Huangci delivers a tour de force performance at Festival Miami

By Alan Becker

Claire Huangci performed solo works and Rachmaninoff's Piano Concerto No. 1 Sunday night at Festival Miami.

A year after taking first prize at the Chopin National Piano Competition, Claire Huangci drew thunderous applause from a packed house at Gusman Concert Hall Sunday night.

This Festival Miami concert easily belonged to this 20-year-old Curtis graduate and Rochester, New York resident. At times it was hard to believe that such a slender, petite woman could breathe such fire and brimstone and call forth the torrents of sound heard at the University of Miami venue.

Opening with the young Beethoven’s Rage Over a Lost Penny, Huangci took a speedy approach and pushed the Rondo even a little faster. At times it was a bit over the top, but the composer clearly intended the piece as a display vehicle to be hammered out without concern for his neighbors. This assault was effectively accomplished, although greater restraint on the pedal would have given it even more potency.

Chopin’s beautiful Ballade in G minor was executed with sweep and passion. The work’s tricky octave passagework, a challenge and frequent stumbling block, was taken head on without the usual caution. This was big-boned Chopin, violent and powerful of execution, and without the usual restraint found in many interpretations.

An unusual repertory choice was a Sleeping Beauty Suite as arranged by Russian pianist-conductor Mikhail Pletnev. No mere transcription, Pletnev’s arrangement of six sections from Tchaikovsky’s famous ballet was cast in the Horowitz mould, with notes flying in all directions, wild harmonic shifts, and thematic transformations.

To say that Huangci was up to all challenges would be an understatement, as she brashly tossed off these thrilling selections without making one ever think of the original orchestrations. Rethought strictly in pianistic terms, the music takes on an entirely different dimension and Huangci astounded on all levels in a tour de force performance.

During intermission the Frost Orchestra assembled for a performance of Rachmaninoff’s infrequently heard Piano Concerto No. 1 in F-sharp minor.  Written when the composer was still a student at the Moscow Conservatory, this Op. 1 was considerably revised shortly before he left Russia forever twenty-five years later. It bears the stamp of the mature Rachmaninoff since the revision followed his Second and Third Concerto. His trademark lush melodies are present, along with his unique, highly spiced chromatics and taste for keyboard diablerie.

Huangci was a marvel as she powerfully launched into this difficult music. Her fingers easily held their own as she piled on both the speed and sonority demanded by the composer. The easy breathing of the Andante Cantabile served as a respite from the crisp and glittering storm of sound coming from the keyboard.

The Frost Symphony has improved greatly during the past few years under the leadership of Thomas Sleeper. Ensemble was tight, and sections were largely blooper free. Kudos to the first horn and the bassoon for the fluency of their expressive solos, and to the strings for their clean intonation. If the group tended to swamp the piano at times, it could be largely attributed to the fcat that the hall is somewhat smaller than ideal for such a large group.

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Mon Oct 10, 2011
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