Wednesday 15 April 2015

Some superb performances from Joel Fan on a new release on Reference Recordings entitled Dances for Piano and Orchestra

Pianist Joel Fan was born in New York City and began early musical studies at the Juilliard School, earning an undergraduate degree from Harvard University and a Master of Music degree in piano performance from the Peabody Institute of The Johns Hopkins University. He also attended the Tanglewood Music Center and the Steans Institute at the Ravinia Festival.

Fan is a prize winner of several international competitions, including the Busoni International Piano Competition in Italy. He was also the winner of the Kosciuzko Foundation’s Chopin Prize, and named a Presidential Scholar by the National Foundation for Advancement in the Arts. Fan studied with the composer Leon Kirchner and the pianist Leon Fleisher.

As a concerto soloist, Fan has performed over forty different concertos with orchestras worldwide, including the New York Philharmonic, the Royal Stockholm Philharmonic, the Odessa Philharmonic, Singapore Symphony, and London Sinfonietta, with conductors such as David Zinman, Zubin Mehta, Alan Gilbert, and David Robertson.

As a recitalist Joel Fan has appeared at numerous venues ranging from the Ravinia Festival in Chicago, Jordan Hall in Boston, Calgary Celebrity Series, the Metropolitan Museum of Art in NYC, to the National Gallery of Art in Washington D.C.

Joel Fan is also recognized for his work with cellist Yo-Yo Ma as a member of the Silk Road Ensemble, appearing at Carnegie Hall and the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington D.C., and on the television programmes Good Morning America and Late Night with David Letterman. Fan has also collaborated with numerous leading ensembles, including the Shanghai Quartet, Orion Quartet, Imani Winds, and A Far Cry chamber orchestra.

Fan’s latest recording, for Reference Recordings , is called Dances for Piano and Orchestra and features works by Pierné, Ricardo Castro Herrera, Chopin, Saint-Saëns, Weber/ Liszt, Gottschalk/Kay and Charles Wakefield Cadman. Fan is joined by the Northwest Sinfonietta conducted by Christophe Chagnard

Some superbly laid out chords open Gabriel Pierné’s (1863-1937) Fantaisie-ballet, Op. 6 showing, immediately, Joel Fan’s fine technique. He brings a great breadth and assurance before the orchestra enter to take the music forward. The later, more buoyant, section is finely played by the Northwest Sinfonietta with some beautifully light textured playing from Fan as well as moments of terrific élan.  

Mexican concert pianist and composer Ricardo Castro Herrera’s (1864-1907) Vals Capricho, Op. 1 brings an opportunity for Joel Fan to display his lovely touch in this wonderfully written waltz that slowly builds in dynamics with some fine clashes of cymbals and orchestral outbursts. There are some fine, fluent, downward scales, often rather Chopinesque, before a grand finale.

Fryderyk Chopin (1810-1849) Rondo on Cracovian Themes, Op. 14 ‘Krakowiak’ opens with some beautifully conceived orchestral playing from Christophe Chagnard and the Northwest Sinfonietta with Fan bringing a sultry sounding piano part. When the tempo and dynamics suddenly take off, this pianist is terrific, displaying playing of such fine articulation, rhythmic awareness, fine phrasing and light, delicate touch; quite superb. There are further fine orchestral moments with some particularly fine woodwind passages clearly heard in this fine recording. This pianist reveals passages of fine breadth and sweep, showing a great subtlety and fine rubato. A terrific performance.  

Camille Saint-Saëns’ (1835-1921) Valse Caprice in A flat major, Op. 76 highlights something that runs through all of Joel Fan’s playing, that of a lightness of touch, rhythmic buoyancy and a sense of enjoyment and panache. He and the orchestra build some lovely passages as the music progresses, a terrific performance with a fine coda.

The orchestral detail in the opening of the Polonaise brillante, Op.72 by Carl Maria von Weber (1786-1826) arranged by Franz Liszt (1811-1886) is quite remarkable, the orchestra under their Music Director, Christophe Chagnard, bringing some very fine playing.  Joel Fan enters with real panache, negotiating Liszt’s take on Weber brilliantly. This is a thoroughly engaging and, indeed, entertaining performance, Fan bringing such a sense of fun to many passages. There are fine orchestral textures with both Fan and the orchestra revealing so many fine details before a terrific coda.

Louis Moreau Gottschalk’s (1829-1869) Grande tarantelle, Op. 67 is orchestrated here by Hershy Kay (1919-1981). The orchestra take off with the light hearted theme, full of ebullience with Fan carried along with them, providing a beautifully delicate, light touch and bringing an engaging and thoroughly captivating performance full of unstoppable forward momentum.

Charles Wakefield Cadman’s (1881-1946) Dark Dancers of the Mardi Gras (Fantasy for Orchestra and Piano) receives a very fine opening from the orchestra with the piano forming part of the orchestral texture. There is much rhythmic interest before the music moves off with some fine use of percussion orchestration. As the music progresses there is often the feel of Gershwin. This is a fine performance from all concerned with very fine playing from Joel Fan, particularly towards the end in the more sustained piano section.

This is a terrific new release with, in my download, a detailed recording full of depth, space and detail.

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