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at the Van Cliburn Competition,

YING FENG (China), age 24

Ying Feng

For all the hype about her self-imposed entry into the Cliburn contest, I had every hope that, at the very least, Ying Feng would measure up to the challenge. Following her initial rejection, she put in a call to the competition's chief executive, Richard Rodzinski, expressing her disappointment and insisting that she would be a worthwhile competitor. After dropping a few illustrious names, not the least of which was that of Pierre Boulez, with whom she had been engaged to perform a Bartok concerto, Mr Rodzinksi gave in and let her have her way. While in other cases such a change of mind would have been the right thing to do, in this case, if not a mistake necessarily, he would have been better off just letting things stand as they were.

Ms Feng is a dutiful, heavy handed pianist who conducts her musical affairs with all the flair and intimacy of a prison warden overdue for a holiday. It is no wonder, given the catatonic treatment it suffers in Ms Feng's hands, that Brahms's second sonata so often endures the mindless disparagement of amateur critics who fail to understand its structural complexities of its formal language. Ms Feng attenuates intensity, making of passage work an event in its own right, while ignoring the function of specific compositional events which, in savvier hands, would become concrete goals in the context of the work's rhythmic trajectory. Her tempos are ill-conceived, too; she straight jackets the slow movement into a model of verticality, demonstrating from its opening  single voiced strand just how little she is concerned for what goes on between the notes. In her intonation impoverished world, even the erstwhile charms of the trio become earthbound, smothered by a delivery that equalizes all the parts. This is further handicapped by Ms Feng's misguided rhythmic sensibility, one that deludes itself into believing that rhythm is little more than a process of counting-by-number.

The Liszt Spanish Rhapsody, which is nothing if not an occasion for magic and celebration, becomes in Ms Feng's hands little more than another loud and leaden dirge. She ignores the rich voicing -- and voice leading -- that Liszt so carefully assigns to the left hand as she eviscerates everything else of charm. She doesn't so much interpret as deliberate, and one yearns for joy, for space, for resonance, for fantasy. Or as Nietzsche so aptly put it: Air, air -- more air!


Copyright © 31 May 2001 John Bell Young, Tampa, Florida, USA




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