Thursday 16 June 2016

Strong and fresh interpretations of works by Beethoven, Czerny and Mendelssohn, from pianist Gwendolyn Mok using a variety of instruments on a new recording for MSR Classics, makes for a terrific disc on all counts

Gwendolyn Mok was born in New York and studied at the Juilliard School of Music, Yale University where she completed her undergraduate studies and State University of New York at Stony Brook, where she gained her Doctorate. The winner of several piano competitions, Vlado Perlemuter chose Mok to be the last student to whom he would pass on his knowledge of Ravel with whom he had studied and played the composer’s entire oeuvre.

In 1994, the French Ministry of Culture awarded Ms. Mok a grant to study with Perlemuter for one year. Since 1995, Mok has been performing Ravel's works in recital and was invited to teach these works at the Royal College of Music, Welsh College of Music, The Dartington International Summer School in Devon, and The San Francisco Conservatory of Music.

In 1996, Mok made her official London debut in two concerts of Ravel in Somerset House, on a restored Erard grand piano of 1875. She was also featured in broadcasts of Ravel on BBC Radio 3, Music Matters, Woman's Hour and the World Service.

Mok has appeared in many of the world's leading concert halls including The Barbican, Carnegie Hall, The Kennedy Center, Avery Fisher Hall, Alice Tully Hall, and The Hong Kong Performing Arts Center. She is also frequently invited to play and record with major international orchestras most notably The London Symphony, The Philharmonia, The Hong Kong Philharmonic Orchestra, The Beijing Philharmonic Orchestra and The Residentie Orkestre of The Hague.

She is currently the Coordinator of Keyboard Studies at San Jose State University School of Music and Dance. She has made a number of recordings for Nonesuch/Elektra, Musical Heritage Society, Cala Records and EMI. Her highly acclaimed debut CD with The Philharmonia of Ravel's Piano Concerto in G Major Cala Records) was nominated for an Alternative Edison award in the concerto category.

MSR Classics has just released a recording by Gwendolyn Mok entitled Legacy – The Spirit of Beethoven where she plays works by Beethoven, Czerny and Mendelssohn on instruments of the period from the Ira F. Brilliant Center for Beethoven Studies and the School of Music and Dance at San Jose State University

MS 1590

For Ludwig van Beethoven’s (1770-1827) Piano Sonata No. 2 in A major, Op.2, No.2 (1795) Gwendolyn Mok has chosen a reproduction of a Louis Dulcken fortepiano of 1795 built by Janine Johnson and Paul Poletti

The Allegro vivace brings a lively crisp articulation from Mok, her fine fluency bringing out some lovely textures from her fortepiano, finding so many little details and nuances that show the instrument to the full.   

The Largo appassionato is really wonderful in the hands of this pianist with passages of fine dexterity set against restrained, poetic moments. In the second movement she brings a lovely lightness of touch to the scherzo through a fluent trio, Mok’s phrasing and dynamics finely judged.  

The concluding Rondo (Grazioso) has a lovely flow, Mok revealing some lovely textures and sonorities, revealing the fine lower register of this instrument. She brings intense feeling to the faster, dramatic section with some lovely fluid moments.  

Mok switches to an 1823 Broadwood and Sons fortepiano made in London for Carl Czerny’s (1791-1857) Erste fantasie auf motive aus Beethoven’s werken (First fantasy on motifs works by Beethoven) (1835). She brings a dramatic opening that is finely developed through slower, delicate passages of quite wonderful beauty, bringing out the lighter texture of the Broadwood fortepiano. She moves quickly and fluently through some terrific passages full of fine textures. The bolder Beethovenian chords come out well on this instrument, which is a fine choice for this music in which, throughout, one hears so many of Beethoven’s themes. Mok shows tremendous fluency and fine phrasing. It is great fun as all the themes appear (listed in the booklet) before a coda full of tremendous panache.

Beethoven’s song cycle An die ferne Geliebte, Op.98 (To the distant beloved) was transcribed for pianoforte by Franz Liszt (1849-1850) and is played here on the same Broadwood instrument. The Andante espressivo reveals a richer side to the Broadwood, full of warmer, lower tones, with Mok providing some beautiful phrasing. There is a lovely little Poco allegretto, finely shaped before a rhythmically buoyant Allegro assai that, nevertheless, is allowed to show moments of more introspection. There is an Allegro non tanto, con grazia e sentimento that has some lovely delicate, light phrases before leading into the opening trills of the Vivace that soon picks up a pace with a terrific theme that later finds a lovely flow. The concluding calm and gently flowing Andante con moto, cantabile, andante espressivo, allegro molto e con brio brings some quite exquisite phrases before a strong coda.

On returning to Carl Czerny, Gwendolyn Mok turns to an Erard of 1868 (Paris)  for his Nocturne in E flat major, Op.647 (1841) a gently flowing piece that reveals the Erard has a less bright sound. The music has a lovely rise and fall with this pianist bringing considerable fluency with a steady underlying rhythmic flow. The music rises through more passionate passages as well as bars of limpid fluidity. Mok provides a lovely performance that reveals so many aspects of her instrument, richer phrases as well as lighter more delicate moments, surely influenced by Chopin. 

Gwendolyn Mok concludes her recital with Felix Mendelssohn’s (1809-1847) Variations sérieuses in D minor, Op.54 (1841), again using the 1868 Erard. She sets out the opening theme wonderfully before developing through the seventeen variations that follow. This is an ideal way to reveal aspects of the Erard instrument with a variation 2 that is fast and light on its feet, a variation 6 that brings staccato phrases with an anguished intensity, a variation 7 that is fast and furious and fleet of touch, the slow richer variations of variation 9 that bring a real depth, a vibrant variation 11 with its well sprung phrases, the lovely textures of variation 14 before a rollicking variation to end.

This is a terrific disc on all counts. Gwendolyn Mok not only reveals many fine aspects of the instruments she has chosen to play but, more importantly brings strong and fresh interpretations. 

The detailed recording is well-nigh perfect, bringing the different tone and texture of each instrument.

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