Melinda Bargreen | 05 MAR 2020
David Fung, “Mozart Piano Sonatas” (No. 2 in F Major, K280, No .4 in E-flat, K282, No. 5 in G Major, K283 and No. 17 in B-flat, K570.); Steinway & Sons 30107.
If there is a standard path toward piano stardom, David Fung has assuredly not taken it. Growing up in Australia, this musically gifted youngster began violin studies at 5 and piano studies at 8, before deciding to become a doctor. After two years of medical studies, he became the first piano graduate of the Colburn Conservatory in Los Angeles, and then went on to Yale University and the Hannover Hochschule für Musik.
At 22 Fung entered the world of international piano competitions, where he won prizes at both the Queen Elisabeth and Arthur Rubinstein Competitions. (In the latter competition, Fung also was awarded the Chamber Music Prize and the Mozart Prize; the latter is an indication of the gifts he brings to the recording under discussion here.)
Fung’s new Mozart-sonata disc illustrates his individualism in several ways. First is the choice of repertoire: not the “usual subjects” chosen by pianists eager to make a splash, but instead, four sonatas whose charms are not always so obvious on the surface. Fung has chosen No. 5 in G Major (K.283); No. 4 in E-flat Major (K.282); No. 2 in F Major (K.280); and No. 17 in B-flat Major (K.570). These performances of three early sonatas and a later one will reward close and attentive listening, for the quantity and quality of details (some of them daring) that Fung lavishes on each movement.
Take the exuberant Allegro of K.283 (G Major), for instance: the first-movement repeat is different, a little more hesitant and then more boisterous, as if rethinking the first way. There’s lots of variety in Fung’s touch, with lines that sometime seem a little questing, and then a well-judged pause. A repeated theme sounds decidedly jauntier or more assertive than the first time around; there are slight hesitations here and there, but nothing feels manipulated or overly studied. While the performances feel spontaneous, it is evident that a great deal of thought has gone into every line of the music.
The playing, in short, is consistently interesting. Fung has more colors in his musical palette than many Mozarteans can command. The right-hand phrasing is especially eloquent, and his tempi are often quite elastic: surprising the ear by stretching the line just a little here and there in a manner that never seems exaggerated or unnatural. Fung draws a lot of drama from his instrument: silky, dulcet melodic lines become more assertive, even a little edgy, later on.
This also is a pianist who also can let go and have fun, as in the Presto finale of the K.283: the movement has an exuberant gaiety, with stormy passages giving way to playing that sounds good-humored. He can surprise listeners with the occasional “Wait for it!” pause when you’re not expecting one (as in, for instance, the Presto movement of K.280/No. 2). In short: it’s not “Mozart as usual.”
Each of the sonatas has a distinctly different character. The K.282 in E-Flat (No. 4) has an opening Adagio that is serenely contemplative, leisurely, and spacious, with lyrical melodies and a lot of clarity; the sustaining pedal is applied sparingly if at all. There are eloquent little spaces in a reading that is unhurried and explorative.
And, on the other side of the coin, then there’s the K.570 (No. 17) in B-Flat Major. It’s a study in the adroit building and subsiding of dynamics, and limpidly graceful melodies. The third movement – the last track on this recording – leaves the listener with Mozart at his most playful (occasionally rambunctious), and the lively good humor of this interpretation. ■