Virtuosic Liszt from Lucille Chung

Liszt: Piano Music

Lucille Chung (piano)

The Canadian pianist Lucille Chung was born in Montréal and made her debut at the age of 10 with the Montreal Symphony Orchestra. Subsequently she has toured with Charles Dutoit in Asia and performed with over 65 leading orchestras around the world! Currently Lucille has made her home in New York City.

Lucille Chung hasn’t let small hands (she loves playing Liszt)¹ or being married to fellow concert pianist Alessio Bax (they play duos together) get in the way of her blossoming career.

The pianist states that she finds Liszt ‘an intriguing, fascinating and puzzling composer … an 18th century equivalent of a rock star’. This new release from Signum Classics sees Chung performing Liszt’s Piano Sonata in B minor, S178 and Gretchen aus Faust-Symphonie, S513 together with a number of shorter pieces as her homage to the great composer.

The CD opens with the Toccata, S197a an extraordinary little study, unusual among the late pieces for its prestissimo tempo direction and the ambiguous ‘white-note’ flavour to the harmony. This is followed by Unstern: sinistre disastro S208 where Lucille shows her power in the crashing fortississimo dissonances at the work’s climax. We have the Wiegenlied (Chant du berceau), S198 with its aura of childlike innocence and a sense of muted anxiety followed by a suitably cheeky interpretation of Liszt’s Bagatelle sans tonalite, S216a. As the CD progressed I found myself in awe of the technical prowess on display that enabled these challenging works to be played with such apparent ease. The final miniature is perhaps the most remarkable; Trübe Wolken (Nuages gris), S199 and it is surely the high  point of Liszt’s experimentation with expressive composition. In as fine a performance as this Gretchen, the second movement of the Faust Symphony, one does not miss the full orchestra. However this also attributable to Liszt’s skill as a transcriber as evidenced in his transcriptions of the Beethoven Symphonies. All the while the CD is building towards the major work that concludes the recording.

The climax of the CD is a highly enjoyable performance of the single-movement Piano Sonata in B minor, S178 which benefits from a long period of familiarity with the work and the increased awareness that Lucille has acquired from her study of Liszt’s later works.

This latest offering further enhances my view of Lucille Chung as a musician of great intelligence, a pianist capable of eye-opening virtuosity and with a  power that is inversely proportional to her diminutive stature. In summary an excellent release and I look forward, with eager anticipation, to her next release.

iClassical rating: 

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¹ She describes herself in the album’s notes as “a diminutive lady with hands spanning a 9th and this led her mentor, Lazar Berman to initially doubt that she would ever play Liszt well!