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Mozart: Sonatas K 283, K 282, K 280, K 517 / David Fung

Release Date: 07/05/2019
Label: Steinway & Sons Catalog #: 30107
Composer:  Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart Performer:  David Fung

Pianist David Fung is widely recognized for interpretations that are elegant and refined, yet intensely poetic and uncommonly expressive. His performances of Mozart sonatas are quasi-operatic, full of drama.

Album Credits:
Recorded November 7, 2017 & July 23, 2018 at Steinway Hall, New York City.
Producer: Jon Feidner
Engineer: Lauren Sclafani
Assistant Engineer: Melody Nieun Hwang
Production Assistant: Renée Oakford
Mixing and Mastering: Daniel Shores

Executive Producers: Eric Feidner and Jon Feidner
Art Direction: Jackie Fugere
Design: Cover to Cover Design, Anilda Carrasquillo
Piano Technician: Lauren Sclafani
Read more Piano: Steinway Model D #597590 (New York)
Cover Photo: Daniel Moody

Mozart's early piano sonatas are limpid works, not terribly difficult technically, and perhaps because of their very simplicity, have been subjected to an unusually large variety of interpretations. Young pianist David Fung deserves credit for devising fresh readings, and they have the additional virtue of fitting the general ethos of his new label, Steinway & Sons. Fung offers restless Mozart readings that one might imagine Liszt playing; for the most part, there are no delicate Mozart melodies here. Sample the first movement of the usually innocent Piano Sonata in G major, K. 283, all forward motion and piercing high notes. To his credit, Fung realizes that the late Piano Sonata in B flat major, K. 570, is a different ball of wax, and he plays this almost minimal, rather intellectual piece in a straightforward way. One wonders about the logic behind including three early sonatas and one late one, with none of the famous Mozart pieces like K. 331 (with the "Turkish" rondo) being included; several of them might have served Fung's aims well. However, this is undeniably bold Mozart, and that's a good thing.

-- AllMusic Guide

Pianist David Fung makes his Steinway & Sons recording debut with Mozart, whose intimacy and songfulness has been an alluring presence in David’s life for as long as he can remember.

David Fung was intensely musical as a small boy growing up in Australia. After watching one of his brother’s violin lessons, five-year-old David, who’d never played the violin, took hold of the instrument and shocked his family by attacking (with finesse) the very passage his brother was struggling with. David’s violin lessons began then and there. At age eight, he took up the piano, and fell passionately under its spell. In his teens, he found the piano’s magic won out over his love of the violin.

But despite his incredible prowess and competitive success as a young pianist, he chose to follow his brother’s footsteps and become a doctor. It took only a couple of years of medical school to feel the void that came with leaving music behind. He switched gears, moving on to become the first piano graduate of the prestigious Colburn Conservatory in Los Angeles. Yale came next. At 22, he won top prizes at the Queen Elisabeth and Arthur Rubinstein Competitions. Now he’s a busy globetrotter with friends in cities around the world. “I have become accustomed to saying hello and good-bye in the same breath,” he says.

Through it all, Fung has had an intense attraction to Mozart. It goes back to his earliest memories of listening to music, when his mother’s career as a singer helped to bring him into Mozart’s lyrical universe. For his debut recording on the Steinway & Sons label, David Fung has chosen a very personal program: three of Mozart’s early piano sonatas, and, as a closer, the penultimate masterpiece – the Piano Sonata No. 17.

There are heartbreaking movements (listen to the Adagio of the 2nd Sonata, track 8) where Fung pulls his phrases from a special silence that is exclusive to the tender world of Mozart. Voices arrive and disappear, in and out of the atmosphere of their circumstances, just as they do in the operas. Fung relishes the art of exploring Mozart’s characters – giving them freedom to breathe, and casting them in darkness and light to help reveal their humanity. All that from music that, at first blush, can seem so simple.

-- WCRB [Classical Radio Boston]

Steinway artist David Fung offers four lesser-known piano sonatas on his new album: the 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. Upon first hearing, Fung’s vision of Mozart’s keyboard music is immediately apparent. The (scant) liner notes make much of Fung’s musical upbringing and exposure to the opera – the Mozartian operatic stage in particular – but these references seem status quo and rather obvious in analogy; the comparisons do not quite do justice to Fung’s interpretive approach.

His is a unique and bold reading. Often, contemporaneous interpreters attempt to subdue their own (romantic) leanings, fearing to obscure the ideals of neoclassicalism as manifested in the music of W.A. Mozart. Fung, however, has no such qualms. He portrays a pianistic tableau of striking contrasts, unusual voicings and wanton manipulation of the dimension of time.

Employing a declamatory style, Fung directs the musical action from his keyboard with a strong command of phrasing and rhythmic impetus. He goes far beyond the customary approach to pulsation and accompaniment figures, in search of an inner energy of syncopated beats and subtle ostinati.

Upon repetition of A and B sections, Fung offers fresh takes on voicings that surprise the listener, challenging established conceptions of such material. By far his boldest strokes come in the form of timescale bending: the stretching out of rests, fermati and cadences, as he pushes values to the limit of neoclassical good taste. The resultant effect is generally pleasurable but does, on occasion, turn to parody. Notwithstanding, variety is the spice of life and let’s applaud Fung’s triumph in delivering his singular vision.

-- Adam Sherkin, The Whole Note

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.

-- Melinda Bargreen, EarRelevant

As a young budding virtuoso, David Fung gravitated towards the music of Mozart–but his teachers (while encouraging him to master it) warned him not to play it publicly. Maybe they were intentionally using reverse psychology; in any event, at age 22 Fung won the Mozart Prize at the Rubinstein Piano Competition, playing Mozart’s piano concerto number 25. And now we have this very fine recording of Mozart sonatas–an interesting program consisting of three early works (sonatas numbers 2, 4, and 5) and a late one (number 17), allowing us to see in one breathtaking transition the progress that Mozart had made as a keyboard composer between the ages of 19 and 33. Of course, some of what one might call “progress” was simply stylistic change; the early sonatas were written during the early- to mid-classical period, while number 17 came as that period was getting ready to give way to the Romantic era. Fung’s playing is stunning, his sense of line and emotional narrative exceptional. Highly recommended to all classical collections.

-- Rick Anderson, CD Hotlist
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