Haochen Zhang with Spokane Symphony

Criticism falls silent before a talent such as is possessed by Haochen

[...] We heard Liszt’s Second Hungarian Rhapsody in an orchestral arrangement, and his Piano Concerto No. 2 in A major. Soloist in the concerto was the remarkable Haochen Zhang, gold medal winner at the Van Cliburn Competition. Brahms was represented by his Symphony No. 4 in E minor, which comprised the second half of the concert.

[...] The only emotional excesses in the Liszt concerto, however, came from Liszt himself. Everything in the performance itself, whether from the conductor, the soloist or the orchestra, reflected magisterial control. Criticism falls silent before a talent such as is possessed by Haochen. Though this was the first public performance of the Liszt Second Concerto for him, there is nothing left in the score for him to master.

Not only has he the speed and agility (his octaves!) needed to bring an audience to its feet, but they are deployed with an awareness of style and rhetorical focus that characterize only the greatest artists. His tone throughout the piece had a brazen virility that perfectly matched Liszt’s dashing, hyper-sexed persona. As a collaborator, he remained sensitive to every inflection Lowe imparted to the score, achieving the appearance of spontaneity that comes only from total mastery.

As an encore, Haochen performed “Girl with the Flaxen Hair” from Book One of Claude Debussy’s Preludes. Astoundingly, but appropriately, the sound he coaxed from the piano was completely different from what seemed so natural for him in the Liszt. What was all virile machismo became ethereal, half-heard impressionism. The man is a wizard!

“Total mastery” also sums up the performance of the Brahms E minor Symphony that followed the intermission. The piece is intricately woven from 100,000 threads, and yet it flowed in this performance like water from a spring: fresh and inexhaustible.

Lowe’s achievement in this interpretation is hard to overestimate, for, while other conductors may make more of the symphony’s propulsive energy, or look more deeply into its tragic shadows, none in my experience maintains the astounding equilibrium among all its aspects that we heard on Saturday night at the Martin Woldson Theater at the Fox.

This equilibrium also characterized the sound that Lowe achieved with our orchestra, which balanced warmth with clarity in a way that even some very great conductors have found elusive in performing the music of Brahms.

The sheer beauty of sound in the second movement left us shaking our heads in wonder and hungry for more.

The Spokesman
Sunday, February 17, 2019