Chiao-han Liao

Music lovers in Taipei were treated to a splendid and versatile solo piano concert earlier this evening courtesy of Chiao-han Liao (廖皎含). Ms Liao attracted a large audience to the grand hall in Taiwan's National Concert Hall. The audience was also, in many cases, strikingly young. Taiwan's most youthful concertgoers are clearly as excited about the music of this distinguished artist as the rest of us.


Johann Sebastian Bach
Italian Concerto in F Major, BMV 971
- [Allegro]
- Andante
- Presto

Robert Schumann
Humoreske in B-flat Major, opus 20
- Einfach: Sehr rasch und Leicht-Wie im Anfang Hastig
- Einfach und zart-Intermezzo
- Innig: Sehr lebhaft. Mit einigem Pomp.
- Zum Beschluss: Allegro

~ Intermission ~

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart
Piano Sonata in C Major, KV 330
- Allegro moderato
- Andante cantabile
- Allegretto

Enrique Granados
Valses Poeticos

Franz Lizst
Les jeux d'eau a la Villa d'Este

Sergei Rachmaninoff (arr. Kreisler)

Wagner spoke of each piece of music having its melos, its unique inner melody. The essence of the interpreter's art, he said, is to find and convey this melos. It is inextricably bound into the musical character of a work and, by nature, escapes printed notation no matter how much effort the composer puts into efforts to communicate it. A century later Duke Ellington would frame the matter this way: 'It don't mean a thing if it ain't got that swing.'

Chiao-han Liao excels at finding the inner melody. She makes it swing.

Bach, in her hands, is a dancer as much as a thinker. His suite never loses its roots on the dance floor and each musical gesture becomes an aural counterpoint of a physical, graceful and stylish, move. So vital is Ms Liao's performance that it is easy to overlook the homework she has done on eighteenth-century style. She has absorbed not just the letter but the spirit of the era's performance practice, with all the creative latitude it offered performers even as it had its priorities. The same may be said of her way with Mozart's sunlit sonata. The lyrical middle movement sang so convincingly that it may as well have been an aria from a lost opera; the energetic finale put us right back on that eighteenth-century dance floor.

The Schumann was sublime. A poetic, penetrating performance.

The extended duple-meter introduction of the Granados comes as a jolt to audience members whose expectations are formed by the title. Ms Liao enjoys the joke and makes the most of it, teasing out the last few bars. When the first waltz actually arrives, it invites a smile from both the performer and the listener. From then on each segment has its special mood and colour, and Ms Liao steers each one tellingly through its light and shade and dappled shadows, its fluid moves through gravity and lift, doing justice to both words in the title.

The Liszt made an excellent contract in its cinematic extroversion and physicality. Ms Liao held nothing back in conveying the dramatic shape and grand gestures of the work. At the same time she held the line constant: the flow of the fountain never hesitated or broke.

Her choice of encore, begun without an announcement, was Beethoven's Für Elise (Bagatelle in A minor, WoO 59). The opening bars drew a chuckle from the audience. Taiwan residents are all too familiar with the brutal mechanised treatment the melody gets from city garbage trucks, which excels even the trials the piece endures worldwide in the hands of piano beginners. What a delight to hear it played by an artist as a living, breathing piece of real music. Ms Liao played it with lyricism, style and perception, confident as always of her hold on the melos.


Conductor's Notebook

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