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Friday, Jun 21, 2024

Pianist Plays on Keys and Emotions

Author: Richard Lawless

Dressed in a flowing cape decorated with brillant colors, Wu Han entered the stage in the Center for the Arts Concert Hall with a flourish amid hearty applause. With a graceful bow, she sat down at the piano and, after a brief pause, began her first piece, Tchaikovsky's "The Seasons for Piano, Op. 37 b."

The piece consisted of 12 separate movements, one for each month. Beginning with the serene and silky flow of chords of "January by the Fireside," the piece gradually unwound, with each season having its own melody and theme. Wu Han played joyfully, a large smile visible on her face.

On the whole, Tchaikovsky's piece was a conglomeration of dissonant tones mixed with consonant harmonies, creating a complex web of notes.

As she turned the page upon the close of "By the Fireside," the pianist suddenly plunged into the much livelier, more aggressive "February Carnival." While playing this more upbeat number, her head bopped from side to side, conveying the playful nature of the carnival piece.

Tchaikovsky's piece continued to unfold before the audience, as Wu effortlessly switched between fast and slow tempos. At certain points, the pianist pushed the keys with such tranquil grace as if they were made of porcelain, while at others she attacked the piano with enough force to smother the audience with the sound emanating from the instrument.

The piece was balanced beautifully with quick major-key sections and slower, melancholic, minor parts. At one point, Wu was singing the notes to herself, clearly immersing herself in the performance.

"The Seasons for Piano, Op. 37 b" ended with the joyfully upbeat "December Christmas." The internationally acclaimed pianist conveyed this theme of happiness wonderfully to the audience with her sparkling technique.

After a gracious round of applause, Wu returned to the stage and began to speak of the pieces that she was performing that night. Giving the audience an intriguing history lesson, she told of how Tchaikovsky was struggling with poverty at the time he wrote the twelve seasons piece and remarked that they are usually played separately. They have been turned into elevator music, she commented.

She then began to speak of the next two pieces she would play, composed by Scriabin and Rachmaninoff. Coincidentally, Scriabin and Rachmaninoff were classmates, but their musical styles varied greatly, Wu said.

She described the Scriabin piece as a departure from traditional composing. Unlike a normal sonata, which starts off with a fast movement, followed by a slow movement and ends by a faster, conclusive movement, Scriabin's "Sonata, Op. 30" was comprised of a slow movement followed by a fast movement.

Wu also informed the audience of Scriabin's extensive use of fourths in the piece before she began to play it. The piece itself contained many odd chords and had a dissonant, yet harmonic sound to it. It eventually erupted into a swirling storm of fourths as Wu pounded the keys almost to their breaking point.

After a brief intermission, Han began a set of pieces by Rachmaninoff. The set list consisted of six preludes, each in a certain key, followed by "Liesbelied," and ended with "Liebesfreud."

Rachmaninoff is a more traditional composer, as evidenced by the classical fanfare sound of the preludes Wu played. The skill and craft that she used in playing these pieces was evident throughout the concert, but particularly during the Rachmaninoff preludes.

The pianist managed to play certain notes with such grace and serenity followed by extreme and harsh accents. Her ability to switch the volume and style of the music from note to note is simply amazing.

In "Liebesfreud," the final scheduled piece of the concert, Wu's face lit up as the slower, sweeter parts came and became more intense during the faster parts. By the end of the show, it was evident that Han did not only play these pieces, but that she actually became them, completely immersing herself in the music.

After a standing ovation, the pianist returned to the stage to play a short piece that she described, in the composer's words, as so tightly wound that not even a mosquito could penetrate it. The piece, comprised mainly of very fast notes played repeatedly, lasted only 30 seconds, and provided a lighter, more comic ending to a fascinating and enlightening performance.