Yan Shen’s New York Debut
On Friday August 13th, Houston-based pianist Yan Shen made her New York debut at Robin Shoemaker’s NYC salon.
Her all-Chopin program consisted of 3 polonaises, 8 mazurkas, and a 25-minute sonata.
Chopin: Polonaise Op. 40 No. 1
At first the cultivated pomp of this polonaise seems grandiose. You can hear drums and marching armies, hence its nickname “Military Polonaise”.
But the polonaise is not really about glory. Instead, it reflects the dreams of Chopin’s Poland, a nation oppressed by opportunistic adversaries. At times Ms. Shen’s Polonaise hesitated with Shostakovich-like sarcasm, as if doubting the promise of those dreams.
Chopin: Mazurka Op. 6 No. 1-4
At the International Fryderyk Chopin Piano Competition everyone has to play mazurki. Some are slight works that leave little impression. Others are more consequential, but hard to recognize by Opus Number because Chopin wrote so many.
Op. 6 No. 1, however, is innately memorable. It has a delicious swirl to it, which Ms. Shen evoked with characteristic economy. Some pianists use leaps and hand-crossing as visual flair, but Ms. Shen just took them in stride.
Ms. Shen’s Opus 6 No. 3 also stood out. With its bright, declamatory opening and cute descending bass motif it was a clean, happy performance.
Chopin: Polonaise Op. 26 No. 1
This polonaise opens with Beethoven-like drama. before evolving to slower, more melodic passages. Ms. Shen seemed very much at home with this work, which is one of Chopin’s earliest polonaises.
Chopin: Mazurka Op. 68 No. 1-4
In Mazurka Op. 68 No. 2 Yan Shen’s rubato was more pronounced, adding sway to this delightful gem. It had exquisitely executed twirls reminiscent of those in Op. 6 No. 1. We also enjoyed Op. 68 No. 3, with its stop-start feel and the Bartok-like folk dance in the middle.
Chopin: Polonaise Op. 53
Known as the Heroic Polonaise, this technically demanding work is a concert favorite. Unlike the Military Polonaise, here Chopin’s grandeur is unforced, and Ms. Shen hammered out an impressive performance.
There were a couple of moments where the tempo seemed to run ahead of the pianist, but it must be hard to control one’s adrenalin when playing such stirring repertoire.
Chopin: Sonata No. 2
Chopin’s 2nd Sonata is an immense work and a personal favorite of mine. Yan Shen’s interpretation was spirited and intense from start to finish. Afterwards there was a moment of awed silence before applause broke out.
Steve Ho: Kung Fu Rhapsody
As an encore Ms. Shen played Kung Fu Rhapsody by contemporary Hong Kong composer Steve Ho. It starts with a pulsing, cartoonish thread that morphs into pentatonic melody before returning to its more energetic core. I found this work entertaining, but am not familiar with the movie that inspired it.
Chopin’s portrayal of grandeur was the anchor of this recital. Starting with the Military Polonaise, it evolved to the Heroic Polonaise, and culminated in Sonata No. 2. These works were interspersed with lighter fare, allowing the performer to pace herself and peak with her memorable rendition of Chopin’s Sonata No. 2.
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