Review: Incandescent Piano Recital – Catherine Lan

This debut album by the pianist Catherine Lan contains warm, sympathetic and measured performances in an appealing programme.Catherine Lan is a young pianist who made her first international debut at the age of eight in Japan and went on to win several prizes. She has appeared as a soloist with several orchestras in Canada and the USA and makes her Carnegie Hall debut in April 2016 in a recital of Chopin. This is her first album, recorded live at the Palm Beach Atlantic University’s Vera Lea Rinker Hall in December 2014 for Centaur Records.

The title of the album is a little misleading as it suggests a more full-blooded and virtuosic programme but the pieces nonetheless showcase her thoughtful and sensitive musicianship.

The recital starts with Bach’s lively and unpredictable Prelude and Fugue in A minor, BWV 894, an early piece composed in his late Weimar or Köthen period which he would later recycle for his Triple Concerto in A minor BWV 1044. Lan brings a pleasing dance-like quality to the prelude which is full of surprises such as sudden changes in dynamics and rapid finger work; Lan also brings the relentless, breathless fugue to a satisfying conclusion.

One contemporary critic of Schumann said of his masterly Faschingsschwank aus Wien op 26 (‘Carnival Scenes from Vienna’) “Flashes of humour appear at every turn; skyrockets of wit and unbridled merriment soar upwards into the skies from all sides”. Lan has a measured and restrained approach to the work, eschewing the more spirited interpretations of other performers. She is at her best in the passionate Intermezzo; it’s a hushed reading which allows the melody to soar over a darkly brooding and agitated accompaniment and is all the more moving for the restraint. This approach however sounds tentative in the opening movement where a bolder approach seems more appropriate but she nevertheless saves the fireworks for the hectic final movement. The recording sound is not uniform across the movements and here (as elsewhere on the album) the piano does sound rather close but this does not detract from her performances.

Lan attacks the virtuosic showpiece Perpetuum Mobile from Weber’s Piano Sonata No. 1 in C major, op 24 with verve; while Weber’s piece is not as unhinged as, say,  Alkan’s Le Chemin de Fer,  in Lan’s hands there is a palpable sense of danger and excitement throughout.

With the two deeply introspective Brahms intermezzos from his autumnal period, Lan is perfectly at ease and gives affecting and dreamy accounts, especially in the celebrated A major Intermezzo from op 118.

Granados said of his piano suite Goyescas that the music contained ‘great flights of imagination and difficulties’ with their multilayered textures and exuberant outbursts. With the two pieces Quejas o la maja y el ruiseñor and Los Requiebros, Lan gives a performance worthy of this album’s title with a sweeping and impassioned reading.


Kevin Painting

Published xx February 2016 on primephonic. 


Layout 1Incandescent Piano Recital
Catherine Lan, piano

Live recording Vera Lea Rinker Hall, Palm Beach Atlantic University, 16 December 2014.
Centaur Records (2016).