<< -- 3 -- Malcolm Troup A CHINESE WUNDERKIND
But it was after Andrew Crowley (solo trumpet) and Ania Safonova's Shostakovich Chamber Players had taken up their positions on stage for that composer's Concerto No 1 Op 35 for piano, trumpet and strings, that the fun really began. This time it was no longer a recitation of 'set tasks' as before but an immediate dynamic interaction with fellow-instrumentalists and particularly with their conductor Leslie Howard which kept us all as much on our toes as it did every bar of the outer movements of this rollicking neo-classic burlesque in Shostakovich's most outrageous snook-cocking style. Were it not for this, one would have had no idea of the full extent and contemporaneity of Niu Niu's prodigious talents, his eyes glued on conductor and ensemble, only once or twice snatching a sidelong glance at the keyboard. However limited the span of his childish hands, one was astonished at his capacity to negotiate the most notorious of stretches while never failing to bring out sufficiently the top melodic line in chordal passages -- only infrequently slackening the tempo to accommodate technical exigencies (octaves and the like) or accelerating to keep pace with Crowley's virtuoso trumpet playing.
From left to right: Andrew Crowley, Zhang Shengliang (Niu Niu), Leslie Howard and members of the Shostakovich Chamber Players
My only caveat is that whoever encouraged him to go from this ovation-earning feat to the Liszt transcription of the Liebestod from Wagner's Tristan, before even the reverberations of the Shostakovich had had time to settle, should be condemned to anything but a love-death, however it may have been intended as a delicate compliment to Lisztophile Leslie Howard. As an encore, it was much too long and only served to reveal lapses of concentration brought about by strain, disjunctive phrasing, the forward flow impaired for the sake of wayside textures, and a lack of tonal resources beyond his present physical reserves. Whereas the transcription of Tchaikowsky's 'Sugar Plum Fairy' which followed belonged to the world of the gold lamé bow-tie, not so the Wagner-Liszt which in proximity to the mocking Shostakovich was reduced to unintentional travesty.
Copyright © 2 September 2006
Malcolm Troup, London UK