Pianist Ang Li chose an almost all-Liszt program for her debut Monday night at The Hyde Collection’s Helen Froehlich Auditorium as part of the 79th DeBlasiis Chamber Music Series. The concert was also a warm-up for her Dec. 18th Carnegie Hall Weill Recital Hall performance. Except for three works, everything she played in Glens Falls she’ll play in New York City.
This was not the first time Ang Li has performed locally. Now in her 20s, she performed twice as part of the Young Artist Forum in Niskayuna during her teens.
Although many pianists this year are presenting Liszt in celebration of the 200th anniversary of his birth, it’s another thing to offer so many of his works on one program, including transcriptions of three of Schubert’s songs. It made for too much of a good thing. All of them had great swirling masses of notes from fast arpeggios up and down the keyboard to tremolos and trills. These would underpin a lovely melody. They required brilliant and often virtuosic levels of technique with a bit of a poet to sing the songs.
Ang Li showed she had all the technique and more to handle the demands. She worked hard — none of the pieces was easy. She phrased as the music dictated and produced thunderous levels of sound. There was plenty of fire, but no warmth. Rarely did she linger, never did she dream.
Some of this could be blamed on the piano. It’s a very loud instrument with a bright, hard-edged tone. It’s difficult to get a genuine soft level, and to achieve a delicate quality to the sound takes either much work or isn’t possible. These problems could have interfered with Ang Li’s inspiration. How can an artist play on an instrument that won’t respond to what the artist hears in her head? But what happens between the notes is entirely up to the pianist.
She began with Liszt’s “Les jeux d’eau de la Villa d’Este.” Her technique was fluid and sparkled and she sung the melody well, but there was little playfulness. In Liszt’s transcriptions of Schubert’s “Wohin?”, “Der Mueller und der Bach” and Gretchen Am Spinnrade,” she spun out all the fast notes effortlessly but it was all getting to be too similar. By his Consolation No. 2 in E Major, the fast flowing streams had become too predictable. Only in his often played Consolation No. 3 in D-flat Major did some magic find its way in like a fairy’s touch.
Granados’ Allegro de Concierto, which should have had Spanish flair, sounded like Liszt with its rush of notes. The only real color change was in Alexina Louie’s “Memories in an Ancient Garden,” which had Ang Li strumming the inside of the piano’s strings, tone clusters and smudged tones.
Debussy’s four preludes glistened and shimmered but tempos were too brisk and impressions were lost. Liszt’s Ballade No. 2 in B minor thundered, but the inner section should have been more tender.
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