Jason Sia Engages the Audience with Beloved Favorites

On Thursday evening of June 21, Jason Sia performed a solo recital at the beautiful Weill Recital Hall at Carnegie Hall.  It was an intimate evening where he treated his audience to a plethora of popular piano works.  In his interview with the New York Piano Group, Mr. Sia talks about how these beloved masterworks are memorable and how they can bring a person back to a wonderful memory. (read the interview here.) 

The first half of the program included three works of Chopin along with two impressionist pieces by Ravel and Debussy, a variation from a Rachmaninoff piano concerto, and a movement from a Beethoven sonata – a total of seven pieces ending with Debussy Reverie.  The second half was dedicated to opera and song transcriptions which included two opera transcriptions by Liszt and three Gershwin song transcriptions by an American pianist, Earl Wild – a total of ten pieces ending with Debussy Claire de Lune.  It’s interesting to note that both the first and second halves ended with a piece by Debussy and both halves included a Rhapsody by Rachmaninoff, Gershwin, and Liszt.  Pulling off such a big program, a total of seventeen pieces, requires a lot of energy and stamina.  Mr. Sia unraveled his strengths gradually as the recital progressed.

In my opinion, quality over quantity is always the best policy, therefore, I think Mr. Sia could have left out few of the weaker pieces such as the “Third Movement” of Beethoven Moonlight Sonata, “Ondine” from Ravel Gaspard de la Nuit, and “18th variation” from Rachmaninoff Rhapsody on a Theme by Paganini to save him more energy on pieces like Chopin Heroique Polonaise, Op. 53 and Liszt Hungarian Rhapsody No. 2.  Also, fewer pieces could have spared him fewer memory issues and more time to focus on polishing up his program. 

His opening piece, Chopin Nocturne, Op. 27, No.2 had nice inner voices that were brought out, but the piece could have more rubato overall.  The other two Chopin pieces, Barcarolle and Polonaise, Op. 53 could have had a more powerful arrival at climaxes.  More emphasis on the harmonic changes on chords could have made the transitions more special.  Regarding technique, he can use more arm to achieve a fuller and robust chord.  The three Debussy works in the program – Reverie, L’Isle Joyeuse and Claire de Lune were lovely and Mr. Sia captured the mood well, although the hemiola rhythm in Claire de Lune sounded a bit inaccurate.

Overall, I felt that Mr. Sia shined more in the second half of the program, especially with the transcriptions.  If certain composers show a pianist’s affinity, I would say that Mr. Sia showed more affinity towards Brahms than Chopin, and more affinity towards the opera and song transcriptions by Liszt and Earl Wild.  Brahms Intermezzo Op. 118, No. 2 showed Mr. Sia’s sensitive side and Schubert-Liszt Ave Maria was expressive and flowy with a deep tone and continuity of melodic line.  Wagner-Liszt “Liebestod” from the Wagner opera Tristan and Isolde exhibited conviction. Gershwin-Wild song transcriptions, The Man I Love, Embraceable You and Summertime were my favorites and showcased Mr. Sia’s technique in the best way.   Gershwin Rhapsody in Blue was lyrical and very Gershwin-esque, but could have been more rhythmic in the middle section.

Since popular pieces can sound mundane, an interpretation that is unique and interesting can be especially challenging to pianists.  Mr. Sia showed us a glimpse of his world with his beloved favorites and brought back some of my memories of learning the pieces.  Mr. Sia has a potential to develop his artistry even further and take it to the next level.  I look forward to more of Mr. Sia’s concerts in the future.