Notes by Alan Rich:
To introduce his talents to the musical world, the young virtuoso David Fung has chosen a program that showcases his own extraordinary versatility, and the versatility of the piano itself as an expressive instrument for music across the centuries. Our chronology begins with the Baroque mastery of Johann Sebastian Bach, whose Well-Tempered Clavier lives on to astound us in the blend, in each of its 48 components, of masterful design and musical passion.
As the keyboard works of Bach loomed magnificently over the 18th century, so did the magnificent daring of Franz Liszt in the 19th. A flamboyant figure himself, Liszt proclaimed that no effect – pictorial or philosophical – was beyond the power of the piano to depict. The spectacular splash in his depiction of the Fountains at the Villa d’Este – one of a series of “travel” pieces based on his own “years of pilgrimage” through Italy’s high spots – bears him out. On the other hand, the massive, sweeping Sonata in B minor establishes Liszt equally as a master in a more abstract, Romantic musical style.
The power of the piano to trace the cascading beauties of water in motion was widely recognized by composers, few more successfully than Maurice Ravel, early in the 20th century, in his piece called, simply, The Play of Water. A daring pianist in his own right, Ravel also fashioned a piano-duet version of his colorful orchestral tone-poem La Valse; yet, moving one step beyond Ravel’s own daring, our own virtuoso David Fung has undertaken to perform all four hands’ worth of Ravel’s transcription with the mere two of his own. His program comes to a haunting, quiet close with more of Ravel, the solemn Pavane for a Dead Princess,– the measures of an ancient, ritual dance, given an enhanced new meaning in the hands of a more recent composer, and further dramatized in the hands of a gifted young master of the piano.
Yarlung Records recorded this American Debut Album for pianist David Fung in advance of his 2005 world concert tour. Following his celebrated concerts with the Sydney and Melbourne Symphony Orchestras, David won the International Klaviersommer Festival Competition in Germany in 2004. And after also capturing the festival’s People’s Choice Award, David quickly became a young artist in demand around the world.
It is a privilege to produce an album for an artist with David’s unique gifts. He combines keyboard fireworks with a mature and refined technique. David surpasses his dramatic flair in the rambunctious parts only with his subtle musicality. I am most affected by his willingness to express personal tenderness and expose his vulnerability as he does in the introspective passages. This album includes both virtuoso showpieces and works of ethereal simplicity. Few pianists do both so well. Even fewer young pianists excel in both genres. David reminds one of concert artists like Andras Schiff and Martha Argerich (two of David’s favorite musicians and role models, incidentally) who also combine extraordinary pianistic display and great musical subtlety.
This recording reveals David’s extraordinary breadth of expression, from the ethereal and emotionally mature Bach Prelude and Fugue in B-flat minor (David is unafraid of the emotional detail and color that a modern concert grand piano can reveal in this piece) to the Four Hands La Valse, Ravel’s black, bitter and surreal response to World War One. Many of us know this work in its orchestral version. Indeed I knew it best from Esa-Pekka Salonen’s performances last season in Walt Disney Concert Hall with the Los Angeles Philharmonic. On our recording, David treats us to his own rendition of Ravel’s rarely performed transcription for solo piano, incorporating many sections from the Four Hands edition for two pianos, and adding additional material from the full orchestral score. This piece is rarely recorded by one pianist in any version. Glenn Gould’s simplified transcription is a notable exception. David’s technical and emotional scope as a pianist captures the full range of hubris (or outrage and arrogance) and surrender and humility, contained in this program.
David is affable, yet a perfectionist. As a child, he also played the violin. He still plays the violin for friends. But following an argument with his teacher about the musical interpretation of a specific passage, David abandoned the instrument. Happily for us, he continued his studies on the piano.
Just as when he was a child, a hot fire burns underneath David’s cheerful and accessible personality. I enjoy David’s ability to express both his vulnerability and his incendiary nature in this recording. One can hear David’s nine-year-old fire and energy barely contained under the surface in his piano performances. Now twenty-two years old, David has successfully incorporated this fire and allowed it to merge organically with his mature musicality. I hope you enjoy this first American release.
We recorded this album on June 27th and 28th, 2005 in Herbert Zipper Hall in the Colburn School of Performing Arts in Los Angeles. David started with the Liszt B-Minor Sonata, and played it straight through in one take. He repeated this feat our second day. During a dinner break in our recording sessions, we had a chance to talk:
DF: I’m lonely right now.
BA: I can hear it in the music, but I don’t pick this up from you.
DF: Ah. I’m Australian, of course (laughing). Most of my American friends left town for the summer, to play concerts and festivals. I saw my mother and father last seven months ago. Being away this long is hard on me. We’re a very close family. My cell phone bill is astronomical… so I practice. Until I hurt.
BA: I imagine you must be lonely, or at least alone, much of your touring life.
DF: Yes. But when I play too many hours, I distract myself with other interests. I paint (did I tell you I studied at the art academy in Sydney as a kid?), and I am a photographer, so I keep myself busy. My father is a master at Chinese calligraphy. Maybe my painting comes from him. Sometimes I feel caught between these various worlds. It’s crazy-making. Painting and piano use such different parts of the brain.
BA: One can hear the painterliness in your playing.
DF: Good. At least I think that’s good. This confuses me, because I have synesthesia.
BA: Can you say more?
DF: Synesthesia’s either a blessing or a curse. Particular notes have colors, as do chords. I don’t see the pieces in color, I feel them in color. Well maybe I see them too. The opening of the Bartok 3rd Concerto is pink. It’s bubbly, and I play it in a way that’s quirky and vivacious. Like a strawberry milkshake. I guess I taste the music too. All of this is irrelevant, of course, to an audience. I hope my internal color perceptions don’t affect the way one hears the music in the hall, at least in any negative way. I hope not, because I can’t help it. I can’t turn the colors off.
BA: Helene Grimaud talks about her synesthesia too.
DF: Really? I didn’t know. Yet she’s one of my absolutely favorite pianists. Especially her first Denon album. Chopin Ballade Number One, Liszt and Schumann. What a performance.
BA: Yes, recorded by Yoshiharu Kawaguchi and Takashi Baba. They’re masters of their art, as is Grimaud. What colors affect the pieces on this album?
DF: The Liszt B-Minor is black. Very dark, and glowing. I don’t feel the Pavane as tragic, instead I feel the innocence of the piece. White. Some of the chords in the Pavane are green, which is funny, since that’s a color I see often in jazz. The Villa d’Este is very warm, yellows and reds. Not blue, ironically, which would make sense to most people for the water. Nothing about synesthesia makes sense, Bob. It’s just a fact, secondary to one’s thought process. I don’t really think about it. La Valse is red for me, which is for a different reason, though. I feel such a connection between this piece and Poe’s Mask of the Red Death, so that understanding affects the colors. I’m babbling….
David left Sydney two years ago, to pursue his concert career and to continue his studies with his teacher, John Perry. To do so, David withdrew from his second year in Medical School. During our recording sessions, his advisor called from Sydney to ask David if he would please return next year to finish his medical training. Thankfully, David told him medical school would have to wait. The world of classical music can celebrate this news.
For these sessions, we used the legendary AKG C-24 microphone, with its original tube in good condition. To achieve the greatest possible transparency, to capture the sound and decay in this glorious hall, and to preserve the natural soundstage, this album was recorded in only two tracks, using equipment and cables designed or reengineered specifically for Yarlung Records. For this digital pressing, we used HDCD encoding, to preserve 20-Bit resolution on playback. This CD will play normally on most recent CD players, even those not equipped for full HDCD playback.
Bob Attiyeh, producer