Scroll down the page to hear William playing Chopin, Balakirev and Ravel.


Balakirev's Sonata in B flat minor

i Andantino

This is a fascinating work and not much played.  Cast in fairly conventional sonata form it employs far from conventional material: from its quasi-fugal opening to the lyrical exoticism of the melodic writing, the sonata displays all of the idiomatic quirks of the Moguchaya Kutchka (‘Mighty Handful’).  This group of Russian nationalist composers (Balakirev, Borodin, Cesar Cui, Mussorgsky and Rimsky-Korsakov) brought a distinctive, eastern-folk-influenced voice to the music of the late Romantic period.  Balakirev’s piano writing is highly idiosyncratic with wide and unusual chord spacings suggesting he had large hands and a very individual technique.  Bold splashes of chordal writing contrast with filigree melodic episodes recalling the orientalism of his better known ‘Islamey’, as well as the 2nd String Quartet of his friend Borodin.


Balakirev Sonata in B flat minor i. Andantino by William Fong


ii Mazurka moderato

A mazurka, a Polish dance, is an unusual choice for a second movement. Where we might expect something slow and contemplative, Balakirev gives us this stomping dance in ¾ time with its accented second beats that lend a lop-sided feel to the rhythm.  Again, the wide spacings and leaps, particularly in the left hand accompanying figures, make this a challenge for any pianist.  This movement is occasionally played as a concert piece on its own.


Balakirev Sonata in B flat minor ii.Mazurka Moderato by William Fong


Chopin's Fantaisie in F minor, Op 49

Composed in 1841 when Chopin was 31 years old, this is a favourite of the Romantic piano repertoire. The frequent dotted rhythms and ‘marching’ bass lines have led some to speak of this as ‘military’ music and evidence of Polish nationalist sentiment on Chopin’s part.  It certainly has the forthright character of many of the Polonaises and a similar flamboyance of technique, in contrast to Chopin’s often more intimate writing for the piano.  From the pianist it demands strength and control as well as a clear conception of the overall structure to bring together the rhetorical and lyrical elements of the piece.


Chopin Fantaisie in F minor, Op.49 by William Fong


Ravel's Gaspard de la Nuit

iii Scarbo

This is the dazzling finale of a suite of three pieces inspired by the prose poems of Aloysius Bertrand (1807-1841).  Scarbo is a malevolent creature spreading fear through the night: something glimpsed out the corner of the eye, a mysterious scratching sound in the cupboard...  The rapidly repeated notes and complex textures throughout the piece give it a menacing energy that demands great technique and breadth of vision from the pianist.  Ravel himself said that he wanted “to write piano pieces of transcendental virtuosity which are even more complicated than [Balakirev's] Islamey”. ROLAND-MANUEL. A la gloire de Ravel. Paris: Nouvelle Revue Critique, 1938; (Ravel; [2e ed.] Paris: Gallimard, 1948). (English translation: Maurice Ravel, London: Dobson, 1947.)

Ravel Gaspard de la Nuit iii. Scarbo by William Fong