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Tiffany Poon fills gilded Herbst Theatre with exuberance in lively West Coast debut

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BETSY SIEGAL | STAFF

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APRIL 11, 2022

Unfettered talent ached for release within the gold-furnished walls of Herbst Theatre as Hong Kong-born pianist Tiffany Poon strode onstage. The eminent musician made her San Francisco debut April 3, armed with an illustrious program accoutred with star-studded pieces — from Scarlatti to the Schumanns, it spanned centuries of musical epochs. 

Poon carries a distinguished musical history, one marked with both the traditional awards of music competitions and the modernity of a thriving YouTube channel. The Columbia grad’s expanding discography and burgeoning reputation has branded her as the “classical pianist of the new generation” — a title well-earned by her dextrous technique and gifted musical insight. 

A Baroque preamble unfolded as Poon traversed buoyantly through a set of jubilant Scarlatti sonatas. As the chiming, delicately imperial Sonata in E Major gave way to the arch declarations of its A Major counterpart, fluorescent tones befitting the composer’s wispy, chiffon-like textures befell endearing trills and sparkling melodies. The thoughtful Sonata in D minor, meanwhile, translated silvery scales and harmonious authority into fluid resonance, constituting a charming introduction to the program. 

Scarlatti waned into his bolder classical contemporary at the dissipation of the sonatas. Poon clipped at an unconventionally rapid pace through the opening flurry of Beethoven’s Sonata No. 17 in D minor, hands staggering descending scales against portentous chords. The imperious sonata, carrying the imposing alias of “The Tempest,” was drawn to massive heights as Poon’s dynamite-tipped fingers extracted each blustery reckoning and haunting torrent from its tumultuous depths. With Poon’s stunning tone, the piece was rendered particularly expressive, veering toward an ardent interpretation embellished with passionate lyricism. 

As the first movement’s deluge of storm-saturated passages flashed into the second, Poon carried her audience into the tender eye of the hurricane. Inviting chords slid into supplication, juxtaposed with pin-pricking octave jumps and a foreboding, adagio-shadowed gentility. At its noiseless exhalation, the third movement’s breathless ferocity garroted the silence. With intense insistence, Poon launched into whirling, scattering melodies, mirroring the violent winds of the piece’s boisterous moniker. At times quietly pressing and at others sweepingly brutal, Beethoven’s striking dynamism bled into a viciously tonal recapitulation and ended on a tumbling coda. 

The concert’s brief intermission signaled a foray into romanticism as Poon returned with Chopin’s darkly vulnerable Nocturne No. 1 in E minor. Evoking the beguiling strain of nightfall, Poon siphoned sunsets with her cascading notes as midnight colors shifted into dawn-encroached tones. Gorgeous tenacity surfaced with Chopin’s Waltz No. 19 in A minor, while Poon’s interpretation of his Mazurka No. 2 in G minor beckoned to the audience in an inquisitive cantabile. 

With inspired hands, the pianist turned to Clara Schumann’s Mazurka No. 5 in G Major. Cushioning a triple meter with assertive chords, Poon’s accented melodies fell into mellifluous cohesion with each graceful flick of the wrist. The brevity of the mazurka held its own against the sprawling 18-piece “Davidsbündlertänze” by Robert Schumann, which concluded the program with vivid variance. 

Opening with the brightness of the lively Lebhaft, the “Davidsbündlertänze” parsed musical latitude with its ranging themes — from the intimate, pensive Innig to the reeling Balladenmäßig sehr rasch, Poon drove into Schumann’s fabric of purling notes with incisive clarity. Ruminative playfulness was stark against might in the work’s reflective depths, evincing both convoluted energy and sensitive affection. After ending on the gentle, meditative ritardando of the Nicht schnell, applause and awe were abundant, lauding the pianist’s momentous performance.

Schumann, however, did not mark a denouement. During the concert’s final breath, Poon bestowed a poignant encore of Dvorak’s Humoresque No. 7 on her reverential audience, probing evocatively into its lilting, curious melody. As its fluctuating, bittersweet midsection faded into a nostalgia-permeated resolution, Poon clearly established her place among a rising generation of concert pianists with charm and virtuosity.

Arrestingly profound and unparalleled in tone, Poon’s incredible emotive force wrote the prologue of an inevitably illustrious career with ebullient finesse. The pianist’s alluring interpretations and nuanced lyricism culminated in an astonishing debut, marked by the prodigious phrasing and elegant touch of her renowned prowess. With luminous melodies and radiant musicality, Poon’s transcendental brilliance affirmed her as a shining beacon of modern classical music. 

Contact Esther Huang at [email protected].
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APRIL 11, 2022


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