March 13, 2011

ZHANG ZUO plays Bach, Haydn, Schumann, Liszt, Chopin, Ginastera


BACH: Partita No.1 BWV 825
HAYDN: Piano Sonata Hob.XVI.40
SCHUMANN: Symphonic Etudes
CHOPIN: Etude Op.10 #10
GINASTERA: Piano Sonata No.1
2009 Cleveland Int'l Piano Competition

SCHUMANN: Abegg Variations
LISZT: Piano Sonata in B minor
CHOPIN: Etude Op.10 #7
2009 Fort Worth, Texas

Zhang Zuo, piano

It is a very subjective thing, I'm sure, but I just can't resist Zhan Zuo's personality which shines through everything she plays: sunny, happy, boisterous, and absolutely in love with the piano. (Unlike so many pianists, especially among competition constestants, Zuo shows not a trace of an adversarial relation with the instrument.)  She has a splendid technique, but does not seem to care too much about an occasional finger slip (of which there are next to none), which only ads to the natural feel of her piano playing.  What I found especially impressive in her playing is a palpable sense of structural continuity communicated in the large scale works - Symphonic Etudes and, especially, the Liszt Sonata.  This is not to say that the continuity comes at the expense of details and transitions.  These elements are given just enough emphasis, rather than being heavily perfumed.  In fact, I felt that the most Romantic elements of these works had a lighter, almost Schubertian flowing lyricism.  (It helps that Zuo's beautifully rounded tone never becomes milky in piano or clangorous in forte.)  I keep returning to these performances again and again with undiminished admiration for Zuo's musicianship.
      Her Haydn sonata is the only strange performance: the first movement (marked 'innocent' by Haydn) is played with no inflection and sounds strikingly matter-of- fact compared to everything else.  I'd guess she probably wanted to set the contrast for the "release" which comes with the finale. Strange performance, but at least she was experimenting, which makes it more interesting for me than all those many coy, precocious, porcelain Haydn sonatas I've heard over the years.

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