Tuesday, 26 March 2013

Live Review: Sonia Chan (March 2nd 2013)

Sonia Chan
Virtuosi Concerts
Eckhardt-Grammaté Hall
March 2nd 2013
Four and a half stars

Reviewed by Paul R. McCulloch

It’s always a treat to hear the pure sound of the piano unaccompanied by strings or woodwinds. On March 2nd, Canadian pianist Sonia Chan reminded an enraptured audience at the Eckhardt-Grammaté Hall of her instrument’s potent ability. With a style at once polished and genuine, Chan took emotional pieces and made them her own.

The evening began with Bach-Busoni’s Wachet auf, ruft unds die Stimme, BWV645, which began quietly and then blossomed into a more lively middle section filled with dazzling high register runs and leaps from one octave to another. Chan’s passionate interpretation and technical virtuosity were immediately apparent. After the last notes of the Bach-Busoni, Chan leapt uninterrupted into Haydn’s Sonata in E-flat major, Hob. XVI:51, which featured spellbinding passages in the Allegro before settling into a more contemplative mood with the melodic Adagio and finishing off with a nimble and delightful Finale – Presto.

Her next selections, Chopin’s first two Impromptus – No. 1 in A-flat major, Op. 29 and No. 2 in F-sharp major, Op. 36, were a joy to hear. Chan’s love for the Polish composer showed in the way she made the pieces’ dark, powerful melodies her own. Chan then treated the audience to a fiery performance of Chopin’s Ballade No. 1, a selection added to the program in place of the final two Impromptus.

Chan noted after the concert that her inclusion of the Ballade was a personal choice inspired by ‘stormy’ feelings and the piece’s defiant, courageous tone. The change made the evening feel like an intensely personal and intimate encounter, a conversation between artist, composer and audience.

This relationship was strengthened during Schubert’s Sonata in G major, Op. 78, D.894. The exquisite Molto moderate e cantabile felt like poetry in motion with its smooth, lyrical passages interspersed with delicate waltzes. Andante was heartfelt and dynamic; Chan pulled off fiery cadenzas and feather-light interludes with style, a deftness that carried over into the showstopping Menuetto – Allegro moderato, bringing joy and sorrow together in a heady combination, and the spellbinding Allegretto as finale.
The audience rewarded Chan with a sustained standing ovation and many rapturous calls for an encore. In gratitude, she offered the gorgeous Von fremden Ländern und Menschen -"Of Foreign Lands and Peoples"- from Schumann's Kinderszenen. The gentle lullaby served as both a contrast to the dramatic Schubert and a wonderful end to a spectacular concert.

Update 08/05/13: You can listen to CBC Radio 2's recording of this amazing concert here.

Wednesday, 20 March 2013

Recent Book and Music Reviews

I've had several book and concert reviews published in print and on the web in the last few weeks. I figured that it would be best to link to all of them in a single post for ease of access.

I reviewed Keeping Bedlam at Bay in the Prague Cafe by Budapest-based American writer M. Henderson Ellis for the Winnipeg Free Press. Keeping Bedlam at Bay is currently a featured book at McNally Robinson Grant Park and displayed alongside some literary heavy hitters (Richard Ford, for instance).You can read my review online here.

I also reviewed Wise Men by Stuart Nadler, an up-and-coming U.S. literary talent, for the Free Press. Despite its placid cover, the book is a great read and recommended for anyone interested in '60s and '70s America and the tumultuous events that were occuring at the time. You can read my review online here.

Image from vinceho.com.

I was delighted and incredibly honoured to learn that my review of the closing night of this year's New Music Festival has been added to the websites of Composer-in-Residence for the Winnipeg Symphony Orchestra Vincent Ho, and legendary Scottish percussionist Dame Evelyn Glennie.

Ho and Glennie collaborated on a highly emotional piece, "From Darkness to Light: A Spiritual Journey," that premiered during the concert. The work, inspired by a friend of Ho's recent battle with cancer, was one of the most moving and powerful pieces I've ever heard.  The Festival as a whole this year was spectacular, and I'm already looking forward to next year.