[Clavier Companion] July/August 2015

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by Steven Hall

Mozart Fugues, Rondos and Fantasias
Sang Woo Kang, piano
Naxos 8.573114
[Total time 71:03]

Mozart’s wife Constanze destroyed many of her husband’s sketches following his death, but she also compiled a collection of his incomplete works. Many of these atypical compositions and fragments exhibit influences of Bach and Handel, yet still evidence Mozart’s unique voice. Many of the shorter fragments (thirty seconds or less) seem to be singular experiments. Others, often completed by Stadler or Setter, can be regarded as stand-alone compositions. Kang enlivens these fascinating and contrapuntally enriched works with a bold, deft approach; particular impressive are the voice-leading outlines within the plethora of Mozart’s fugues. The Gigue, K. 574, has a wonderful bounce, and the curious Baroque style of the Suite in C Major, K. 399, with its Overture, Allemande, Courante, and fragment of Sarabande, is equally successful. Kang’s interesting analyses in his liner notes make this collection a unique and important addition to Mozart’s recorded literature.


[American Record Guide] May/June 2015

MOZART: Prelude & Fugue in C
with short fugues and pieces
Sang Woo Kang, p
Naxos 573114—71 minutes

with variations & other pieces
Anastasia Injushina
Ondine 1250—69 minutes

Reviewed by Alan Becker

Much of the contents seem to consist of chips from the master’s workbench. The Ondine disc goes so far as to refer to them as “Neglected Treasures”. Some questions may also arise about the way to list them, and what certain terms mean. Since I doubt ARG would be amenable to a protracted discourse on some of these bitty pieces (or fragments), we will have to leave that alone for now. Mozart’s name will probably be all the justification needed for hearing them. Some easily understood explanations can be had by going to the site music/classical/.

Fellow ARG reviewer Sang Woo Kang writes his own notes and discusses the music dispassionately without claiming all as the work of a genius. In fact, early Mozart shows uncanny craftsmanship but is rarely truly inspired or inspiring. That was to come later.

Comparing the two pianists in the one work they have in common finds Kang more than two minutes faster. The added speed does make a more exciting and intense experience in the Fugue. Russian born Injushina, on the other hand, lets the Fugue unfold with more sheer beauty and attention to shading. Ondine offers a more spacious acoustic, though there is nothing wrong with the Naxos sound.

Kang’s grab bag of fugues, rondos, and fantasias contains music of varying levels of interest. Fragments in some cases are just that, and some vaporize as quickly as they started. Others give us a little more to whet our appetite, should we meet and discuss them with Mozart in the afterlife. Kang supports the thesis that all are important to a full understanding of the composer. We can thank Mozart’s wife Constanze for pursuing their recognition following his death, and we can thank Kang for presenting many of them to us in this recording. The later rondos and other works need no apology for quality of inspiration, and Kang plays them expressively. What remains of the little heard Suite, K 399 is also a pleasant Bach-Handellike experience in Kang’s strong hands.

Injushina concentrates more on the “neglected” as opposed to the fragments. There are but two examples of the latter in her program, though the Allegro K 400 was completed by Mozart’s contemporary Maximilian Stadler. The Rococo style Andante, a late entry for an unusual instrument, is a lovely little piece. The Suite consists of only three completed movements; Kang gives us an additional Sarabande fragment lasting 23 seconds. For the completist this might tip the scales in his favor were it not for Anthony Goldstone’s fascinating full realization of this movement (M/A 2008).

The sonata movement K 312 is a stunning Allegro in G minor that only awaits the remaining movements to be attached. Once again, Goldstone to the rescue. The two sets of variations are substantial compositions. One is based on an aria from Gluck’s opera The Pilgrims of Mecca and the other on a French folk song, known to us as ‘Twinkle, twinkle little star’. Both have been recorded many times and can hardly be considered neglected. Injushina performs them with great relish and, if her program is less daring than Kang’s, makes a most positive impression with oodles of charm.

[New York Concert Review] Sang Woo Kang, Pianist in Review

[October 16, 2014] Pianist Sang Woo Kang, Chair of the Music Department and Associate Professor of Piano at Providence College, was invited by Hunter College to perform a recital last February (preceded by a master class), but the powers that be had the good sense to postpone it to October due to a blizzard. Having just heard Dr. Kang’s recital, this reviewer can safely say it would have been a shame to limit the audience to one or two intrepid Arctic explorers; in fact, one wished for a still larger audience than there was this month. As hard as such postponements can be, Dr. Kang was razor-sharp in his performances.

On the program were two highly rigorous works of the twentieth-century repertoire, John Corigliano’s Etude Fantasy (1976) and the same composer’s Beethoven-inspired Fantasia on an Ostinato (1985). The latter, commissioned by the Van Cliburn International Piano Competition, opened the program. As Mr. Corigliano notes at his website, “I decided that I could investigate the performers’ imagination and musicality … And so I constructed the beginning and end of Fantasia on an Ostinato precisely– the work was a giant arch built upon these foundations– but I made the large central section a series of interlocking repeated patterns: the performer decided the number and, to a certain extent, the character of these repetitions. In other words, the shape was his/hers to build. Interestingly, the duration of this piece varied from 7 minutes to over 20 in the Cliburn performances!”

This reviewer apologizes for not timing Dr. Kang’s version, but it is a good sign that all mindfulness of time was lost in his atmospheric, poetic rendition. Musical material from the second movement of Beethoven’s Seventh Symphony was heard from a twentieth-century viewpoint that was haunting, almost post-apocalyptic in feeling. Dr. Kang made sensitive choices in repetition and dynamics in the middle section to maximize this quality.

The choice of Mozart’s Sonata in C Major, K. 330 to follow was a dramatic and effective one – transitioning from later classical material in a modern, somewhat minimalist, vein to an earlier classicism in which Mozart’s clarity and symmetry stood out in bright contrast. Despite this contrast, Dr. Kang’s Mozart projected an almost Beethovenian style at crucial junctures (surely part of the intended point), and all was more robust in tone than what I normally hear. While I’m not a fan of the porcelain doll delicacy one sometimes hears in Mozart keyboard works, moments were a bit too muscular even for my taste, but there was never any question of Dr. Kang’s pianistic abilities. He has recorded Mozart recently for Naxos, for those wishing to sample his interpretations.

Corigliano’s Etude Fantasy -really five etudes rolled into one- followed. Five sections are devoted respectively to Left Hand, Legato, Fifths to Thirds, Ornaments, and Melody – and they all present formidable challenges. Dr. Kang made child’s play of them, even the first, which exploited his sledgehammer-strong left-hand technique. As a strong admirer of Corigliano, I’ve been very familiar with these works, but I must say, they still need to be performed more, and Dr. Kang has just the kind of strong pianism and keen analytical abilities to do it. He was fearless and solid in his approach. As director of the Piano Institute and Seminar at the Atlantic Music Festival at Colby College, a series focused on the promotion and performance of new music, he has made a substantial commitment in this area, so thanks to him there will be some very fortunate composers out there.

I was puzzled by a few interpretive decisions, including the opting for such a full sound at the close of the Etude No. 3 contrary to markings, but, then again, good contrast was established for the successive movement, entitled Ornaments. The entire work was performed from memory, a challenge in and of itself (in contrast with the Fantasia). Clearly, aside from what seemed a minor omission in the fifth movement, Dr. Kang has absorbed and internalized these complex works in meaningful ways. One wished there had been some chance to hear more of his thoughts on the works, as there were no program notes (or even dates of works on the program), but his comments were cursory. I would love to have heard, for example, any thoughts behind this interesting programming itself.

What I appreciated about the program itself was that, with two substantial Corigliano works opening each half, the standard repertoire that followed felt utterly transformed by what preceded. The lacerating dissonance of Corigliano’s Etude Fantasy lent an even more consoling quality than usual to what followed, Chopin’s D-flat Nocturne, Op. 27, No. 2. The effect was deeply stirring. The playing of Chopin itself was not to me as persuasive as Dr. Kang’s Corigliano, as momentum sometimes supplanted the dreaming quality, leaving some ornaments sounding slightly regimented and the tone less than transcendent, but the overall feeling was there. Chopin’s Polonaise-Fantaisie in A-flat major, Op. 61 concluded the program with sweep.

Read full article here… 

Music for All: Piano lesson pilot introduces music to schoolchildren

Music students at Providence College teach piano lessons to elementary school children as a community project and gain some education skills in the process.


by Nick Tavares, ’16, for Providence College News

 Above: Stephanie Joseph '14 directs a student in the piano class during the pilot program. Below: Sarah Gothers '14 leads a piano lesson.

Above: Stephanie Joseph ’14 directs a student in the piano class during the pilot
Below: Sarah Gothers ’14 leads a piano lesson.

[June 17, 2014] During a pilot program hosted by the Department of Music, Providence College’s Smith Center for the Arts echoed with music from a younger set of students.

The department offered “Experiencing Piano: Children’s Piano Lessons,” a class for children ages 6-10 and team taught by PC students Sarah Gothers ’14 (Unionville, Conn.), Mary McDermott ’14 (Hopedale, Mass.), and Stephanie Joseph ’14 (Malden, Mass.).

Fifteen elementary schoolchildren from Providence and surrounding communities participated in the six-week program.

Intended for youths with little to no experience, the class focused on studying note and rhythm reading, and through short performances and a final recital, it helped build their confidence in playing in front of their peers.

“I saw a need for a community-based, music-related project, and a program like this brings people into PC,” said Dr. Sang Woo Kang, associate professor and department chair. “It’s great exposure for what we do, and it is good to have people here to see the building, the program, and the teachers.”

For Gothers and McDermott, music education majors, and Joseph, a music performance major, teaching a large class at an introductory level was a new experience.

pianosecond“I had to rethink how to explain things,” McDermott said. “I definitely had to put myself in their shoes because all of this is brand new to them.”

Trying out teaching

For Joseph, teaching a class at any level was a new challenge. As a music performance major, she had given private piano lessons before but never taught a group. This program gave her the opportunity to experience the field of education.

“It gives all music majors the chance to explore teaching,” she said. “I still felt like a student. I watched Sarah and Mary and learned from them, so I feel more comfortable in a classroom setting now.”

The student-teachers received feedback on their teaching after each class and learned valuable post-graduate skills, such as how to direct a class, said Kang.

Kang said the introductory piano class was so successful that the music department hopes to host it again this fall and expand the class so that even more youths can participate.

“Through this program, children were able to experience the joys of music at a young age,” he said. “Receiving such great training this early will help encourage them to seek out music, go to concerts, and continue to take music lessons.”

Read full article here

Concert Review: From the Sixth Hour: A Piano Quartet

[November 17, 2011] This past summer, I had the opportunity to hear the piano quartet piece From the Sixth Hour at the Atlantic Music Festival. This festival meets every year at Colby College, Maine, for a wonderful four weeks of free classical music concerts open to the public. This piece was featured at the last marathon chamber concert on August 3, 2011, running from 7:00 PM to past midnight. I was not one of the brave souls who dared to stay the entire time, but what I heard was a wonderful combination of old and new music, excellently communicated to a responsive audience.

This particular piece was composed by AMF’s artistic director, Solbong Kim, a graduate in composition from the renowned Curtis Institute. As an active composer, he has written many pieces for chamber and orchestra, had his works performed and recorded by various music groups, and he has been the recipient of many prestigious composition awards, such as the Presser Music Award in 2005. His works have been much admired for their sophistication, and it is easy to see why.

From the Sixth Hour was performed by Sang Woo Kang, pianist; Dennis Kim, violinist; Pu Reum Cho, violist; and Marco Pereira, cellist. This group was an excellent group of players. A note about the selection of performers: it was a diverse mix of musicians from various stages in their careers, as well as originating from different countries. Kim and Kang are established musicians. Kim is the concertmaster of the Tampere Orchestra in Finland, and Kang is a concert pianist and professor of music at Providence College in Rhode Island. Pereira, a professional cellist and likewise an established musician, hails from Portugal, while Cho, at the age of 19, was easily the youngest person in the grouping, and hailed from South Korea. They were a wonderful representation of the diversity of the musicians at this music festival.

Read full article here…