward to Huangci’s upcoming all-Scarlatti release.
-- Jed Distler, ClassicsToday.com Read less
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