Saturday, 16 October 2010

THE JOY OF MUSIC FESTIVAL: JINSANG LEE and the London Chamber Orchestra Quintet / Review


JINSANG LEE with the

London Chamber Orchestra Quintet

City Hall Concert Hall, Hong Kong

Wednesday (13 October 2010)

This evening’s programme is unlikely to be repeated for some time to come, as Korean pianist Jinsang Lee, 1st prize winner of the 2008 Hong Kong International Piano Competition, performed the chamber versions by Carlos Levin of Chopin’s Piano Concerto No.1 in E minor (Op.11) and three concertante works. How often has one heard the Fantasia of Polish National Airs (Op.13), the Krakowiak (Op.14) or the La ci darem Variations (Op.2) other than on complete recordings of Chopin’s music? In a word, never. So this was going to be a total treat.

The three shorter works were performed first, and it was an hour long of early Chopin. That could have sounded dreary, but Lee was no empty note-spinner. He takes great care with every note, and nothing sounds supercilious in his hands. The Fantasia began nocturne-like and then meandered its way into an aria and dance, in a three-part potpourri. Not the most memorable of Chopin (his far more compact Mazurkas have greater impact) but very pleasant, and for once one notices the orchestral part played by a quintet from the London Chamber Orchestra, which sounded like a folk music band. The Krakowiak is more direct in its intentions, and its gallop-like dance joyously leapt out of the pages through Lee’s refined fingers.

The Op.2 Variations were a virtuoso’s paradise, and Lee negotiated its long introduction with much eloquence and the subsequent punishing variations with great aplomb. By the time the Alla Polacca (the final variation) concluded, the hall erupted with enthusiastic applause. It should be noted that on this very same evening, a certain Lang Lang was performing across the harbour at the Cultural Centre. But the far more discerning people in this hall knew they were hearing the real deal.

Chopin’s First Piano Concerto also benefited in its chamber guise. The tuttis were full-bodied, resounding like a big ensemble from just five players. It was a joy just watching double-bassist Stacey Watton (a man despite a woman’s name) providing those deep bass notes with much conviction. He provided the vital heartbeat to the whole evening’s fare. Lee was, as always, unflappable, making music wherever his fingers took him. The cantabile passages were lovingly delivered, and he made most of Chopin’s very tricky piano writing. Amid the mass of notes, Lee had some awry moments but these were expertly ironed over, leaving nary a trace in the memory. It should be remembered that he played nearly 100 minutes of music in total, an amazing feat of endurance, concentration and the will.

And there was even time for two encores. Russian composer Alexander Scriabin paid Chopin the ultimate tribute in his Nocturne in D flat major (Op.9 No.2) for the left hand, which Lee (and the audience) lapped up with great relish. And he closed with Schumann’s touching tribute to Chopin, that little movement from Carnaval, but dressed up with some ear-tickling harmonies for good effect. I am pretty sure that both Chopin and Schumann would not have minded.

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