Thursday, 17 January 2013

Niu Niu

15 year old Zhang Shengliang gives an attractive programme of Liszt transcriptions of Saint-Saëns, Schubert, Paganini and Wagner, with a couple of real Liszt pieces thrown in. He plays accurately, meticulously and with feeling for the music. Absent is much sense of emotional involvement, or any real idiosyncracies, not that, in virtuoso pieces such as these, this matters too much. But we are some way from the kind of playing and intensity György Cziffra brought to this music; one hopes that this remarkable 15 year old will be allowed to do his own thing, choose his own repertoire, and play things as he feels they should be played. And expands a little from a limited range of mezzo-piano and mezzo-forte. The music on this new CD is great for evening listening.

One's heart sinks reading the liner booklet that lists six “Artist Management” personnel, plus someone for “Hair & Makeup” and another person for “Styling”. Alas, we will probably now never know who did the hair and make-up for Casals, Szigeti, Furtwängler or Adolf Busch; these things are important to know. Listing these hangers-on is all part of the intense commercialisation of classical music and performers; any good performer has a host of parasites waiting to be fed, and they add nothing to the music, nor to the performances. If Mr Shengliang loses his hair, or turns 35, he will probably be dropped from the EMI artist list within hours. He has even been given a nice new memorable marketing name: Niu Niu. A friend tells me that, in Chinese, this means Cow-Cow. Anyway: Mr Cow Cow can certainly play the piano with superb technique and good feeling. One hopes the six Artist Managers will leave him free to do his own artistic thing.

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