PIANIST HENRY WONG DOE at the Pines
by Isaac Steven Vaughan
Pianist Henry Wong Doe made an unforgettable impression Friday, July 11 at
Whyte Hall’s Brandon Fradd Theatre in the Fire Island
Mr. Fradd himself introduced the evening,
promising this as the first in a series of classical concerts to be presented
by the Fire Island Pines Arts Project. From the size of the nearly sold out house, clearly there’s a claim for
this. And what a way to begin!
A New Zealand native, Mr. Wong Doe has garnered top prizes in several
international piano competitions, including two “Audience Favorite” awards;
easy to understand considering his captivating stage presence with which he
makes the music look so difficult while sounding so effortless.
The evening opened with Ludwig van Beethoven's Piano Sonata No. 23 in F minor, Op.
57 “Appassionata”, written while the composer was
coming to grips with his complete deafness, reflecting the emotional turmoil he
felt during the time. Mr. Wong Doe
displayed the score’s passion and energy, particularly in the third movement’s
appropriately chosen tempo culminating in the exhilarating piu allegro at the end.
frustration followed; the sweepingly romantic but sorrowful tone of Frederic
Chopin’s Barcarolle in F-sharp, Op. 60 was created as his
health was fatally deteriorating from tuberculosis and his relationship with
George Sand, one of the most successful novelists of her day, was beginning to
crumble. Characterized by a rhythm
reminiscent of a Venetian gondolier's stroke, it rocked to a molto rubato current.
Next came a complete change of mood with From Grandes Etudes de Paganini, S. 141, No. 3 in g-sharp minor, “La Campane lla”. Franz Lizst borrowed
the theme from the final movement of a violin concerto which evoked the
tinkling of little bells, thus the title. Featured in the 1996 film Shine, this etude originally
became famous for the inventiveness with which it plays the delightful folk
theme amidst a continuous ringing of high notes.
This is the first time that FIPAP has had a piano other than
an upright for the entire season, and board member David Ratcliffe explained “due to the inability to store one properly here over the winter, we
made the decision to rent one.” Asked about the instrument, Mr. Wong Doe remarked “The piano was
good. It definitely stood up to
all the pounding I gave it!”
Following intermission, the concert hall was “transformed”
into an art gallery. While
suffering from delirium tremens due to his alcoholism, Modest
Mussorgsky composed his famous suite Pictures at an Exhibition (1874) in commemoration of his artist friend Viktor Hartmann, who was only 39
when he suffered an aneurysm and died. This was Mr. Wong Doe’s best performance of the evening,
bringing both contemplation and humor to this difficult score. The vivid changes of color fit into an
astutely organized concept of the work as a whole, emerging as a deeply
satisfying panorama of contrasting aural experiences.
For an encore, the audience was treated to Chopin’s
“Raindrop” Prelude No. 15 in D-flat major, Op. 28.
Henry Wong Doe’s
performances have taken him around the world from Lincoln Center to the Mann Auditorium
in Tel Aviv, Israel. His prize
winning performances at the 2000 Sydney International Piano Competition were
recorded and released on the Australian ABC Classics label. And his upcoming performances include a
Carnegie Weill Recital Hall debut in November, and Grieg's Piano Concerto
with New Zealand’s Auckland Philharmonia. So if you missed his extraordinary
performance this summer on this island, catch him when he’s playing two bigger
ones this fall...