Notes by Christopher Hailey
The eighteenth-century antecedents of the modern concert grand - the harpsichord, clavichord, and fortepiano - were instruments well suited to the intimacy of the chamber, to small gatherings and candle-lit interchange. It was an age of conversation, and music, modeled on this principal pastime, was a medium for wit, sentiment, and rhetorical flourish. Mozart's Fantasy and Scarlatti's sonatas, which bracket this recital by David Fung, remind us why the keyboard was considered such an ideal vehicle for a composer's flights of fancy. Here, alone, the thinking musician could freely engage the listener's ear with the allure of the musical idea.
These four works, all in a minor key, are a reminder that ruminative introspection was every bit as characteristic of this "enlightened age" as sparkling repartee. Scarlatti's over five hundred sonatas, written around mid century for the Spanish court, are pioneering works for the harpsichord. Their succinct form, sharply etched individuality, and technical brilliance proved influential upon several generations of keyboard composers. Among Mozart's solo keyboard works, the C-Minor Fantasy (1785), no doubt conceived for the fortepiano, holds a special place in the composer's output for its dramatic turbulence and harmonic daring, qualities that anticipate a Romantic age that Mozart, dead at 35 in 1791, would not live to see.
In the nineteenth century, as candle light gave way to gas, the piano, whose frame was now reinforced with iron, virtually replaced all earlier keyboard incarnations. Something of the eighteenth-century drawing room survived in the salon, where a fading aristocracy mingled with an ascendant bourgeoisie. This was the world of Frederic Chopin, the Polish composer and pianist who was fêted by Europe's social elite. But while his nocturnes contain echoes of the pensive side of Scarlatti and Mozart, these works are thoroughly Romantic in their inspiration. Here, conversation has turned to conjuring, the artist has become a magician, invoking through his singing tone the languid charm of the operatic cantabile.
Thanks to the manufacturing and marketing innovations of this burgeoning industrial age the piano had become a ubiquitous fixture in middle-class homes, the pride of the parlor where family and friends gathered in the comforting warmth of the tiled stove. This is the cozy world of Robert Schumann, who, like Chopin, was also a conjurer, but his subject matter was the lyric self, that special preserve of bürgerlich fantasy. In Schumann's hands the piano became an instrument of poetic utterance that could encapsulate a whim, a mood, or an arabesque in the few deft strokes of a character piece. The thirteen miniatures of Scenes from Childhood (1838) are masterpieces of this genre. In their simplicity these two- and three-part structures recall the straightforward directness of Scarlatti's sonatas, which in all but name were character pieces of an earlier time. And like Mozart's fantasies, Schumann's works have the spontaneity of the sketch and the improvisation. But these childhood memories are more ingratiating than their eighteenth-century predecessors, less the stuff of discourse than of story-telling.
By the end of the nineteenth century the warm glow of the gas flame was giving way to the cold glare of electric light. The piano had reached the peak of its development as the powerful concert grand, an instrument capable of haranguing the multitudes with resources that were orchestral in scope, the instrument of thundering giants like Sergei Rachmaninov. But this taciturn Russian also knew how to reign in the piano's power and explore more contemplative terrain. Though his solo works ranged from études and variations to sonatas, Rachmaninov is perhaps best remembered for his preludes, works that have the kind of improvisatory air that suggests a late night post-concert performance for friends. Of the thirteen preludes of opus 32 (1910) five are recorded here, ranging in mood from the mercurial (No. 8) to the passionate (No. 9) and the reflective (No. 10). There is a hint of Chopin in the fluttering texture and long-breathed melody of No. 12 in G# Minor, and No. 11 in B Major, delightful in its rhythmic and harmonic instability, seems at times like a wistful look back at the lost world of Schumann.
Something of Schumann lives on in Tan Dun's Eight Memories in Watercolor of 1978. These, too, are character pieces with fanciful titles that are evocative of childhood. The composer captured these memories as a homesick conservatory student in Beijing, employing both folk songs from his native Hunan (in numbers 2, 3, 4, 8) as well as original material (in numbers 1, 5, 6, 7) that reflected influences from the West. And like Schumann and Scarlatti, Chopin, Mozart, and Rachmaninov before him, Tan Dun was learning to master the secret of the miniature - a compositional form he has likened both to zen calligraphy and to the watercolor: "capturing essences with the minimum of gesture." This is a fitting epigraph for this collection of short pieces, jewels of the composer's craft and worthy tests of a performer's taste and skill.
Institute of Advanced Study, Princeton
It is with great pleasure that Yarlung Records presents David Fung’s second album, Evening Conversations, which we recorded on March 27th, 28th and 29th, 2006, in Zipper Hall in Los Angeles. We received many compliments on the sound for David’s first album, "A Journey from Hubris to Humility." For that recording we used the legendary C-24 stereo microphone, and made full use of the warm ambience of the hall and the natural decay in this wonderful acoustic space. For "Evening Conversations," however, we chose two Neumann U-47 tube microphones, and used a more intimate perspective for the microphone setup. In contrast to the mid-hall perspective we wanted for David’s first album, this is more intimate music, and we wanted the sound to complement this more introspective repertoire. As before, we recorded directly to two tracks through our specially-modified tube microphone preamplifiers and custom cables. We recorded analog tape, as well as high definition 24-bit PCM digital media at 176,400 samples per second. I hope you enjoy these performances and the sound.
One of Yarlung Records’ missions is to record and support young international-caliber artists at this stage in their concert careers. Happily, this mission is working. I understand that Sir Brian McMaster heard David’s first album, and based on that representation of David’s talent, hired him for his debut this summer (August 2006) in Queen’s Hall at the venerated Edinburgh International Festival. Thank you Brian, and thank you David for giving us so much to celebrate.
David and I are already discussing a possible third album. At the time of this pressing, David is on concert tour in Spain, France, The Netherlands and Ireland. It is a pleasure to work with an artist like David, whose musical interpretations are always rich and fresh without being eccentric, and always completely sincere.
I wish to dedicate this album to my friend and mentor Gustavo Hidalgo, born in Montevideo in 1952, died in Santa Monica in 2006. In addition to being a great friend, Gustavo was ceaseless in his quest for great music captured with ever-more-perfect recording techniques. His support of my recordings, as well as his unwillingness to accept compromise, served as one of my great challenges and inspirations as an engineer and producer. Thank you Gustavo.
Bob Attiyeh, producer