The intimacy of the recital room at the Strathmore Mansion creates the perfect atmosphere to listen to a piano virtuoso play a night of sonatas. Jenny Lin chose these particular composers, because she felt they were worth “hearing and discovering.” More than that, I felt these pieces were well-worth hearing live,because I may never hear them live again I did discover two of them;one was the Russian, Alexander Scriabin whose works I did not know, and the other was a new piece written by Alexandra Gardner for this evening in collaboration with Ms. Lin.
There were some themes to this night. Ms. Lin pointed out that it starts with a B minor sonata by Domenico Scarlatti and ends with one by Franz Liszt. Also in addition to Scriabin she included another Russian, probably the most famous composer of the 20th centuy – Igor Stravinsky. They both were also cosmopolitan.
The Scarlatti pieces, Sonata in B minor, K.27/L.449 and Sonata in D Major, K.492/L.14 were light and fresh; a great opening. They were followed by Sonata by Stravinsky which, ironically, was the most Baroque and Classical of all the pieces, but not the oldest, according to Program Notes by Ms. Ng. This sonata sounded more like Bach than the Rites of Spring. Stravinsky was one of the first to think that music and colors were linked. I tried to envision colors while I listened.
We then were introduced to the composer of the next group, Alexandra Gardner, who has known Ms. Lin for a long time. Ms. Gardner explained that when she composes she lets the music start writing itself. She admitted taking some liberties with the sonata form. She was glad that Ms. Lin was performing her pieces as the pianist gets “under the hood of the music she is playing.” This sonata is called Chalcedony Sonata. (An interesting note: Ms. Gardner names her pieces for types of rocks, flowers, and trees). The composer is a trained percussionist, and I could hear that influence in the sonata. The collaboration worked, because it is a beautiful and imaginative piece. Ms. Lin’s artistry and special feeling for the piece could be heard throughout her perofrmance.
The final piece was my personal favorite of the first set: Sonata no. 4 in F sharp major, Op. 30, “I. Andante,” “II. Prestissimo Volando.” It was, as promised in notes in the program, diligently researched and written by Natalie Ng, with “tremendous energy and elation.”
After Intermission, we were privilegde to hear Ms. Lin play Sonata in B minor by Liszt. This piece was not well received in Liszt’s life, probably because it was way ahead of its time. It has been analyzed, not only by music critics and historians, but by psychologists as well. Some think it is autobiographical, others think it is a conflict between God and Lucifer, and others thought it was based on Milton’s Paradise Lost. Others thought it was a Faustian interpretation which Liszt, himself, seemed to indicate. Despite the fact that the composer named all his other pieces, he did not name this one, adding to the debate. The piece definitely seemed more modern than the others, although it was written long before all but two of them, according to Scarlatti Sonatas. A section of it reminded me of a conversation, perhaps Faust and the devil, but to me it sounded like a piece that would have been used in the Silent Movie days with the villain’s voice characterized by the deeper stronger passages and the poor heroine’s voice characterized by the soft, almost pleading notes. It ended in one note, B. It was a wonderful end to the program.
After two standing ovations, Ms. Lin treated us to two encores. “Blue Moon,” which was more American Jazz than Classical. It was an insight into Ms. Lin’s wide range. She followed with a short piece by Chabin, “Russian in Hong Kong,” in honor of the Chinese New Year. You could hear the influence of both ethnic groups as well as the hubbub of Hong Kong.
Ms. Lin plays all over, but Washington is her “home,. She lives in New York and performs up there as well. If you get a chance to hear her, it will be worth going. You do not have to be a classical music buff to enjoy her performances. You just need to enjoy fine music.
Running Time: One hour and 45 minutes, with one intermission.
Jenny Lin’s website.