Friday, 18 October 2013

JINSANG LEE Piano Recital / The Joy of Music Festival 2013 / Review

Wednesday (16 October 2013)
JINSANG LEE Piano Recital

This evening was the turn of the Korean Jinsang Lee, second 1st Prizewinner of the Hong Kong International Piano Competition (2008), in a programme of piano music inspired by paintings. Jinsang has had an interestingly varied career since his triumph in Hong Kong and the 2009 Geza Anda International Piano Competition (Zurich), having also majored as a piano technician with Steinway and Sons in Vienna. The big question is why become a piano technician when you can play like what he does?

His recital opened with Liszt’s Sposalizio, from the Italian book of his Annees de Pelerinage (Years of Pilgrimage), inspired by the painting Marriage of the Virgin by the renaissance Italian master Raphael Sanzio. It has a simple cantabile melody, which builds up to a big climax accompanied by campaniles and a celestial celebration. Lee brought out its understated beauty with a minimum of fuss, which was contrasted by the more complicated machinations in the next set of pieces, a selection from Enrique Granados’s Goyescas.

These are new to his repertoire, which explained why he had to play from a score, his assistant being none other than Ilya Rashkovskiy (Has there been a more illustrious page turner since Alfred Cortot?). The rhythmic impulse of the opening Los Requiebros was maintained but the sense of flirtatiousness and coquettishness inherent in its subject was underplayed. The Maiden and the Nightingale, often blighted by over-familiarity, went well but Lee had some problems with the Balada - Love and Death. This was the longest and most difficult number to pull off, with its reminiscences of earlier themes and panoply of moods. Its narrative and overall sweep did not quite come off, which are the signs and symptoms that one has not lived with this music long enough. There was a rough and ready edge to the rambunctious El Pelele (The Straw Man), but that provided a spirited and exciting close to the first half.

Rachmaninov’s Prelude in B minor (Op.32 No.10), inspired by a painting by Swiss symbolist artist Arnold Bocklin, opened the second half. Like the earlier Granados, Lee has not got this piece under his fingers yet. Not so the thrills (and trills) and ecstatic outpourings of Debussy’s L’Isle Joyeuse, a musical visualisation of a Watteau painting La embarquement pour Cythere, which glistened with light and bustled with colour. Lee gave an excellent account, which became the prelude to the big work of the programme, Mussorgsky’s Pictures at an Exhibition.  

From the opening Promenade, Lee showed he meant business with a confident stride and clarity of his articulation. All the pieces were well characterised; Gnomus was truly grotesque, Tuileries had a playful lilt, while the troubadour sang with sorrow outside The Old Castle. Having heard this masterpiece on countless occasions, allow me to declare that I have never heard Bydlo (the lumbering Polish ox-cart) played this well, each turn of every wheel edging ever closer to some metaphysical doom. It had that kind of effect that seemed to make it the heart of the work itself.

The rest of the work flowed eventfully yet seamlessly. Lee’s playing was full of colour, but what impressed most was his projection of sound. This came most winningly in the highly contrasted concluding segments, from the stark Catacombae and spooky Con mortis in Lingua mortua, to the savagery of Baba Yaga’s Hut and the full magnificence and majesty of The Great Gate of Kiev, with its pealing carillons. Lee did not add any further notes to Mussorgsky’s original, but he made the music stand out as being highly original.

The tumultuous applause yielded that most Horowitzian of encores, Schumann’s Traumerei, its arch simplicity could have not contrasted more with the sound and fury that had come earlier.  

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