And we're back to me sitting in genial incomprehension while another Haydn performance washes over me. Zhang Feng did recover from that during his Mendelssohn Prelude and Fugue in E minor, which he played without sounding like Bach. (At times, trying a bit too hard to not sound like him.) He launched straight into Liszt's St. Francis of Assisi's Sermon to the Birds, a hushed piece that's almost entirely confined to the upper register of the piano. It doesn't get nearly enough play, and Zhang managed to get the spirit of religious rapture that pervades it.
His Romantic plunge into Mendelssohn raised my hopes for his performance of Rachmaninov's Piano Sonata No. 2, but those were quickly dashed. He got the notes right and the overall architecture of the piece, but he missed the deep-seated Russian melancholy in the work. It was an emotionally shallow rendering. Then again, maybe I'm just missing the plummy, pearly sound that I've heard from competitors (Russian and non-Russian) over the years put into this work. (It took us until the third day of competition to hear any Mozart or Rachmaninov. Strange.) Overall, Zhang's performance goes down as a wildly uneven effort.