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REVIEW: Brilliant Young Musician An-Ting Chang's evening of fantasy

The latest in the Brilliant Young Musician series saw the return to St Peter's Church (26 May 2019) of the young pianist An-Ting Chang.   She graduated from the National Taiwan University with chemistry as her main subject and then decided the piano should be her career. 

She has completed her Master’s degree in piano at the Royal Academy of Music where she is currently enrolled as a PhD student. She has performed in many European concert venues and was last in Marlborough in 2016. 

In addition to her ‘conventional career’ she is involved with a new venture called Concert Theatre which combines the standard repertoire with multi media presentations - making good use of what the digital world offers. 

Not surprisingly, this was not a ‘conventional’ concert. She had called the recital An Evening of Fantasy and the pieces played were all Fantasies or Fantasias.  She opened the evening by describing the nature of a ‘fantasia’ Such a piece is described as being ‘free in form’, less formal, more spontaneous and organic and often with rapid changes in texture, harmony and dynamic range. 

So, we were presented with a range of ‘fantasies’ from Gibbons to Scriabin - as well as a fantasie she had written. 

The work opened with Mozart’s Fantasia in D Minor. Although written in 1782 this work remained incomplete when Mozart died in1791, so An-Tang played her own version of the ending.  Although the bulk of the work is in D Minor, the climax of the work is in D Major. 

The first part of the work has a very sombre opening, but eventually reveals a heartrending melody. Then the clouds lift and the remaining part of the work, in D major, is carefree and light-hearted.  An-Ting‘s playing was thoughtful, making the most of the dramatic shift in mood. 

Chopin composed his Fantasie in 1843 while staying with Georges Sand in Nohant, south of Paris. He was seriously ill at the time and this is clearly reflected in the music.   It is an extensive work opening with a sombre funeral march and then develops through a series of very different sections separated by clouds of arpeggios before culminating in a second and more ecstatic joyous march. 

Carl Philipp Emmanuel Bach was the second surviving and perhaps the most talented son of the great Johann Sebastian. His music is a bridge between the baroque period and the new classical tradition of Mozart and Haydn. 

His Fantasie in F Major certainly has it animated moments, beginning with a recitative, full of  baroque flourishes before settling into a leisurely melody similar to the  new classical style of Haydn, perhaps. The work finishes with another shimmering baroque flourish. An-Ting looked inspired as she wove her way through this complex work. 

Then came An-Ting’s own Fantasia. It was a lovely work. The opening is very mysterious, its atmosphere created by a repeated bass line, followed by a central section of great beauty and calmness before the repeated bass returns, the insistent calling bell, recreating the mysterious atmosphere with which the work ends.     

Orlando Gibbons was the leading composer in early seventeenth century England, building on the rich tradition of Byrd and Tallis.   He was a virtuoso keyboard player and wrote extensively not only for the keyboard, but also for viols in various combinations. This Fantasy shows off Gibbon’s mastery of the contrapuntal form. 

The many semiquaver passages and rich ornamentation require great agility and a lightness of touch not easy to replicate on a piano. Gibbons is said to have been ‘the best hand in England’ and An-Ting offered a superb interpretation of which Gibbons would have been proud.    

 The first half finished with the Tchaikovsky’s Romeo and Juliet Overture  which had been arranged for piano by An-Ting.  Most of us know the work and this interpretation, as a Fantasia for piano, was an interesting version. 

The scene is set with solemn and rich chords associated with the music of the Orthodox church before the angular and stirring section heralds the arrival of the warring Montague and Capulet families before Romeo and Juliet’s transcending love is revealed in that familiar beautiful melody. The overture works well as a piano piece and the variety of mood and narrative was beautifully expressed by An-Ting.      

The second half of the concert began with JS Bach’s great Chromatic Fantasie and Fugue BWV 903.  From the wonderful clarion call that opens the work through to the complex fugue we were on a different planet. 

In a programme of works by great masters, this was in a league part.  We knew it and so did An-Ting. The complex Fantasie with its ripping arpeggios and dramatic changes in character was played with the technical skill and insight JS Bach requires. 

This is then followed by a fugue based on a small group of semitones.  A gentle opening heralds a majestic and relentless progress towards the glorious conclusion. It was an awesome performance. 

Scriabin’s Fantasie in B Minor seemed very tame by comparison and not easy to absorb.  It is a ferocious stormy work beginning with huge chords introducing an expansive melody. There are many shifts of mood before a lively graceful melody brings some calm to the work.   It is a very demanding work technically and An-Ting’s performance highlighted the shifts in mood, as well as being a technical ‘tour de force’. 

An-Ting finished her recital with the central movement from Robert Schumann’s monumental Fantasie in C. Written when Schumann was 27 and deeply in love  with Clara Weick, this work is not only an expression of his love for Clara but also a tribute to his hero, Beethoven. 

The opening is a paean of unaffected joy and optimism. Eventually this turbulent section gives way to a gentle and quiet section before the theme from the opening of the movement returns in a climax of pure joy. For Schumann this was an affirmation of his love for Clara, while for us, it provided a very joyous end to a diverse and illuminating evening’s concert. 

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