By Stephen Brookes, Published: November 26
One of the perks of winning the New York International Piano Competition is a recital at the Phillips Collection, and on Sunday afternoon, the prodigiously gifted Anna Han — who walked off with this year’s prize at the tender age of 16— put on a display of imagination, taste and pianistic firepower that was far beyond her years.
It may have been Han’s naturalism and grace at the piano, though, that impressed the most. In a little-of-everything program that ranged from baroque to contemporary, she showed herself equally at home with Haydn (whose lively Sonata in E, Hob. XVI:31 came off with precision and playful charm), Rachmaninoff (a diaphanous, delicate “Lilacs,” Op. 21, No. 5) and the brilliant young Israeli composer Avner Dorman, whose colorful and accomplished Three Etudes were written for the New York competition. Technically daunting and stylistically complex, the Dorman studies came alive in Han’s hands, from the intricate, twisting lines of “Snakes and Ladders,” to the dark anger of “Funeral March” and the shimmering luminosity of the Ravel-like “Sundrops Over Windy Water.”
Han fully hit her stride in an assured and absolutely engrossing account of Chopin’s “Nocturne” in C Minor, Op. 48, No. 1, building its complex tensions to a searing climax. And any doubts about the depth and musicality of Han’s playing were swept away in a bravura performance of Sergei Prokofiev’s Sonata in A Minor, Op. 28, No. 3. Played with such incisive power and assurance that you felt you could follow her into battle, Han showed herself completely worthy of the prizes she’s been racking up — a pianist barely at the beginning of her career, but already with a great deal to say.