Haochen Zhang

Our rating 
3.0 out of 5 star rating 3.0

COMPOSERS: Bates,Chopin,Liszt,Stravinsky
LABELS: Harmonia Mundi
WORKS: Stravinsky: Three movements from Petrushka; Chopin: Preludes, Op. 28; Bates: White Lies for Lomax; Liszt: Spanish Rhapsody
PERFORMER: Haochen Zhang (piano)
CATALOGUE NO: HMU 907506

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These two discs, along with the release devoted to the playing of Nobuyuki Tsujii (reviewed in the January issue by Michael Church), feature performances given by the prize-winners at the 13th Van Cliburn International Piano Competition, held in Fort Worth, Texas in 2009. Chinese pianist Haochen Zhang, who like Tsujii was awarded the gold medal, was only 19 years of age at the time of the competition.

His technical poise is easy to enjoy and admire, and his ability to provide lyrically phrased details in a virtuosic context surely helps to explain his success. White Lies for Lomax by Mason Bates shows Zhang at his best – such agile, nimble technique ideally suits this attractive piece, which journeys through a series of jazzy and bejeweled inflections.

Despite impressively accurate and accomplished playing, Zhang’s accounts of Stravinsky’s Three Pieces from Petrushka and Liszt’s Spanish Rhapsody are not so idiomatic, and one hopes that as he matures he will find more to convey in the Chopin Preludes – at this point lyrical pieces (C major, B flat major) seem bland, while dramatic works (G minor, D minor) lack power.

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On the whole, I have found more consistent interest in the playing of the silver medalist, 23-year-old South Korean pianist Yeol Eum Son. From her delectation of the elaborate, quasi-improvisational ornamental writing in the Haydn sonata to her teasingly understated final note of Godowsky’s Fledermaus transcription, Son not only plays with incisive tone but gives the impression of being a spontaneous communicator. A fluent, involving rendition of the Barber Sonata and tangy treatment of six Debussy Preludes rounds out her enjoyable programme. David Breckbill