Joel Fan walks onstage with the bouncy step that says "I love this, and I'm going to do exactly what I like." And so he did at the Longy School on Saturday night in a piano recital that was a mixture of show-off pianism (Liszt's "Rigoletto" paraphrase, Chopin etudes); discoveries by contemporary Turkish, Syrian, and Chinese composers; a Bolcom bagatelle; a Prokofiev Sonata (No. 3); and the world premiere of a beautiful piano sonata by Fan's former Harvard teacher Leon Kirchner .
At 36, he is no longer a wunderkind, but there seem to be several personalities vying for position in the new Joel Fan: champion of new music, explorer of world music, and aging wunderkind.
The Kirchner deserves first mention: It is a tonal work, reminiscent at once of Scarlatti and Chopin. Long runs in the right hand play against broken chords in the left, in a loose sonata-form structure and worked out in a harmonic sequence that never wandered far from the pleasurable. Fan, who commissioned the 10-minute piece, played from memory and with total dedication. Kirchner, now 88, was there to share in the loud applause.
Fan, a Harvard and Longy graduate who has worked with Yo-Yo Ma's Silk Road Project, has been exploring music by Middle and Far Eastern composers who work in the European virtuoso piano tradition. The best of several selections was the "Pentatonic Sketch on an Aksak Rhythm, " by A. Adnan Saygun , a 20th-century Turkish enthomusicologist and composer whose jaunty, playful fragment reminded me that Turkey is not far from Georgia and Armenia, and composers like Aram Khachaturian .
The Chopin etudes (Op. 10, No. 12, and Op. 25, No. 7) and the Scherzo No. 3 seemed to come from a former competition winner who hasn't thought about them much in light of new experience. Chopin's Sonata No. 2 was more interesting, with strong and balanced chords, intelligently prepared climaxes, and a light touch in the whirling final presto. It made one wonder what Fan would do with music that required less virtuosity and more feeling.