The power and the glory of Stephanie Tang at St Mary’s

Thursday 11 February 4.00 pm 

Stephanie Tang (piano)

John Adams: China Gates

Debussy: Étude pour les arpèges composes

Chopin: Polonaise-fantasie in A-flat Major op 61

Beethoven: Variations & Fugue in E flat Op 35 ‘Eroica’

Stefanie Tang opened her recital with the hypnotic bells of John Adam’s China Gates which she so unexpectedly integrated into Debussy’s Arpeggio study.Chopin’s masterpiece of Polonaise-Fantasie beautifully played if rather more Polonaise than fantasy.Totally unexpected the eruption of dynamic energy and power in an overwhelming and mesmerising performance of Beethoven’s Eroica Variations.Hypnotic was infact the only word to describe the recital of this delicate looking powerhouse perfecting her studies with Ronan 0’Hora at the Guildhall

China Gates was composed by the minimalist American composer John Adams in 1977.It is one of his first mature works, which he wrote during a rainy season in northern California and has suggested that the constant quavers of the piece reflect the steady rainfall of the time. The bass notes form the root of the mode, while the upper voices oscillate between different modes,which sound almost like major and minor versions of the same key.Very similar to the repetitive bells of Steve Reich.Adams himself described the structure of the work as an “almost perfect palindrome”.The repeated patterns in the treble sounding like bells with long held bass notes of great delicacy of almost hypnotic effect.A piece that barely lasts five minutes but in Stefanie’s sensitive hands created just the atmosphere out of which grew one of the most beautiful of Debussy’s studies :‘Pour les arpèges composés’.The penultimate of Debussy’s late masterpieces that he described as “a warning to pianists not to take up the musical profession unless they have remarkable hands.”A very similar sound world to the minimalist Adams and here were the same sumptuous sounds with deep bass notes held in long pedals .Such remarkable control and precision that allowed a rhythmic drive until the final wafts of sound that disappear into the distance from where they had come.A sense of colour but also a masterly use of the pedals that allowed great atmosphere but also great clarity.

The Polonaise Fantasie op 61 is one of Chopin’s late masterpieces to be place with the Barcarolle op 60.In these late works there is a sense that Chopin had almost dispensed with the bar lines in his attempt to allow the piano to sing hence the title ‘fantasie’ added to the last of his Polonaises.It represents a change in Chopin’s style from ‘late’ to ‘last’ with the freedom and formal ambiguities which are the most significant defining qualities of this ‘last style’, which only includes this and one other piece—the F minor Mazurka (Op. 68, No. 4), Chopin’s last composition.Stephanie brought a great sense of architectural shape to the work always moving forward in a musicianly and deeply felt account.There could be even more abandonment with a freedom and flexibility that would allow the bel canto embellishments to breathe more naturally which maybe her small hand did not permit her to abandon total control .There was a sumptuous richness to the middle section and an exciting lead up to the passionate final outpouring where her authority and rhythmic drive were indeed remarkable.

But it was the call to arms with Beethoven’s mighty opening chord of the Eroica Variations op 35 that unleashed the true power and superb control of this young musician.Beethoven’s three mighty notes fearlessly interrupting the proceedings.There was a rhythmic impetus that knew no difficulties as she threw herself with such authority into each variation .The cadenza of the second variation thrown off with great ease as it teasingly came to an end before alternating chords of great urgency.The left hand meanderings of the fourth were beautifully commented on by the right hand chords and there was extreme beauty in the fifth.The sforzandi gently integrated into this music box interlude before the left hand acrobatics of the sixth and the hen picking of the seventh with its great bass interruptions.There was a beautiful mellifluous flow to the eighth where Beethoven’s long pedal was so beautifully interpreted.Such exhilaration too in the sheer fun she had with the acciaccatura of the ninth and the Chinese puzzle of the tenth that she deciphered so cleverly.There was tongue in cheek elegance in the eleventh and twelfth and almost brutal insistence of the acciaccaturas in the thirteenth.The beauty of the fourteenth paved the way for the sheer gold of the fifteenth.The longest and most profound of the variations which was played with scrupulous regard for Beethoven’s very precise indications.It was almost orchestral in its conception leading to the magical long pedal of the final bar before the gentle apparition of the fugue.Playing of great clarity and precision with a driving rhythmic impulse leading to three great chords and the almost cheeky return of the theme that we had heard at the opening.I remember Curzon playing this with an almost irresistible charm which Stephanie did not quite capture in her very impressive forward drive with the theme imperiously played in the left hand with sparklingly clear scale passages in the right as she drove the music onwards with formidable power to the final chords.

A native of Los Angeles, 26-year old pianist Stephanie Tang is the prizewinner of multiple competitions and has performed as a soloist and chamber musician worldwide. At the age of 12, she performed in Carnegie Hall ‘ s Weill Recital Hall and at sixteen, made her orchestral solo debut with the West Covina Symphony Orchestra. She has since then performed solo recitals in Los Angeles, Shenzhen, Shanghai, the Netherlands, Banff, Ottawa, Toronto and Gijon. She has won 1st prize at the Bradshaw and Buono International Piano Competition, 2nd prize at the Louisiana International Piano Competition, and the top prize at the Young Pianists ‘ Beethoven Competition. She was also a finalist in the New York International Piano Competition and was awarded the Jury Discretionary Prize at the Los Angeles Philharmonic ‘ s Bronislaw Kaper Awards. In 2016, she won 2nd prize at the Susan Torres Award for Pianists in Fresno, CA. Recently, she competed in the Sendai International Piano Competition and was a finalist in the Heida Hermanns International Piano Competition. She has been chosen take part in the Montreal International Piano Competition and the Queen Elisabeth International Piano Competition in 2021. Stephanie has performed in important venues such as Koerner Hall in Toronto, Hahn Hall in Santa Barbara, the McKenna Theatre in New York, and Shenzhen Concert Hall in China. Recent performances include a recital at the University of Ottawa and a prelude concert in Koerner Hall. Over the years, Stephanie has worked with many prominent artists, including Richard Goode, Marc Durand, Julian Martin, Robert McDonald, Matti Raekallio, Jean-Yves Thibaudet, Menahem Pressler, and Leon Fleisher. An avid chamber musician, she has performed and collaborated with John Adams, Andr é s Diaz, Esa-Pekka Salonen, and coached with members of the É b è ne, Guarneri, and Tokyo Quartets. Stephanie began studies with Zhaoyi Dan in China at the Shenzhen Arts School . She completed her Bachelor of Music at the Colburn Conservatory of Music and Artist Diploma at the Glenn Gould School in Toronto with John Perry and Master of Music at the Yale School of Music with Peter Serkin and Boris Slutsky. She currently studies with Ronan O’Hora in London at the Guildhall School of Music & Drama.

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