Haochen Zhang the young Chinese virtuoso gave a solo recital this noon consisting of two stalwarts of the piano literature: Debussy’s Images Series I & II and Schumann’s Fantasie in C Major. Debussy’s music is full of interest and delicate effects. It has earned its place among the finest in Western music. So here am I alone in the desert forced to admit that I don’t much care for it. There’s nothing objective I can point to other than the tonal ambiguity which disorients me. I just might as well own up to this failing and move on.
Pianist Zhang is a native of Shanghai. A child prodigy, he gave his first recital at age three and a half. By age 19 he had won the Gold Medal at the Van Cliburn Competition. He currently lives in Philadelphia. Now a seasoned veteran of 29, his playing is brilliant. It is both nuanced and virtuosic. His rendition of Debussy’s intricately wrought piano pieces was as fine as can be imagined. The audience rewarded him with a great display of appreciation.
The Schumann is a regular part of the piano repertoire. After all the tonal confusion that preceded it, C major came like a breath of oxygen to a suffocating man. Interestingly, the composer later did not think highly of this piece. I share his mature opinion. While there are parts that are brilliant and imaginative, a lot of it is overwritten. Nevertheless, Zhang played it like he was Apollo. The Santa Fe audience usually gives performers two bows. At the end of his recital, Zhang was given three. I can’t remember this happening before.
In summary, a performance of two highly thought of compositions that received a perfect realization by one of the finest young instrumentalists in the world. In my opinion he was better than the music he played. Debussy and Schumann will easily survive a negative review, but hear Zhang if he comes your way.