Award-Winning Harpist Noel Wan in Concert!

A Fundraising Concert
for the Beverly Hargis Student Scholarship Fund

January 14th, 2012

Immanuel Lutheran Church
1710 Moorpark Avenue
San Jose, Ca.

Program and Bio

Concert Review by Bob Glaser

Harpist Noël Wan presented a beautiful recital January 14, as a benefit for the Beverly Hargis Student Scholarship Fund at Immanuel Lutheran Church in San Jose. The event was sponsored by the SVCAHS.

Noël’s performance began with the CPE Bach Sonata in G. The opening Adagio was beautifully restrained in her performance, resisting common histrionics of an opening Adagio and playing what seemed like a subtle and understated version of an urtext score. It was clean and beautiful in its subtle dynamics and elegant ornamentation. The second movement could have easily been showier but thankfully in keeping with the first movement it was quiet without being shy or lacking in confidence. The third movement was performed with a wonderfully even tempo (rarely done in such a frequently played piece.) The base line was as carefully controlled as the treble, never muddy, overpowering or having notes lost in an uncontrolled manner.

Following the Bach was "The Secret Garden" by Dutch composer, Peter van Onna. A contemporary piece of impressionism, Ms. Wan gave great attention to the interplay of left and right hand parts. Also beautiful were her controlled dynamics and flawless harmonics in the right hand parts.

Next was Marcel Grandjany's Rhapsodie. Here is a work in every advanced student’s repertoire. Yet that very standardization and ubiquity of the work is why so many students strive to play it with such accuracy. Ms. Wan played Rhapsodie as though she loved it and there was no hint of the stoic recital warhorse here. Each section flowed together with the fluidity that's often not heard and that brings together the piece as a whole. The climactic build to the finale was dramatic without ever going over the top.

Benjamin Britten's Suite for Harp is the archetype of his compositional style. Ms. Wan’s interpretation of the work is one of the better ones I've heard. The Overture, a fanfare like short piece was performed just as such a fanfare should be. It was the very "attention getting" opener that it is implied to be. This was followed by the Toccata, played lightly and spritely with the 'touch' that is the very meaning of "Toccata". The Nocturne that followed uses an ostinato bass line that Ms. Wan never let the audience become bored with and at the same time, didn't distract from the melody and it's figurations in the right hand. The penultimate fugue was played as a fugue ought to be (and rarely is.) It's interweaving polyphony emphasized or de-emphasized smoothly and subtlety to bring out various points in the main subject. Lastly, in the final movement "Hymn", an appropriate method and mixture of interpretation and reverence was evident in Ms. Wan's performance. Where romanticism is often mistakenly applied as a "corrective" measure to this movement, she gave this performance of the suite, as a whole, a beautiful finale.

The Crown of Ariadne is a multi-movement work and the abbreviated performance we had here was as completely appreciated. It is a work that the composer requests the performer not memorize but to play with the score. Ms. Wan again played the work with dexterity and an aesthetic technique that presented the myriad of contemporary techniques with the ostensibly intended power and strength of the music. Her performance never betrayed the work as shocking or showy but rather as one that is clean of line and strong in it's foundation.

Now for Renié's Legende: I must say I’m personally always excited to see any of Renié's larger works on a program. I suspect that the difficulties and advanced techniques required to play these larger works are the reason that they are less frequently performed. Add to that the fact that some of the most difficult sections are often not the grand showy gestures as in the works of Posse, Godefroid, and Parish-Alvars but are simply elements that are the best brush with which to paint the picture that Renié wants. I was thrilled to experience this performance by Ms. Wan. The changes in mood, however grand, were executed with elfin brilliance. Ms. Wan performed the bisbigliando sections as if this virtuosity were not an issue or obstacle but an artistic means to an end. Ms. Wan showed herself to be a fine artist here.

The last work on the program was Dancing Grains, a traditional Chinese melody arranged by Noel Wan. Starting as sort of a perpetuum mobile so that when the seemingly slow section arrives, it is deceptive how fast it really is. Again this is easily attributed to the facility that Ms. Wan has with the harp. A great showpiece, ending both fast and slow.

It was a wonderful performance.