Saturday, 24 October 2015

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

JINSANG LEE Piano Recital
The Joy of Music Festival
Hong Kong City Hall Concert Hall
Friday (16 October 2015)

Korean pianist Jinsang Lee, 1st Prize Winner of the 2008 Hong Kong International Piano Competition, is one for unusual repertoire in his recitals. This year his programme connected pianist-composers spanning the East-West divide of the Atlantic during the so-called “Golden Age of the Piano”. The composers included Mischa Levitzki, George Gershwin and Sergei Rachmaninov, all of whom had a Russian or Ukrainian heritage but plied their glorious trade in the West.

Levitzki and Gershwin were exact contemporaries, and both died prematurely from natural causes during the height of their careers. The former wrote only a handful of pieces, mostly in the waltz rhythm, and recycling a little melody which he milked to its max in several pieces. Why not, since its the charming one to be found in his Waltz in A major Op.2. 

Lee played this with much love and tenderness, clearly bringing out the left hand melody amid the right hand filigree. The Arabesque-Valsante and Valse-Tzigane had their moments, but both will have to give way to The Enchanted Nymph, undoubtedly Levitzki's finest confection. Its shimmering opening gradually leads into a waltz (what else could it do?), luxuriating in the ballroom before closing in an enveloping sea of bliss. Charm was kept on high in Lee's delectable performances.

The George Gershwin Songbook contains 18 short prelude-like pieces based on his popular song hits. Lee played all of them, starting with The Man I Love and concluding with I Got Rhythm. Space forbids a detailed description of the performances, but suffice to say, Lee tried to inject some of his own inviduality and ideas into a number of them. Highlighting certain harmonies or melodic lines helped vary the overall tone colour of the sequence. It was difficult to find any routine or boring moment in his treatments of these little gems.

The Rachmaninov transcriptions of Fritz Kreisler's Liebesleid and Liebesfreud are relatively well-known, but how often does one hear them performed in recital? As much as both violin pieces are contrasting, the transcriptions are even more so. There is an improvisatory air to the melancholic Love's Sorrow, which Lee very much took in his stride. Love's Joy was an all-out showpiece, and here he dug in for a virtuosic showing, which despite the vulgarity of the transcription, did not fail to impress.

Giuseppe Andaloro (1st Prize Winner of the 2011 Hong Kong International Piano Competition) and Ilya Rashkovskiy then joined Lee for the eight Slavonic Dances Op.46 by Antonin Dvorak. These are wonderful salon pieces which make effective Hausmusik for skilled amateurs. Even piano pros are not immune to its delightful charm. Here the concert took on a more informal air, as two pianist played on one keyboard while the third turned the pages. 

For the first five pieces, it was Lee and Andaloro doing the honours, and Rashkovskiy joined Lee for the 6th and 7th dances. The performances were unrehearsed, rough and ready but lots of fun and camaraderie between the pianists. Over the years, they have become good friends and this was reflected in the performances. Who cares about the odd stumble, re-start or wrong notes, it was the spirit that truly mattered.

As an encore, all six hands descended for an impromptu performance of Brahms' Hungarian Dance No.1. Its a squeeze when three grown men converge on a single keyboard, and it was a delight to see them cross hands, switch parts, and generally try not to get in each other's way. If this outing, which got the audience roaring in stitches, did not reflect “The Joy of Music”, the name of this festival, I do not known what does.

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