Yu’s many happy returns

March 2, 2014 by Fraser Beath McEwing
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Winner of the 2012 Sydney International Piano Competition of Australia, Avan Yu, returned to the city of his triumph with a memorable opening recital at the Mosman Art Gallery, writes Fraser Beath McEwing.

Avan Yu

Avan Yu

Yu was a double act, offering insightful introductions to the music and then sitting down to play it. He did the same in Sydney’s Recital Hall in 2012, hot from his win.

On that occasion he had the benefit of a Steinway fully grown Model D grand piano in one of Sydney’s best acoustic chambers, but the same could not be said for the Mosman Art Gallery presentation. Yu had to play at floor level on a small piano with a loud voice that seemed unable to whisper. While the acoustic result suited the forte passages, they went into combat against anything south of p. Thus it was difficult for Yu to extract the musical colour of which he is eminently capable.

That said, it was a performance well worth hearing, underlining the fact that Avan Yu is one to watch in the seething mass of brilliant young pianists trying to get a foothold on the world stage. The Mosman recital was the first in Yu’s Australia-wide tour of some 29 concerts.

Yu’s program was a crowd pleaser, beginning with Beethoven’s Sonata Op. 57 in F minor, the “Appassionata”. Yu immediately established his authority over this work with an assured technique and youthful enthusiasm. While the first movement was well realised, the slow movement heard the piano do a disservice to the pianist. Sitting between two bravura movements the andante calls for contemplation and introspection, but with this instrument the music’s heavy bones were too exposed.  It was almost a relief to burst into the third movement where Yu built excitement and drama as he headed to a powerful climax.

Two Debussy offering followed: Suite Bergamasque and L’isle Joyeuse. They should have floated us away from the set jaw of Beethoven, but there was some difficulty in extracting the filmy textures and tonal impressionism that are the hallmarks of Debussy. Everybody who has learned the piano for an extended period probably played Clair de lune (or as Victor Borge translated it Clear the saloon). For most of us, Yu showed how we should have played it, piano hammers not withstanding.

The other three movements, perhaps less well known, were easy listening, if not inspiring.

L’isle Joyeuse was again, perhaps, more overstated than it might have been under a different set of tools, but it nonetheless demonstrated Yu’s nimble, even touch.

Chopin is always welcome at a piano recital and Yu obliged with Ballade No 2 in F Major, three waltzes and the A Flat Polonaise. In all these well-known pieces, a pianist is up against numerous recordings and legendary performances in trying to present an individual reading of the scores. While Yu didn’t take risks in interpretation he did present a fresh, youthful rendering of some of Chopin’s most cherished music.

The Ballade suited Yu’s ability to be gentle and then suddenly blast a hole through the lullaby with a bravura bullet. A better piano would have provided him with a better result, but it was still excitingly contrasted and confident. The thundering penultimate passages are all about control so that when we glide into still waters for the final bars we don’t bump the wharf. Yu did this superbly.

The three waltzes passed pleasingly, with deft technique, but a little short on poetry.

Yu finished his concert with that great Chopin warhorse, the Polonaise, Op.53 in A Flat Major. Here, the lack of the piano’s quieter side didn’t matter as Yu ignited thunder and lightening. I unashamedly love this piece, and even more so if it is played with grandeur and abandon. Yu filled my cup. I could still hear ‘dar, da dum’ as I walked away from the once-was-church Grand Hall of the Mosman Art Gallery.

Fraser Beath McEwing is an accomplished pianist and commentator on classical music performance and is a founding member of The theme & Variations Foundation Advisory Board which provides assistance to talented young Australian pianists. His professional background is in journalism, editing and publishing. He is also the author of three novels.He is a Governor of the Sir Moses Montefiore Home.


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