Peng Peng Gong
Peng Peng Gong press reviews
Peng Peng, piano.
San Diego Arts
First came Lang Lang and then Peng Peng - both appearances courtesy of the La Jolla Music Society.
Lang Lang's rep is large enough to draw an audience to Copley Symphony Hall (where the artist played January 21), but the lesser known Peng Peng was assigned to the smaller and overall more desirable auditorium of the Neurosciences Institute in La Jolla. His recital there yesterday provided an auspicious start to the Chinese New Year celebrations which run for about the next two weeks. Apparently the Year of the Pig is not as bad as it sounds. I gather the "Year of the Boar" is a much more accurate translation, but someone must have thought "boar" sounds even worse.
If the advent of Peng Peng can be called an auspicious omen, the boar's year should be a lucky one indeed.
Peng - if I may take the liberty of using his first name - played what we critics like to call "an ambitious recital," but for an accomplished artist like this one, taste rather than technical considerations doubtlessly dictates what he plays. What would "ambitious" signify to such a preternaturally gifted artist? Peng has a phenomenal technique, but what distinguishes him from a large crowd of empty keyboard dazzlers is his true musicality. He is the real thing - an artist of both physical skill and intellectual insight.
You can hear this in every note, every phrase he plays. He is a superb judge of dynamic contrasts, he knows how to shift from dramatic passages to limpidly lyrical ones, he obviously loses himself in what he's doing, and he moves over the keys with stunning articulation. He thoroughly understands the profound stylistic differences between the compositional styles. As his career progresses he is going to mature artistically. As things stand now, one is compelled to compare him with the greatest of pianists.
The program was - or was supposed to be this one:
Mozart: Sonata No. 14 in C Minor, KV 457
Chopin: Ballade No. 4, Op. 52
Rachmaninoff: Sonata No. 2 in B-flat Major, Op. 36
Schumann: Carnaval, Op. 9
Schubert/Liszt: "Gretchen am Spinnrade" and "Auf dem Wasser zu singen"
It's unclear exactly why Peng changed the order of the pieces, placing the Chopin work in the number-one position after the intermission and then eliminating the Schubert/Liszt transcription altogether. It's also not clear why he did not play an encore for his worshipful audience, but I personally do not think anything could have topped what he had already played. Quitting while you're ahead - way ahead - makes good sense to me.
In the Mozart sonata that opened the concert, one knew this young man knows his way around the works of one of the most challenging the old masters. Peng gave the "rocket" theme of the Allegro a Beethoven-like emphasis while tackling the contrasting subject matter with suave lyricism. Though he could do it if he wanted, he eschewed the boring pointillist articulation that affects so many shallow Mozart interpreters today. Peng's peddling, by the way, was appropriately sparing.
The Rachmaninoff, one of several works in which the composer seems to be searching for a memorable theme, Peng gave us a performance that would have been more appropriate in Hollywood Bowl. One problem with the vaunted acoustics of the Neurosciences Institute is audio-sensory overload whenever someone goes large scale. I could have done without this piece - though Peng played it brilliantly.
After intermission Peng showed his exceptionally keen understanding of both Chopin and Schumann - the latter composer being in many ways more challenging than the former. In fact, Peng's playing of Carnaval was his most impressive achievement. Several moments were profoundly moving. The artist was also careful to project a sense of stylistic unity even as he passed over the 21 distinctly contrasting character pieces that make up this familiar masterpiece.
So, there you have it folks. Another wonderful classical pianist from China.
Oh - did I mention it? Peng Peng is only 14 years old.