Saturday, 28 June 2014

KUN-WOO PAIK Piano Recital / 21st Singapore International Piano Festival / Review

KUN-WOO PAIK Piano Recital
21st Singapore International Piano Festival
School of the Arts Concert Hall
Thursday (26 June 2014)

This review was published in The Straits Times on 28 June 2014 with the title "A spellbinding hour of Schubert".

The 21st edition of the Singapore International Piano Festival was opened by veteran Korean pianist Kun-Woo Paik with an all-Schubert programme. Unlike the last all-Schubert evening served up in 2012 by Briton Paul Lewis that included two major sonatas, Paik’s offering was ten short pieces performed without a break and lasting just over an hour.

These comprised the complete set of Four Impromptus (Op.90), Three Piano Pieces (D.946, sometimes referred to as his posthumous Impromptus) and selections from the Six Musical Moments. Although not performed in sequence, Paik’s own order of playing made plenty of logical and musical sense.

Like the song cycles of Franz Schubert (1797-1828), which also run for the best part of an hour, the listener was taken through a journey of emotional peaks and troughs, experiencing joy and sorrow in equal measure. Starting from the First Impromptu in C minor (Op.90 No.1) and ending with the Sixth Musical Moment, this was essentially a cycle of “songs without words”.

Most of these pieces were written in the ternary form, in three parts where the central section is markedly contrasted with the outer sections. Within a short space of minutes, Schubert was able to conjure up a wealth of feelings, often coloured by rapid and often abrupt shifts in dynamics. This was, of course, also among Beethoven’s devices, but Schubert did so with a heart-warming sympathy that was his greatest asset.

The exact Schubert programme of Kun-Woo Paik's
recital has been reproduced on this CD

The leonine Paik, who is in his sixties, appeared world-weary and drained as he stepped on stage, but when the emphatic G in octaves of the First Impromptu sounded, all the ennui seemed to melt away. The inherent tragedy of the work, deeply felt as it worked to a feverish climax also gave way to the animated gypsy-like elan of the Third Piece from D.946. Two successive Musical Moments contrasted reverent awe in a chorale-like tune with an unlikely study of clockwork timing and repetitive beat.

All these paved the way for the set’s most familiar numbers; the seamless lyricism in the G flat major Impromptu (Op.90 No.3), one of Schubert’s loveliest melodies, juxtaposed with the dizzying perpetual motion of the E flat major Impromptu (Op.90 No.3). Two further Piano Pieces (D.946 Nos.1 and 2) displayed a relentless drive with yet another outpouring of uninhibited song.

Paik was rock-steady throughout and unerring in his delivery. More importantly, the inner soul of Schubert’s tormented and conflicted life was being laid bare. The last two pieces were both in the key of A flat major. The rippling filigree of Impromptu (Op.90 No.4), a favourite of piano students, was a concession for understated brilliance, while a most contemplative Musical Moment closed the evening in sublime reticence.

The audience held its breath for a long silence before applause broke through. Paik did not elect to play an encore, and why should he? The Schubertian hour of catharsis was so complete in itself that  further comment would seem unnecessary, even superfluous.  

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