Debussy, Schumann

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COMPOSERS: Debussy,Schumann
LABELS: Teldec
ALBUM TITLE: Collection: For Children
WORKS: Children’s Corner; Prole do bebê No. 1; Kinderszenen
PERFORMER: Helen Huang (piano)
CATALOGUE NO: 0630-13148-2
Helen Huang is Chinese-American and was born in 1982. She made this disc in the summer of 1996. The dates are important, because knowing Huang’s age modifies your expectations and affects the way you listen. The music here is certainly not child’s play and, while Villa-Lobos’s eight pieces, for example, are portraits of dolls their language is sensuously adult and sophisticated. The clarity of the Mozart variations and spectacular brilliance of the scherzos by Mendelssohn and Liszt may appeal to children, but even the formidably equipped young pianist here seems to find the latter two a challenge and doesn’t make them the light, ethereal things they can become in the hands of a mature virtuoso. The recording and the piano do not help, for their combined sound is cold and hard, emphasising the percussiveness of Helen Huang’s touch. That’s not to say her playing is colourless or lacks the capacity for expressive shading. But, though Huang has a knowing way with phrasing and shows a mastery of artful delays and rhythmic elasticity, she sounds, in the first and eighth pieces of Schumann’s Kinderszenen, breezily oblivious of any heart or soul behind the notes. Still, there’s a simplicity and freshness in ‘Bittendes Kind’ and ‘Träumerei’ which compensate. This is her recital debut for Teldec. Let’s hope they don’t push her too hard. Adrian Jack