Why the Chopin Ballades?" Hsia-Jung Chang asks rhetorically in the liner notes to her debut CD. "After all, there are plenty of recordings of these works by great pianists of the last century." Chang herself never felt that she would need to play them until the moment she discovered dance elements in the Ballades and became fascinated with why Chopin chose to juxtapose the wordless language of dance with the poetic titles of each piece. Suddenly, Chang was hooked.
If Chang's name sounds familiar, it's because a few of her roots reach right back to Spokane. Although she now lives in Manhattan, Chang's family emigrated from Taiwan to the United States during 1974's World Fair. The little caf & eacute; they set up for Expo became Ho Ho Teriyaki Chicken in the Flour Mill, now owned by Chang's mother Ho Lan, who is herself a musician. Chang graduated from Shadle Park High School before pursuing her musical training at the University of Houston, where she received her bachelor and master's degrees, and at the Manhattan School of Music, where she studied under Constance Keene and earned her doctorate. While she regularly returns to Spokane for concerts at Westminster Congregational Church and Holy Names Music Center, one of her most significant shows took place in New York's Carnegie Hall, where a writer for The New York Concert Review deemed her performance of the four Chopin Ballades "mesmerizing in its unwavering clarity of structure and emotional concentration." All in all, the writer summarized, "Hsia-Jung Chang is a distinctive and important new voice in the annals of pianism."
If Chang does anything with this CD, she frees Chopin from his reputation as a quintessentially Polish composer. Deliberately picking out the Spanish influences in the third Ballade, written after Chopin and his lover George Sand returned from Majorca, Chang evokes castanet rhythms and Mediterranean folk influences. Her literary interpretations too are fresh, breaking with tradition on the second Ballade, the F Major, Opus 38, which Robert Schumann had attributed to a poem but Chang sees instead as a lyric tale of a fisher maiden lost at sea. Appropriately, the album closes with the Berceuse, a dusky lullaby with variations on the nightingale's bedding-down song.
Chopin: Impromptus, Ballades, Berceuse is available at Auntie's Bookstore, New Dawn Books, Ho Ho Teriyaki Chicken and Spokane area Hastings stores.