Adelaide Advertiser, Rodney Smith
UKARIA, 9 July 2023
Cellist Li-Wei Qin and pianist Kristian Chong are a perfect musical match. Like-minded with all-encompassing techniques and definite ideas about how romantic music should sound, their program was a real charmer. Bookended by Mendelssohn and Chopin Sonatas with smaller occasional pieces in between there was plenty for their audience to enthuse about.
Mendelssohn’s Sonata for Cello and Piano No 2 in D Op 58 is one of his best works and is no lightweight. Its four-movement canvass provides an object lesson in formal control with contrasted moods always part of a bigger picture. Qin and Chong embraced its polish and perspective wholeheartedly with Qin’s rich cello sonics and Chong’s always rhythmical, clear tonalities a perfect foil.
If listeners wondered about Ukaria’s new Steinway Model D, Chong’s handling of the Adagio movement’s opening procession of arpeggiated chords would have totally reassured them with the instrument’s marvellous depth and subtlety positively shining. Qin showed equal prowess during the effervescent, driven first movement Allegro in a strongly projected reading.
Chopin’s even more expansive four-movement Sonata for Cello and Piano in G minor Op 65 closed the program and written but a few years later makes a fascinating comparison with the Mendelssohn. Both Qin and Chong revelled in the trademark poetically discursive moments that Chopin happily intersperses with more dramatic and turbulent episodes throughout. It was a wild ride and relished by all.
Coriole Music Festival, 20 and 21 May 2023
If there is one reassuring thing that emerged from the pain of COVID, it is the realisation that the fullest enjoyment to be gained from music comes from people actually being physically present together and sharing in the experience of hearing it. One appreciates this more and more as we emerge from the pandemic and try to put it behind us.
As Coriole’s incoming artistic director, Simon Cobcroft took on exactly this perspective in the concerts he richly devised. So in a trajectory of darkness to light, of adversity to reaffirmation, listeners could retrace a journey as expressed through art that maybe we have all been through.
Well known to many as the ASO’s principal cellist, Cobcroft brought along a wonderful company of fellow musicians to accomplish this program. His own chamber group, Lyrebird Trio from Queensland, took a prominent role, but many colleagues came from the ASO and elsewhere from interstate. The musicianship they showed was superb throughout: intense but elating, and punctuated at times with sheer unbridled fun.
A mighty two-piano performance of Rachmaninov’s “Symphonic Dances” played by Kristian Chong and Daniel de Borah took all breath away in the thrilling excitement and exceptional discipline these pianists brought to this most wonderful work. It was intriguing to see how differently they treated line and phrase – de Borah more analytically, Chong more gesturally – while combining faultlessly in terms of timing. To pull this off so well is a prodigious feat, as it is indeed comparable to Stravinsky’s two-piano version of “Rite of Spring” in rhythmic complexity.
Daniel de Borah and Kristian Chong presented a mighty two-piano performance of Rachmaninov’s ‘Symphonic Dances’.
Stravinsky’s Septet for mixed ensemble is a vexatious work, full of astringent, dotty complexity that seems to intentionally try to unseat the performers and confound the listener. Its circus-like hijinks and “controlled cacophony” proved yet more fun due to great ensemble playing from the performers.
Canberra Symphony Orchestra, 14 and 15 September 2022
THREE vastly different pieces of music in this concert titled “War and Peace” showed how music can portray the raw intensity of conflict and the beauty of harmony. The conductor, Sam Weller, who recently graduated from the National Masters in Orchestral Conducting in the Netherlands, was making his debut. The Australian concert pianist Kristian Chong on piano and the Canberra Symphony Orchestra performed in this powerful concert.
With Kristian Chong on piano, the electric “Piano Concerto No. 2 in F-sharp minor”, by Australian Malcolm Williamson, crossed genres and moods. Rushing into its opening, the energy in this music is instantly apparent. The tension in the first movement rushes by with great speed. Chong has picked this work up well. He played it like he owned it. Finding a voice for this rarely performed work must have been a challenge. The piano has a lot to express, especially as it’s only for piano and strings. But Chong grabbed it with both hands and played it like he knew it well. The powerful writing in this piece shows a composer of the highest quality. The music is still fresh and dynamic, even though it was written in 1960. At times, it was a carnival of sound bouncing along through lively animated melodies and rhythms. More great Australian music like this please CSO.
GREAT PERFORMERS, Melbourne Recital Centre, 8 February 2022, Elisabeth Murdoch Hall
It was a splendid birthday party. The thirteenth anniversary of the Melbourne Recital Centre heralded the welcome return of one of Melbourne’s best kept secrets, the MRC’s Great Performers series. Before COVID, this series had been hiding in plain sight, alas not always enjoying the wholehearted support its excellent artists, programming and venue might command.
Launching this year’s series, cellist Li-Wei Qin and pianist Kristian Chong delivered an utterly absorbing program, beginning in uncompromising fashion by diving into the deep waters of Samuel Barber’s Sonata for Cello and Piano, Op. 6. At once simple and complex, volatile and voluptuous, this astounding work, written while the composer was still in his early 20s, demands enormous versatility from its performers. Qin and Chong did not disappoint, bringing searing intensity and vivid colours to the work’s bolder statements while adding subtle sensuality to its more romantic utterances.
By contrast, both players brought an uncomplicated, sunny optimism to the opening of Schubert’s Sonata for Arpeggione and Piano in A minor. Qin’s beguiling lyricism and carefully shaped phrasing were a delight throughout. Honouring Dame Elisabeth Murdoch, after whom the hall is named, on the 113th anniversary of her birth, the performance of the central Adagio was graced with a profound and gentle beauty, counterpointed by the sprightly finale.
Schumann’s Adagio and Allegro saw the duo revel both in the ardent romanticism of the Adagio and the cascading energy of the Allegro. After such an ebullient conclusion, two softer encores (a jazz-infused arrangement of Somewhere Over the Rainbow and Elgar’s Salut d’amour) sent listeners home on a high.
Hearing this compelling combination of consummate musicianship and interesting repertoire live in ravishing acoustics was balm for the soul. Hopefully future Great Performers concerts will draw more concertgoers to experience such pleasure for themselves.
Classic Melbourne: Julie McErlain
Solo Recital, 6 October 2021
The Despair of Schubert – an alluring title for a program of solo piano works – was a poignant and thought-provoking performance where we shared comparative depths of our COVID frustration with the human despair that overcame many composers. In the featured, final work by Schubert, we would share his time of uncertainty, frustration with political society, resignation, depression and his concern for illness and death among family and friends, while still seeking strength in the beauty and power of musical composition. Having borne the brunt of having many national concerts and Festival performances cancelled, Kristian Chong aptly chose significant works of darkness and despair, with music reflecting our own lockdown emotional journey. This was a beautifully curated and presented performance. We know Chong presents ABC radio programs with an authoritative, warm and mellifluous tone, and we welcomed his opening presentation and post concert interview with Chris Howlett, that added to his warm and personal connection with the audience.
Alexander Siloti (1863-1945), a most distinguished conductor and pianist, was part of the virtuosic piano age, writing over 200 arrangements and transcriptions of existing works, in particular the music of J. S. Bach. The Andante from Violin Sonata No 3 BWV 1003 perfectly allowed Chong to show much introspection and sensitivity for Bach’s refined, powerful, and quite lyrical melody. More like a vocal line, calm and sedate lines were given a prominent romantic voice supported by sensuous, almost modern chordal textures. Phrases were delicate and timeless, and we held our breath in the closing bar as a lingering fragile trill slowed, then paused to allow a single and profound bass note echo in the bottom of our hearts.
Chong described a favourite piece – Rachmaninoff’s Prelude in D, Op 23 No 4 – as “uncharacteristically unmelancholic”. The strong, soul-stirring melody, mostly in the inner and middle voice never faltered to lead with a confident, unquestioning forward pulse. A flowing regular tempo was calming, almost as a hypnotic lullaby, and we felt and shared the performer’s love for this piece. Surging passionate and expansive chords rose easily to the heights of ma dynamics, just as quickly and smoothly falling and rising again through shifting dynamics, diminishing to a final silence, then a pianissimo sigh. In quiet COVID moments, this piece summed up the beauty and resilience of music – a true “essential service”.
Completing this trio of opening works, significantly all written in the “bright” D major key, Chong performed Calvin Bowman’s Chorale Prelude No 7 (2021) – Wie schön leuchtet der Morgenstern (How Beautifully Shines the Morning Star) – the last of his set of seven pieces. Described by Chong as having “nostalgic tinges- of folk songs and Christmas festivities perhaps”, the piece allowed him to explore a breadth of dynamics and colourful, lightly percussive sounds across the full keyboard. Both hands took to the uppermost keys to express the opening bell-like theme over a rippling and iridescent accompaniment, expanding quickly into a more powerful chordal setting with rich cascading patterns. This assertiveness evaporated in the sunshine as the music eased, returning to the opening theme of celestial peace and harmony.
Through this pandemic, our optimistic plans are frequently short-lived. From major key to minor key. Traditionally known as the key of drama, passion, pathos and pain, C minor was chosen by Mozart for one of his darkest works – Fantasia in C minor, K475. Chong invited us to respond with our own fantasies, visions and dreams, and enjoy Mozart in possibly his least optimistic piano work. Always showing precise and fine technical execution, Chong contrasted key areas and mood changes with distinctive colours and precise detail.
Paradoxically, the featured work, which signalled the high point of this program, was the one to take us to the greatest depths – Schubert’s Sonata in A minor, D784 – a most timely composition connecting us with the despair, desolation and frustration of Schubert’s resignation to illness and early end of life. Kristian Chong is remarkable for his honesty in recognising and expressing the extreme emotions of this rarely performed work, balancing stark and sombre moments with passionate and surprising key modulations with bursts of tension and frustration, leading to resignation, not resolution. Schubert’s score shows deceptively light scoring, yet in the closing exhausting statements, Chong produced a heightened sensitivity, feeling the wistful, almost breathless sighs of the last waltz, before abruptly exploding into a furious declamation of assertive scales and four angry chords of finality.
If it is true that in Mozart’s last years, the only audience was himself and silence, and Bach too played to himself in an empty church, how despairing it must be for Melbourne’s leading musicians to give their all in venues with no audience.
How special it was to share this passionate recital, with wonderful livestream camera work capturing and connecting us with Kristian Chong’s highly expressive performance.
GREAT PIANO QUINTETS - BRAHMS and SCHUMANN - ★★★★
Melbourne Digital Concert Hall, 7 November 2020
Amid the pandemic storm clouds, one silver lining has been the opportunity to sample at close quarters the brilliance and versatility of Melbourne’s orchestral players. Awaiting the return of orchestral concerts, four key string players from the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra put their considerable talents to excellent use by teaming up with pianist Kristian Chong to perform two monumental piano quintets.
These arch-romantic works by Schumann and Brahms are not for the faint-hearted, requiring stamina and self-confidence in large and equal measure. Violinists Tair Khisambeev and Matthew Tomkins, violist Christopher Moore and cellist Rachael Tobin willingly embraced the challenge, working collegially with Chong to establish finely honed ensemble, appealing tone colour and plenty of closely observed detail.
Schumann’s popular quintet, with its arresting opening and lean textures, particularly benefitted from the group’s attention to detail, which aptly characterised the work’s many memorable musical ideas. The central sections of the second and third movements were powered with glowing intensity. Even if awe occasionally seemed to outweigh excitement, the finale’s return to the work’s initial theme was admirably exultant, leaving no doubt of collective commitment.
Bringing more ardent abandon to Brahms’ epic and often sprawling quintet, the players balanced its episodic writing with a sense of the work’s overall structure. Rhythmic discipline brought alive the third movement’s martial fervour, while the finale crackled with energy and radiated the pleasure of friends finally reunited in pursuit of high artistic ideals. Such fine chamber music provided more of a gold than a silver lining.
Melbourne Digital Concert Hall, 24 October 2020
Melbourne’s musical drought has broken. On the weekend local performances returned to the Melbourne Digital Concert Hall after nearly three months of silence, with concerts from pianist Kristian Chong and violin-piano duo Monica Curro and Stefan Cassomenos.
Chong’s programming perceptively tapped into the spirit of the times. The works echoed the anxiety and introspection of lockdown, tempered by a desire for beauty. Tension and release in Brahms’ Ballade, Op. 10, No. 1 were masterfully controlled, saluting the composer’s restless solemnity. A passionate account of Bach’s Chromatic Fantasy and Fugue saw plenty of improvisatory flair in the fantasy, enhanced by the unashamed use of the pedal, and a fugue delivered with energy and determination.
Don Grant’s Dragonfly by Calvin Bowman provided a delicate preamble to three of Rachmaninoff’s Op. 32 Preludes, which enveloped the listener in their luxurious, romantic embrace. Showing great sensitivity to colour and mood, Chong unlocked the works’ emotional wellsprings, allowing an outpouring of hopeful yearning and nostalgic remembrance. Similarly, the bittersweet ruminations of Chopin’s F-minor Nocturne, Op. 55 were treated with nuance and flexibility, making the serene conclusion particularly effective.
With passages weaving between major and minor, Schubert’s F-minor Impromptu, D. 935 was a fitting final expression of sombre realities, Chong’s poetic pianism still offering rays of hope.
Coming after such a long hiatus, these rich programs were are a timely reminder of how artistically barren the city can become without classical concerts. MDCH is an oasis of musical life.
KRISTIAN CHONG AND FRIENDS – QUARTET FOR THE END OF TIME ★★★★1/2
Melbourne Digital Concert Hall, 3 July 2020 Sophie Rowell (violin), Josephine Vains (cello), Philip Arkinstall (clarinet)
Good things can emerge from difficult times. The Melbourne Digital Concert Hall has scored an impressive century, notching up 100 broadcasts in just over 3 months of coronavirus lockdown and raising more than $420,000 for the musicians it hosted.Messiaen’s Quartet for the End of Time was an apt choice to celebrate this milestone; not because of its apocalyptic associations, but because this seminal work was first performed in a German prisoner-of-war camp nearly 80 years ago.
Even in the most sympathetic environment, Messiaen’s deeply personal vision is a highly demanding work. Pianist Kristian Chong with violinist Sophie Rowell, cellist Josephine Vains and clarinettist Philip Arkinstall eagerly rose to its many challenges; their considerable nuance and passion made for a memorable, deeply engaging performance. Throughout the work’s 50-minute trajectory, the players were always alert to the score’s many subtleties of rhythm, dynamics, tempo and timbre, building up a brightly coloured soundscape.
Virtuosic brilliance constantly served poignant expression. In Abyss of the Birds, the third-movement showpiece for solo clarinet, Arkinstall vividly realised the music’s struggle between time and eternity. Like the composer’s beloved birds, he negotiated the dizzying leaps between registers with consummate agility. Messiaen’s ecstatic view of eternal love is evoked with two long, sensuous melodies, one for cello and another for violin. Vains and Rowell delivered these with fearless, soaring tone, empathetically supported by Chong.
Like Messiaen’s mystical masterpiece, the vital work of MDCH reminds us of the uplifting power of music in what may seem like apocalyptic times.
Melbourne Digital Concert Hall, 8 May 2020 - Sophie Rowell (violin), Kristian Chong (piano)
The Age: Tony Way 10 May 2020
Melbourne’s three professional orchestras (Melbourne Symphony, Orchestra Victoria and Melbourne Chamber Orchestra) feature the elite athletesof the city’s classical music scene. After years of training they now struggle to make a living. But their evident talent has been reinforced by the week-long “Faces of Our Orchestras” series at MDCH.
In a distinguished finale, MSO concertmaster Sophie Rowell joined pianist Kristian Chong. Stravinsky’s neoclassical Suite Italienne t an elegant tone, both players bringing lightness of touch and rhythmic buoyancy to the score’s short but distinctive movements. Beethoven’s Kreutzer Sonata poses considerable technical challenges: it was a joy to have a performance that kept sight of the work’s overarching structure, balancing finely observed interior details with the broader emotional sweep.
Rachmaninoff Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini, Melbourne Symphony Orchestra, 8 March 2019, Conductor Benjamin Northey
Under the baton of Benjamin Northey, this exploration of musical storytelling was bookended by two explicitly narrative works alongside a trio of evocative pieces sending each listener on their own imaginative flight of fancy. In addition to these orchestral fables, the evening also seemed to tell another story. At the heart of many a good yarn is the battle between good and evil.
Pianist Kristian Chong demonstrated considerable technical brilliance in Sergei Rachmaninov’s Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini. Next to more grandstanding artists, with playing of this clarity and dramatic intent, there was little need for gesticulatory theatrics.
Satu Vänskä (violin, Kristian Chong (piano)
Violinist Satu Vänskä isn’t one to be pigeon-holed. The Finnish-born principal of the Australian Chamber Orchestra is a fearlessly liminal artist, who has often defied the rusted-on stereotypes of classical performance. Rejecting the tried and true tactic of leaning on crowd-pleasers and potboilers with an occasional tangential nod to more obscure repertoire, the selection for her Great Performers recital, alongside pianist Kristian Chong, avoided the obvious in favour of the surprising.
A program spanning more than 250 years, with four heavyweight masterworks by Bach, Beethoven and Ravel flanked by two modern marvels by Lutoslawski and Saariaho, offered a showcase for every facet of Vanska’s musical identity: technician, curator, innovator, virtuoso.
This dexterity seemed to operate on both the macro and micro scales, in the hopscotching variety of music and the fine detail of its execution. Vänskä proved capable of multiple displays of interpretive ingenuity in virtually every bar, while Chong’s understanding of the subtle inflections that shifted the piano’s presence from that of an equal partner to a supportive accompaniment tallied in perfect sync with Vanska’s meticulous approach.
SOUTHERN CROSS SOLOISTS - Melbourne Recital Centre 19 February 2019
A vibrant and eclectic blend of two contrasting cultures to create a unique and exhilarating concert.
Limelight Magazine, Dr Gemma Regan 17 February 2019
Southern Cross Soloists, Li Wei Qin (cello), George Gao (erhu), Kristian Chong (piano)
Lunar New Year: Memories from Childhood is the first of the three-concert program for 2019 by the Southern Cross Soloists and was an eclectic fusion, featuring animal-inspired Western music with selections from Saint-Saëns’ Carnival of the Animals and Stravinsky’s Firebird Suite, Chinese folk songs, and the world premiere of Carnival of the Chinese Animals, by Lyle Chan exploring the Chinese Zodiac. Special guest soloists included cellist Li-Wei Qin, pianist Kristian Chong and international erhu master George Gao. This daring program of Chinese folksongs interspersed with Carnival of the Animals in the first half was exciting and delightful, blending two contrasting cultures to create a unique and exhilarating concert.
A highlight was the world premiere of Chan’s Carnival of the Chinese Animals, narrated by Jordan Schulte. Inspired by Prokofiev’s Peter and the Wolf, it tells the Chinese folk tale of how each animal was placed by Buddha in their positions of the zodiac based on a race between the animals to cross a river. The intelligent, yet cunning rat came first by hitching a ride on the oxen’s back and pushing the cat into the water, whereas the pig was last as it ate and napped before wading across the river.
After such an incredible collection of compositions, the finale highlighted excerpts of Stravinsky’s Firebird Suite. The Southern Cross Soloists presented a sensational, energetic concert showcasing the diversity of musical styles from the Orient and Europe interspersed with poignant childhood memories of the Lunar New Year celebrations.
Li Wei Qin (cello), Natsuko Yoshimoto (violin), Imants Larsens (viola), Kristian Chong
Kristian Chong, well known to Australian audiences as piano recitalist, concerto soloist and chamber musician has, not surprisingly, gathered a stellar cast of collaborators for his Kristian Chong and Friends concerts to be held at the Melbourne Recital Centre in 2018. This season’s concerts kicked off with one of Australia’s most international artists, Singapore-based cellist Li-Wei Qin headlining a formidable quartet in a program of Brahms and Tchaikovsky. Li-Wei and Kristian were joined by the Adelaide Symphony Orchestra’s Concertmaster Natsuko Yoshimoto and the ASO’s Associate Principal Viola Imants Larsens.
In the first half, Brahms’ Piano Quartet No 3 in C minor was presented with persuasive authority from the outset. With the cellist centrally placed amongst the string protagonists, Qin’s innate musicianship and humanely rich tone projected effortlessly into the auditorium, most penetratingly at the beginning of the third movement Andante, which subsequently unfolded as if it were a genial conversation between long-standing intimates. Throughout, Chong was a model of tonal restraint, always providing resonant harmonic support while never swamping his colleagues in what can, in less expert hands, become overly dense textures. The fourth movement in particular was notable for the delicacy of Chong’s gossamer-like touch.
But it was the vast canvas that is Tchaikovsky’s Piano Trio in A minor that was the great success of the evening. Its prevailing pathos was convincingly captured in the opening movement Pezzo elegiaco, Qin’s plaintive cello featuring prominently. Throughout his career Tchaikovsky was intrigued by variation form and the second movement of this trio – a theme and twelve distinctly characterized variations revealed Tchaikovsky’s capacity to highlight the three instrumentalists both individually and collectively. With the more transparent textures and often more soloistic writing available in the trio format, Yoshimoto’s unerring pitch and well-directed vibrato shone through effortlessly.
Complemented by Qin’s languidly expressive bowing and equally deft left hand, this was a performance in equal parts rapturous, beguiling and humorous. Chong’s unfailing technical command of what is a dauntingly difficult piano part served the trio well, ever-sensitive as it was to the continually shifting roles between supportive background, interlocutory middle-ground and texture-leading fore-ground. This was a thoroughly engaging reading by three equal partners each reveling in the opportunity to come together to share their collective musical conception of this most challenging and intriguing of chamber masterpieces.
A most satisfying evening of collaborative music-making.
KRISTIAN CHONG & FRIENDS - MOZART and BRAHMS
MELBOURNE RECITAL CENTRE, Primrose Potter Salon
Rebecca Chan (violin), Christopher Moore (viola), Rachael Tobin (cello), Kristian Chong (piano)
Kristian Chong is not only one of Australia’s busiest and most versatile pianists, he is also one of its finest, so it was no surprise that he was able to assemble a stellar cast of friends and colleagues to present the latest recital in his popular chamber music series held at the Melbourne Recital Centre. On this occasion it was a packed Salon on November 20, 2017, a balmy Monday night to hear works by Mozart and Brahms. This space provides the perfect environs to experience the intimacy of chamber music, and on this occasion no one left disappointed.
For the opening work, Chong was joined by The Philharmonia’s Assistant Concertmaster Rebecca Chan. Mozart’s unusually structured two-movement Sonata in G major for Piano and Violin K379 was composed in just under an hour. The first movement opens with a broad, majestic Adagio in G major, which segues unexpectedly into a more virile G minor Allegro. This is followed by the second and final movement – a delicate, light-hearted set of variations. Unlike many of the earlier sonatas where the violin has almost an incidental role, the violin is very much an equal partner in the musical discourse of the G major Sonata and Chan’s warm tone and tastefully restrained vibrato was perfectly suited to the opening Adagio. Her nuanced lyricism was matched by Chong, who provided eloquent support throughout. Chong’s rippling scales and perfectly judged articulation were a highlight of the ensuing Allegro. Chan and Chong then proved to be well-matched duettists in the variations, each respectfully taking their turn in the musical dialog, leading and answering as the music dictated, in what was a dynamically well-proportioned, lyrical finale. Variation 1, with its tacet violin, and Variation 5, where the violin accompanies pizzicato, revealed Chong’s effortless gift for understated cantabile.
Brahms’ Piano Quartet No 1 in G minor was premiered by the composer’s great friend and putative muse, Clara Schumann in 1861. Here Chong was joined by violinist Chan, MSO violist Christopher Moore and MSO cellist Rachael Tobin. Much of the writing pits the piano against the strings but the musical protagonists were well matched as they euphoniously explored the turbulent passion of the opening movement. The welcome prominence of Moore’s viola lent a vivid richness to the texture. Throughout, phrases dovetailed seamlessly, and where the strings played in rhythmic unison, as was often the case, dynamic gradations were as one.
But it was perhaps in the Rondo alla Zingarese finale that the four players best revealed their chamber chops. The densely textured finale that so often seems to strive for symphonic dimensions was masterfully handled, perfectly capturing the Hungarian Czardas style in what was a well-paced Presto. Exciting, yet never in danger of losing control, (as is too often the case in live performances of this movement), this was chamber music making at its finest, four distinctive musical voices coming together, seemingly relishing their new roles, and the urgency of the unfolding musical argument. It brought the concert to a stirring conclusion.
“Celebrity soloist and friends” concerts often have a certain frisson as individual players, notwithstanding their respective talents and collegial goodwill, may or may not be accustomed to playing with each other in a chamber context. Moreover, they are often brought together with limited rehearsal time in an effort to develop a unified voice. On this occasion however, this quartet of friends and colleagues played as though they were a seasoned ensemble, minus the ennui, and indeed appeared to enjoy the experience as much as their appreciative audience did.
It is always a joy to return to the Melbourne Town Hall to hear the Melbourne Symphony, especially to hear such a late nineteenth-century focused program that seem so concordant with the Town Hall’s imposing Victorian architecture. Whatever the acoustic foibles of our grand Swanston Street dame, there is always a sense of splendor and occasion whenever the MSO returns to its former home base...
Then came Saint-Saens’ Piano Concerto No 2 with guest soloist Kristian Chong. Saint-Saens himself was a mightily gifted pianist and this is evident in the unrelenting virtuosity in each of his five piano concertos. The Second Concerto, the most popular, is somewhat unusually structured opening with what is essentially a slow movement, before settling into a brisk Mendelssohnian scherzo-like second movement, finally culminating in a whirlwind tarantella finale.
Kristian Chong has established a solid reputation as one of Australia’s leading pianists with a performance portfolio that embraces an enormous range of chamber repertoire, virtuoso concertos, as well as distinctive solo recitals that have taken him around the world. Chong quickly established why this is such a well-deserved reputation with the Bach-inspired solo cadenza that opens the concerto. His rich tone filled the Town Hall, realizing the broad quasi-improvised lines with an assured sense of soloistic élan that augured well for what was to follow. Chong brought an appropriately Gallic refinement to the remainder of the movement highlighting its elegance and lyricism. Light-fingered dexterity served Saint-Saens well in the second movement. Impeccable clarity enabled the nimble elfin-like textures to emerge effortlessly, and these contrasted well with the rambunctious swing of the second theme. The thrilling Presto finale was taken at break-neck speed, yet never threatened to fray at the edges, as both soloist and orchestra, each displaying technical assurance and rhythmic tautness, worked together in perfect unanimity of purpose, exploring the movement’s shifting moods and textures.
Chong gave a masterful reading of this popular concerto, and his complete control of the expressive and technical demands of this style leads one to hope to hear him at some later date in Saint-Saens’ Fourth Piano Concerto, a too-little-heard masterpiece. As a welcome encore, Chong gave a translucent reading of Rachmaninoff’s wistfully lyrical Prelude in G major.
This was a performance to savour, perfectly suited to the environs, and the almost capacity audience responded accordingly, with enthusiasm and perhaps with a tinge of nostalgia.
Dale Barltrop (violin), Kristian Chong (piano)
This short lunch hour recital of sonatas by Schubert and Corigliano benefited from their shared musical vision and performance style that cut through challenges with confidence, precision and nuanced musical colourations in perfect harmony together. The tensile strength and polish they bring to their interpretations especially suited Corigliano’s Sonata, a big, bold outdoorsy piece of 1960s Americana with more than the occasional touch of Bernstein and Stravinsky in its pounding rhythmical ostinatos and edgy melodic shapes. Both players were on song every inch of the way, the white heat drama of its two inner movements balanced by the lyricism and high-octane velocity of the outer movements with no-holds-barred virtuosity.
There was always much to admire en route as this talented duo showed how blended intentions and polished playing can make a violin and piano duo sound totally natural.
Rachmaninoff Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini - Canberra Symphony Orchestra, 2 & 3 November 2016, Llewellyn Hall
'Soloist Kristian Chong… nothing short of brilliant' 6 November 2016, Clinton White, Canberra Times
It was time to open the piano for a performance of Rachmaninoff and 24 variations for piano and orchestra, based on Paganini’s diabolically difficult “Caprice No 24” for solo violin, itself a theme followed by a set of 11 variations and a finale.
The soloist, Kristian Chong, was nothing short of brilliant, giving a heartfelt performance of extraordinary beauty and sensitivity with finely controlled expression, tempi and touch. The famous 18th variation was especially moving, played with deep thoughtfulness holding the capacity audience totally silent.
Two encores were demanded and featured another Rachmaninov work and a piece for left hand by Australian composer Miriam Hyde, arranged for Chong when he broke his right arm at the age of nine years.