The Washington Post Review

Subtle, understated, or simply muted? Pianist offers restrained beauty in WPA debut

By Joe Banno
The young Australian pianist David Fung opened his Washington Performing Arts Terrace Theater recital on Saturday with some pretty ravishing Scarlatti. In three sonatas culled from the 550 late-career miniature masterpieces Scarlatti composed, Fung showed a true poetic sensibility. He offered crystalline phrasing that would not have been out of place on the harpsichord — an instrument he also happens to play — while drawing hushed, beautifully rounded tone from his Steinway. Interleaving those works with Scarlatti-inspired sonatas by contemporary composer Samuel Adams (son of John) — which offered witty deconstructions of the Baroque sonatas surrounding them — was a canny bit of programming, and Fung played the newer works with clear affection.

A similar element of poetry informed his exquisitely sculpted readings of Mozart’s Sonata No. 17 and Schubert’s “Wanderer Fantasie.” But there was a sense in this music that volume was intentionally subdued, and that the volatility and strutting grandeur that ripple through certain pages of the score were tamed to fit a polite, Classical conception of Schubert’s work, rather than a more robust, Romantic one. Fung’s understated interpretation certainly worked, but other pianists have conjured more edge-of-the-seat thrills in this music, without sacrificing the kind of rapt musing that Fung so memorably drew out in the introspective second section of the piece.

It was hard to predict what a subtle tone-painter like Fung would make of Rachmaninoff. But in the Op. 32 Preludes No. 8 and 10, there was a notable (if not exactly barnstorming) broadening of power and dynamic range. These pieces, too, benefited from Fung’s thoughtfulness and touchingly immediate way with phrasing, and he was fully inside the Russian composer’s idiom. Fung’s own arrangement of Ravel’s “La Valse” (augmenting Ravel’s solo version with material from the two-piano and orchestral versions) was more of a mixed bag — at times more episodic than flowing, at others more concerned with clarity than intoxicating atmosphere. But, more often than not, it was simply gorgeous.

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