Monday, 27 October 2014

THE THANK YOU RECITALS / Chopin Society of Hong Kong / Review

Chopin Society of Hong Kong
Hong Kong City Hall Concert Hall
Saturday & Sunday 
(25 & 26 October 2014)

Thanks or no thanks to the student demonstrations taking place throughout the civic, business and shopping districts of Hong Kong S.A.R., the 4th Hong Kong International Piano Competition (originally scheduled to be held from 10 to 27 October) had to be postponed to 2016. The reasons are obvious: any stage of disruption in the competition process would have derailed the entire event, and the safety of the participants and jury (Ashkenazy and Co.) could not be guaranteed. This is especially so because City Hall is just a few hundred meters from the Admiralty / HMS Tamar demonstration site, and any gunfire and explosions would have been easily audible, and we’re not talking about Prokofiev’s piano music.

While jury chairman Vladimir Ashkenazy was conducting the otherwise-idle Hong Kong Philharmonic Orchestra in free concerts at the HK University in support of the students’ just cause, the Chopin Society organised three free recitals on 24-26 October featuring past First Prize Winners of the Competition, namely Ilya Rashkovskiy (2005), Jinsang Lee (2008) and Giuseppe Andaloro (2011).

Having just arrived from Macau, I was able to catch the second and third evenings of what would be considered a truncated version of The Joy of Music Festival. The attendances were good, just as good as if the competition had taken place in peace and tranquillity, and the response was typically warm-hearted and full of goodwill. The “Thank You” was directed at the good people of Hong Kong (known to put up with loads of governmental and political shite, not to mention the air pollution) and the ever-supportive competition sponsors.

Jinsang Lee opened his recital with unknown and undiscovered Schumann. Almost every note was unfamiliar to me, including a Sonata for Children (Op.118), a movement that would have been Schumann’s Fourth Sonata, the late Gesange der Fruhe (Songs of Dawn), and an earlier version of the finale to the Third Sonata in F minor. Lee played from a score, but his responses were totally musical, from the idiomatic phrasing to the singing tone that is characteristic of Schumann’s music. Just a point of interest, that finale quoted Clara Wieck’s theme that was the subject of variations in the famous third movement, and the original finale is almost as brilliant as the final and definitive version.

Jinsang Lee and his bride Jiwon Kang.
They got married on 9 October 2014.

As a complete contrast to the first half, Lee performed a selection of Poulenc (Pascal Roge terriotory) including the First Nocturne, and two Improvisations, the ones in tribute to Schubert (a Landler) and Edith Piaf. These were beautifully crafted and one was willingly transported to Gay Paree, before he was joined by Ilya Rashkovskiy for Poulenc’s madcap Capriccio for two pianos, yet another one of his cheeky and delectable confections. Still on France, the two winners converged on a single keyboard for Ravel’s Mother Goose Suite. The Balinese-inspired third movement Laideronette, Empress of the Pagodas was pentatonic heaven, with Lee striking the low strings inside the piano to simulate a gong.

Back on two pianos, the duo closed with Saint-Saens’s Danse Macabre and Shostakovich’s Concertino in A minor. The camaraderie between the two was excellent, with give and take being a hallmark of chamber music making. Two became three when Giuseppe Andaloro joined in for an uproarious encore by Vincenzo Panerai, a quick march with lots of hands-crossing and flipping the score over at the half way mark. One could tell that all three pianists were having a great deal of fun.

On the final evening, Giuseppe Andaloro had to grapple with multiple styles in his recital which included three Rachmaninov contrasting Preludes, Stravinsky’s Tango, Scriabin’s Vers la flamme, Liszt’s Hungarian Rhapsody No.13 and three Messiaen Preludes, not an easy feat. He got the notes down pat, but the frequent shifts in musical idioms and dynamics rendered the sum somewhat less than the individual parts. One however cannot but marvel at the Horowitzian energy and incandescence he lent to that little Scriabin incendiary masterpiece.

For the second half, Andaloro provided a treat of a different kind, his own arrangements of Beatles songs (Come Together, Imagine, Across The Universe, Yesterday and Norwegian Wood among them). The last song included plucking the strings inside the piano for a quite magical and quasi-Oriental feel. This was followed up with a Lisztian paraphrase of Queen’s Bohemian Rhapsody, which almost makes one forget the original. The piano duo segment was shorter, with Jinsang Lee joining him in Milhaud’s Scaramouche and Khachaturian’s Sabre Dance for a glittering close.

Andaloro’s solo encore was significant, a World Premiere of Einojuhani Rautavaara’s Mirroring, the work commissioned for the piano competition that had been scuttled. It is an etude-like work on A-B-A form ((hence the mirror reference) where A represented prestidigitation in the manner favoured by Ligeti and B a series of sonorous chords. It is a rather effective showpiece and morceau de concours that would hopefully not be lost to posterity because of the events of Occupy Central.  

The HKIPC is down but not out, and the 4th edition has been pledged to take place in September-October of 2016. In the meantime, a big “Thank You” is in order for the Chopin Society of Hong Kong for sharing the joy of music happen, even (and especially) in a time of dissidence and strife.

Three 1st Prize Winners of Hong Kong:
Jinsang Lee, Giuseppe Andaloro & Ilya Rashkovskiy.

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