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Monday, 18 March 2013 22:23

Concert review: Pianist Wuna Meng at the Ethical Society Sunday, March 17

Concert review: Pianist Wuna Meng at the Ethical Society Sunday, March 17
Written by Gary Liam Scott

For over 200 years audiences have been captivated by the piano, and with good reason.  A skilled performer can transform the instrument into a veritable orchestral palette of color, range, special effects and dynamics.  Such was the case with the brilliant Chinese-born pianist Wuna Meng, a 2012 competition winner of the Artist Presentation Society, who performed on March 17 at the Ethical Society.

Meng’s recital marked a grand and noteworthy addition to the already impressive array of outstanding young musicians sponsored by APS.  Given the fact that APS competitions are limited to performers who reside within a radius of 200 miles of St. Louis, their numbers are astonishing and should be a source of pride for our entire community. 

Currently a doctoral student at the University of Illinois, Meng presented a program that embodied both innovative and traditional elements, reflecting a broad range of technical and artistic expertise.  Opening with the very lyrical and expressive Beethoven "Sonata no. 31 in A-flat, Op. 110", Meng displayed a delicate yet fluid and well-phrased singing touch.  The Beethoven was followed with the thunderous, yet also lyrical "Ballade no. 2 in B minor" by Liszt, a work which is not heard nearly enough. 

The second half of the program began with another work deserving of far more attention, the "Variations of a Theme of Chopin, Op. 22", by Sergei Rachmaninoff, a monumental work derived from the C minor prelude of Chopin.  It was perhaps in this work that Meng displayed a consummate skill that encompassed every torrent of passion of which the piano is capable, from the sweet and sublime to oceans of roaring waves of octaves, scales and walls of massive chords.

The program closed with “Winnsboro Cotton Mill Blues” by Frederic Rzewski (b. 1938), a magnificently crafted piece inspired by both the crashing whir of cotton mills in the American South as well as the quiet and introspective blues idiom honed at night by many of the laborers who worked at the mills by day.  A work such as this demonstrates clearly that contemporary music, even the avant-garde, can be accepted and appreciated by audiences provided it is good music, written with purpose and thought. 

Few pianists can match Meng’s extreme range of dynamics.  Her fortissimo passages engulfed the hall, yet her pianissimo passages sang as softly as the harmonics of a violin.  Even in the loudest moments, though, phrasing and melodic shape were never lost. 

Another noteworthy aspect of this program was the fact that Meng provided a verbal introduction to each work on the program.  If we are to build audiences for the future, musical education must walk hand in hand with musical performance, particularly at this critical moment in history when standards in American schools have declined so precipitously. 

Host Dick Wobbe provided framework in which Wuna Meng was able to stretch the broad canvas of her talents.  For all this, much credit belongs to the Artist Presentation Society, whose members donate time, energy and finances in order to serve our community. 

The next program in the current APS season will feature violinist Henry Wang on April 21, 2013.  For additional information, access the APS website at www.apsmusic.org.

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