On August 10th, 2018 Robin Shoemaker once again hosted pianist Han Chen at his Central Park West salon.
Mr. Chen’s program consisted of his repertoire for an upcoming competition in Calgary, Canada.
Han Chen thanked Robin and guests for the opportunity to play these works before a live audience. He explained that this is an essential part of how a pianist prepares.
Schubert: Piano Sonata No. 19 in C Minor D. 958
From the semi-religious grandeur of the opening chords to the manic gallop of the last movement, Han Chen played Schubert’s Sonata with a driven energy that captivated his listeners. At times the rhythm of the piano was reflected in audience motion, as if people were feeling an urge to get up and dance.
On a sticky New York evening the keyboard can get slippery. A couple of times Mr. Chen had to dry his fingertips. He did this in the blink of an eye, with an arm gesture that looked like pianistic panache. If I had not been seated up front, I would have perceived it as Lang Lang style swagger.
Thomas Adès: Concert Paraphrase on Powder Her Face
Chen immersed himself in this contemporary work with conviction. He was fun to watch because his style is very expressive, but I did not understand Concert Paraphrase on Powder Her Face. Its erratic rhythms and pauses, drifting harmonies and apparent lack of melody left me feeling confused.
I reached out to Mr. Chen after the recital for insight. He explained that the work arose from an Adès opera, and talked about the appeal of the technical challenges of the work.
Franz Liszt: Reminiscences de Don Juan
Under Han Chen’s hands, this demanding work was entertaining and impressive. You can watch him perform it at the Rubenstein Competition (2017) on YouTube at CHEN Han | F. Liszt – Réminiscences of Don Juan, S. 418, Stage I.
On this evening at Central Park West he rose to the challenge literally, rising from the piano bench to put more emphasis into key moments. At one point he even seemed to snarl at the piano.
[encore] Glinka arr Liszt: Chernomor’s March from Ruslan and Lyudmila
I was surprised that Mr. Chen gave an encore after playing his full program with no break. This short and punchy work was a pleasant bonus, at times reminiscent of Mussorgsky.
Han Chen and the Honens Piano Competition
I first saw Han Chen play at Robin’s home in 2017. It was a remarkable event that you can read about in my post Pianist Han Chen at Central Park West. Han went on to reach the semi-finals of the 2017 Van Cliburn Piano Competition.
It was our great pleasure to be Han’s audience for this dry run for the 2018 Honens Piano Competition. His selection showcases his enormous power and virtuosity, affording him moments of triumph reminiscent of Lang Lang. He will do well at this competition.
And yet, the moments I personally liked most came during the Schubert Sonata, where Han’s keyboard alternately bubbled with joi-de-vivre and gleamed with serenity. If it is for young pianists like Han Chen to challenge us with new music such as Thomas Adès, it is for those of us at the other end of life’s spectrum to encourage Mr. Chen to share more of his reflective side.