Korean cellist Han-Na Chang was 11 in 1994 when she won not only first prize but the contemporary music prize at the fifth Rostropovich International Cello Competition in Paris. It was her interest in music of our time that led her to bracket Bach with works by Ligeti and Britten on Wednesday in her stunning solo recital debut at Walt Disney Concert Hall.
Now 22, the Seoul-born Chang is no longer a child prodigy but has become what just about everybody suspected all along: a genuine artist who puts music first and, except in her playing, forgoes any display of personality. At Disney, the moment she finished playing a piece, she sprang up, took a few quick bows to hugely appreciative applause and looked as if she would be happiest just to disappear.
But, oh, what playing. The power and intensity of her bowing gave robust body and presence to her tone at whatever dynamic she chose. And her left hand was fluently fleet and accurate. These qualities were abundant in her performance of Ligeti's romantic Sonata for Solo Cello, begun while the composer was secretly pining for a fellow student at a conservatory in Hungary (she was unaware of his interest).
The same characteristics were clear in Britten's Suite No. 1 for Solo Cello, a rugged piece inspired by Bach's suites for solo cello and dedicated to Mstislav Rostropovich, Chang's mentor. Short of multiphonics and other new music techniques, Britten demands just about everything a cellist can do on the instrument. Chang was up to every challenge, triumphantly.
To Bach's Third Suite for Solo Cello, she brought the impetuosity and fire of youth. She will, no doubt, find greater depths in the music as she continues the artistic journey she has so securely embarked upon.