Frédéric Chopin; Préludes
(Hsia-Jung Chang)

Frédéric Chopin – Complete Préludes
Hsia-Jung Chang [rebuilt 1907 Pleyel piano]
Mandala 02. Duration: 42:06

Hsia-Jung Chang's homepage

CD available at

The Préludes of Chopin are not an easy task to interpret. It has been done time and again, but a real fine rendition is scarce. This is why the new recording by young Taiwanese pianist Hsia-Jung Chang surprises. This is my first encounter with this lady, but I don’t think it’s the last.

I received this CD in the mail from New York (where the pianist lives) during a very difficult time in my life, during a period of restless and desolate separation from someone I really loved deeply, and had just met a few months earlier during a hike in the Lapland wilderness, but who, after a few months, was departing on a much longer hike, that would take her around the globe, via Tibet and Vietnam to an arborist job in New Zealand.

I found some rest and consolation in this music by Chopin, so sensitively and caressingly played by young Hsia-Jung Chang. I could not sleep, but I played this CD on my CD-player in the bedroom, on repeat, through the night, and felt some peace from it, from the beauty of tone and touch and composition, from the seamless flow of soaring emotions and shivers of light that Hsia-Jung Chang’s playing emits.

There is a certain temporal phase shift in the atmosphere that the sound of the piano creates, too, because it is an old Pleyel piano from 1907, rebuilt and brought back from the decades. Chopin had, in his time, in fact dedicated these
Préludes to piano maker Camille Pleyel!

The Pleyel recording sessions;
Hsia-Jung Chang at left

On Hsia-Jung Chang’s homepage you can listen to a New York radio interview with her, where she, among other things, explains how she one day walked in to a music store on 58th Street in Manhattan and found a restored Pleyel piano there. She sat down to play, and this is the very same piano that you can hear on these recordings of the Préludes.
The temporal ambiguity of course has to do with the nuances of this old instrument, but not only that. I think it may well have to do also with Hsia-Jung Chang’s touch, her own personal atmosphere of artistry and musical honesty. I compare her more readily to yesterday’s pianists, in a good sense, like Moriz Rosentahl, Ignaz Friedman or even Emil von Sauer, than to contemporary players. This is said in favor of Hsia-Jung Chang, and not in the least against her. In her playing of today she has been able to retain some of the best feelings and notions of the early 20th century pianism. She is the only one that I’ve heard so far who has had the courage and artistic values to enable her to do this.

Even the recording techniques in themselves amplify this impression of temporal uncertainty, i.e., do we hear a new recording or a very old one? That is because the piano isn’t closely miked, but rather heard at a certain distance, the way early piano recordings often were done.

I recorded, myself, a young Estonian pianist – Dainis Valpeteris – in a large drawing room of a Swedish mansion in 2000, and managed to catch much the same atmosphere on an old Förster piano. Some of the feeling of age may therefore also stem from the recording space itself.

...but now she is gone,
gone as the season she's taken...

However it all came about, Hsia-Jung Chang’s CD is unique to me, not only in that it has brought me some peace of mind and some consolation in a time of heartbreak, but also because I can stack it on the shelf alongside Josef Hoffman and Ignaz Friedman with a conviction of it’s natural domiciliary rights up there!
It goes without saying that nothing is flawed in the pianist’s technique, far from it. Instead I should stress that she executes these vulnerable pieces of Chopin with the ease of breathing; it’s amazing and elating.

Anyone who can write a piece like Prélude 15 in D-flat Major knows about love, knows about sorrow and knows about reconciliation. Anyone who can play this masterwork like Hsia-Jung Chang has lived that love, suffered that sorrow - and gained that reconciliation.

One day when my heart has healed and I can truly rest again, I will listen to this CD with a deep feeling of gratitude in my heart, for it has been such a good companion in times of hardship.