Sunday, 18 October 2009

THE JOY OF MUSIC FESTIVAL 2009: Jinsang Lee Piano Recital / Review

JINSANG LEE Piano Recital
City Hall Concert Hall, Hong Kong
Tuesday (13 October 2009)

Music Making Among Friends was the title of this unusual recital, which juxtaposed the piano music of three early Romantic composers – Chopin, Mendelssohn and Ferdinand Hiller – within the context of a two hour concert. The three men were close friends, and imagine them spending one evening together playing their pieces, discussing, musing about music and life. A further dimension was added to that inspiration with the presence of not one but four grand pianos on stage (courtesy of Steinway Hamburg), each representing a different stage in the illustrious history of piano making. The Korean pianist Jinsang Lee, 1st prize winner of the 2008 Hong Kong International Piano Competition, was to perform his programme on all of these, and what a rare treat it turned out to be!
Chopin began the evening, with his Three Nocturnes Op.15 (dedicated to Hiller) performed on a copy of an 1836 Steinway, the first model made by Heinrich Engelhard Steinweg. Not possessing a metal frame, the strings were pitched one semitone lower than the conventional piano, possessing a mellow, slightly metallic twang. Thus the first F major Nocturne resounded in a quite different E major! The ears needed some accommodating, but it soon got used to the minor dissonances, in large part to Lee’s lovely cantabile playing. Even the variation in tone, in the more turbulent central sections of the F and F sharp major Nocturnes, came out with surprisingly good contrasts.

Next came Ferdinand Hiller (1811-1885), best known for snipping off a lock of hair from Beethoven’s corpse. He was a major artist, conductor and pianist during his time, now almost totally forgotten and neglected. Fortunately, Lee studies at the Koln Conservatory, founded by Hiller, and was able to access the scores for the rare performances of the Three Caprices Op.14 and the First Sonata Op.47.
These are technically very demanding pieces, as one would expect from this era, but lack the distinctiveness of Chopin and Mendelssohn. Hiller presents a profusion of ideas, but does not seem to develop them to the point where they register firmly in the mind. There are many Mendelssohnian devices in the Caprices - scherzo-like passages, right hand melodies on octaves, and left hand octaves for the bass, and trills in thirds – all making for brilliant and showy effect. The Sonata had a slow introduction (like Schumann’s First Sonata Op.11) followed by lots of passion, turbulence in the great Romantic tradition. For these, Lee performed on an elaborately ornamented 1877 ‘D’ Steinway (also known as the Wagner Steinway), tossing off its myriad challenges almost effortlessly.
Mendelssohn began the second half with a selection of six Songs without Words. These were performed on an 1883 square piano (also by Steinway), one which looks more like a coffin with a keyboard eccentrically placed on its left. Beginning to sound more like a modern piano, it nevertheless retained a mildly clattery sound. No problem for Lee, as he was singing throughout, producing a pearly tone for the cantabile passages and sometimes generating an organ-like sonority. There was the usual prestidigitation but there was also amazing clarity. That Lee chose to end this set on a quiet note was also a touch of true artistry.

There was even greater joy returning to the 1836 piano (above) for more Chopin – his Three Mazurkas Op.59. By now, its clear limpid sound became sheer pleasure, the tinkle in the dance movements tickled the palate, with inner voices illuminated as never before. Lee’s ability to lilt along in these three-quarter time pieces was infectious, and we begin to sense a major Chopin-artist before us. This profile was completed with the wildly ornamented and aptly titled Variations Brillante Op.12, based on a theme from Herold’s Ludovic. This is early and impossibly florid Chopin, but Lee completely lived the music, lifting it from its showy and almost vulgar display to something rather more special.
His encores were performed on a modern ‘D’ Steinway, first the Valse Brillante in B flat major (Op.18) and then allowing Franz Liszt to gatecrash the party, with his transcription of Chopin’s Polish song The Maiden’s Wish. What unmitigated pleasure this musical history lesson had been!
The Joy of Music Festival is organised by The Chopin Society of Hong Kong.

No comments: