A New Yorker: Impressions - Joanne Chang, piano. © 2019 Centaur Records Inc

CD Spotlight

New York, New York

GIUSEPPE PENNISI is impressed by Joanne Chang's piano recital featuring music by Debussy, Ravel, Scriabin, Ernesto Lecuona and May Aufderheide

'She is very passionate and sweet ...'


Before it was badly hit by the coronavirus pandemic, New York City was, no doubt, one of the most lively and most ethnically and culturally diverse places in the world. There was a very large supply of every cultural offering, including music, with performers from all over the world.

Joanne Chang, the protagonist of this CD, reached New York from the Far East; the CD booklet and her website are not clear whether she is from Taiwan or from Malaysia. Indeed, she could be both born in Taiwan and a national of Malaysia. Her education and performance career, though, are strictly American. She has a doctoral degree in piano performance and literature from Indiana University's Jacobs School of Music, one of the finest of the United States. She holds minors in music theory and arts administration. She received a Master of Music degree in piano from Florida State University, and a Bachelor of Music (summa cum laude) in piano from Kent State University, alongside an honours thesis written on French piano duet music. Currently, she is an associate professor at the Queensborough Community College of the City University of New York; this CD is one of her first solo recordings and it is sponsored by a grant from the college where she is pursuing her academic career; her principal research is 'Franz Liszt: The Bridge to Modernism'.

Along with her university career, Joanne Chang has performed internationally in Asia, North America and Europe. She has been featured on WQXR's Young Artist Showcase (New York), WFMT's Fiesta Latin America (Chicago), International Menuhin Music Academy (Switzerland), BFM's Front Row Podcast (Kuala Lumpur), Indiana University's Latin American Music Center (Bloomington), Sphinx Connect (Detroit) and the National Youth Orchestra of China (Beijing), among others.

This CD is a rather peculiar homage to New York. Only one of the five composers is American, May Aufderheide. She has had little to do with New York. She was a member of the Indianapolis ragtime community that included Paul Pratt, Cecil Duane Crabb, J Russel Robinson, Will B Morrison, Julia Lee Niebergall and Gladys Yelvington. The popularity of her first published rag, Dusty, convinced her father, Indianapolis loan broker John H Aufderheide, to enter the music publishing business forming the firm J H Aufderheide Music Publisher. Two of the others are well-known French composers of the twentieth century - Claude Debussy and Maurice Ravel. One is Russian: Alexander Scriabin. One is a Cuban: Ernesto Lecuona, who, unhappy with the Castro regime, moved to Florida in 1960 and became quite popular with the American audience.

Consequently, the homage to New York is rather eclectic. The intention is to provide 'impressions' of the multi-ethnic and multicultural atmosphere of New York. In my view, this objective is reached well with the selection of the pieces by Aufderheide, Scriabin and Lecuona. Debussy and Ravel are quintessential French; in New York, they remain as French as top restaurants, such Le Bernardin at W 51st Street and Daniel at E 65th Street.

Debussy's Suite Bergamasque opens the recording. Joanne Chang plays the published edition - ie that of 1905. She is very passionate and sweet in the third movement, the universally known Claire de lune.

May Aufderheide's ragtime pieces are the juiciest section here, also because recent CDs on ragtime music are rare and far between. I have a collection of Scott Joplin's LPs; I purchased them in the US in the 1970s and I do not know whether they have been remastered in CD. Dusty gives the 1920s atmosphere perfectly.

Listen — May Aufderheide: Dusty
(track 5, 0:00-0:33) © 2019 Centaur Records Inc :

Thriller is a brilliant rhythm piece.

Listen — May Aufderheide: Thriller
(track 6, 0:36-1:11) © 2019 Centaur Records Inc :

The Piano Sonata No 9 (Black Mass) by Scriabin is a purely virtuoso piece. It offers Joanne Chang the opportunity to show her skills.

Listen — Alexander Scriabin: Black Mass
(track 7, 7:46-8:40) © 2019 Centaur Records Inc :

Ravel's Le Tombeau de Couperin is another virtuoso piece. The minuet is quite impressive.

Listen — Maurice Ravel: Menuet (Le Tombeau de Couperin)
(track 12, 0:00-0:59) © 2019 Centaur Records Inc :

As said earlier, this CD made me discover Ernesto Lecuona. He is known more for his zarzuelas - Spanish operettas - and his dance music than for his piano works. On this CD, the piano solo selection is based on his dance music. The Cuban Dance is quite charming.

In short, the main point of this CD is to get acquainted with a young multicultural pianist who is likely to go far.

Copyright © 5 September 2020 Giuseppe Pennisi,
Rome, Italy








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