Arts & Culture

Review: Fei-Fei Dong at Cliburn Festival

Fei-Fei Dong plays Chopin in the Renzo Piano Pavillion on Saturday afternoon as part of the Cliburn Festival. Dong was one of the top six finalists in the 2013 Cliburn Competition.
Fei-Fei Dong plays Chopin in the Renzo Piano Pavillion on Saturday afternoon as part of the Cliburn Festival. Dong was one of the top six finalists in the 2013 Cliburn Competition. Special to the Star-Telegram

The Cliburn Festival’s Chopin marathon swept past the halfway mark Saturday afternoon. The featured performer this time was Fei-Fei Dong, assisted in the final work of her program by violinist Michael Shih and cellist Allan Steele.

The audience in the Renzo Piano Pavilion obviously remembered her from 2013, when she was a finalist in the Van Cliburn Competition. She received the most enthusiastic introduction so far in the marathon and charmed her listeners with a few introductory remarks. Chopin is her favorite composer, she said, and his small-scale works (the bulk of his compositions) are “microcosms of life.”

She began her recital with three examples of a form strongly associated with Chopin: the mazurka. This was originally a Polish folk dance, though in Chopin’s hands it became a sophisticated art form.

The Mazurka in G Major, Opus 50, No. 1 is a jaunty work, notable in Dong’s interpretation for the subtlety of its dynamics.

Her account of No. 2 of the same opus created a melancholy atmosphere that one could imagine reflected Chopin’s nostalgia for his home country. No. 3 was more heroic, though there were lovely passages.

Perhaps the most striking of all the short pieces of the afternoon was the Nocturne in D-flat Major, Opus 27, No. 2, a beautiful work beautifully played by Dong. There was subtlety in all elements of her performance.

The Grande Valse in A-flat Major, Opus 42 was a virtuosic exercise far from the Viennese ballrooms that were probably its inspiration.

The Scherzo No. 4 in E Major, Opus 54 was a sprightly work full of personality, with lovely episodes and a power ending that created quite an impression in Dong’s account.

The Polonaise No. 6 in A-flat, Opus 53 was a grandly dramatic conclusion to the solo part of Dong’s program.

Shih and Steele joined the pianist for one of the rarer works in the festival: the Trio for Piano, Violin and Cello in G minor, Opus 8.

Though strongly played, this seemed less mature a work than Thursday night’s Sonata for Piano and Cello. The first movement of the trio is dominated by the piano, with the violin and cello merely assisting. The second and third movements give the two stringed instruments some music of substance, while the finale comes closest to a well-balanced example of the form.

There is some lovely music here, but it’s easy to see why the work is not often played.

The festival continued Saturday night with a performance by pianist Ko-Eun Yi and the Amphion String Quartet and Brian Perry, bass. To read the review, visit Star-Telegram.com/entertainment or DFW.com.

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