Piano Recital Hans H. Suh
Aula der Universität, Zurich, 2023-05-12
2025-05-19 — Original posting
Der Koreaner Hans H. Suh beschließt die Saison mit Beethoven — Zusammenfassung
Das letzte Konzert der Saison von Musik an ETHZ und UZH in der ehrwürdigen Aula der Universität Zürich war sehr gut besucht: Der koreanische Pianist Hans H. Suh (geboren 1990 in Seoul) gastierte in Zürich. Das rege Interesse an seinem Programm erklärt sich nicht nur durch die Popularität der Kompositionen, sondern wohl auch darin, dass Hans Suh zahlreiche pianistische Auszeichnungen errungen hat, darunter 2021 den ersten Preis der hochdotierten International Telekom Beethoven Competition Bonn. Damit war es nicht weiter verwunderlich, dass er ein reines Beethoven-Programm präsentiert hat, welches die wichtigsten Schaffensperioden des Komponisten abdeckte:
Das Rezital begann mit Beethovens letzter Sammlung von Klavierstücken, den 6 Bagatellen, op.126. Es folgte ein Rückgriff auf die Grande sonate pathétique in c-moll, op.13 (Klaviersonate Nr.8), mit welcher (nebst der Klaviersonate Nr.4 in Es-Dur op.7) Beethoven seinen Ruf als Pianist und Komponist vollends etabliert hat.
Nach der Pause wählte Hans Suh die Klaviersonate Nr.30 in E-dur, op.109, die erste aus der Trias der drei letzten Sonaten (op.109 – 111), und schließlich den Höhepunkt aus der mittleren Schaffensperiode, die Klaviersonate Nr.23 in f-moll, op.57, bekannt unter dem Namen Appassionata. Für die zwei Zugaben blieb Hans Suh bei Beethoven: nach dem aufgewühlten Meisterwerk des op.57 spielte er den ruhigen Eröffnungssatz der Klaviersonate Nr.14 in cis-moll, op.27/2, bekannt als “Mondscheinsonate“. Zu guter Letzt folgte das allzu bekannte Albumblatt “Für Elise”, die Bagatelle in a-moll, WoO 59.
Table of Contents
- Concert & Review
- Six Bagatellen, op.126
- Piano Sonata No.8 in C minor, op.13, “Pathétique”
- Piano Sonata No.30 in E major, op.109
- Piano Sonata No.23 in F minor, op.57, “Appassionata”
- Encore I: Piano Sonata No.14 in C♯ minor, op.27/2, “Moonlight” — I. Adagio sostenuto
- Encore II: Bagatelle in A minor, WoO 59, “Für Elise”
- Six Bagatellen, op.126
|Venue, Date & Time||Aula der Universität, Zurich, 2023-05-12 19:30h|
|Series / Title||Musik an ETHZ und UZH — Piano Recital Hans H. Suh|
|Reviews from related events||Recitals in the Main Convention Hall at Zurich University|
Previous Concerts in the Series “Musik an der ETH und UZH”
Hans H. Suh (*1990) grew up in Seoul, South Korea. At age 4, he started playing piano, and a year later, he already began composing. He gave his first recital at age 7—and received the first prize at the Korea Times Music Competition. He started appearing in Korean TV. 2000, he moved to the United States, debuting in New York in 2001. He studied at the Mannes School of Music in New York City, where his main teachers were Yuri Kim and Vladimir Feltsman (*1952). Hans Suh then switched to Columbia University, where he studied Ancient History, while also taking advantage of the Columbia Juilliard Exchange Program, continuing his piano education with Matti Raekallio (*1954) und Emanuel Ax (*1949).
Over the past 6 years, Hans H. Suh has won numerous prizes at competitions—see the artist’s biography for details. The most relevant one for this recital was his first prize at the International Telekom Beethoven Competition Bonn. Not surprisingly, he is now engaged in an international career as concert pianist, performing with prominent conductors and orchestras in North America, Europe, and of course in Korea.
The instrument in this recital was the University’s mid-size Steinway grand, model B-211.
Works by Ludwig van Beethoven (1770 – 1827):
- Six Bagatellen, op.126
- Piano Sonata No.8 in C minor, op.13, “Pathétique“
- Piano Sonata No.30 in E major, op.109
- Piano Sonata No.23 in F minor, op.57, “Appassionata“
Given that Hans H. Suh isn’t a “big name in the world of piano music” (just yet), one can certainly state that “Beethoven rocks!”: the university’s venerable, main convention hall wasn’t sold out, but very well-filled. A nice success for the organizer!
Concert & Review
Six Bagatellen, op.126
Beethoven’s last set of Bagatellen, the 6 Bagatellen, op.126, are a late publication (from 1825), as the opus number suggests. They are compositions from 1823 – 1824. The composer dedicated the set to his brother, Nikolaus Johann van Beethoven (1776 – 1848).
- Bagatelle in G major: Andante con moto, Cantabile e compiacevole
- Bagatelle in G minor: Allegro
- Bagatelle in E♭ major: Andante, Cantabile e grazioso
- Bagatelle in B minor: Presto
- Bagatelle in G major: Quasi allegretto
- Bagatelle in E♭ major: Presto — Andante amabile e con moto
I have reported about several concert performances of Beethoven’s Bagatellen, op.126 (complete or just subsets). See also my review on an earlier recital for additional information on the pieces.
In his appearance, Hans Suh was unassuming, unpretentious, factual, if not modest. Once at the piano, he stayed focused on the instrument, often playing with closed eyes (he played the entire recital by heart), never really taking notice of the audience. He showed limited facial mimics, and he also avoided spectacular gestures and unnecessary body language. “Letting the music speak for itself”, so to say.
Bagatelle No.1 in G major: Andante con moto, Cantabile e compiacevole
Beethoven started his final set of Bagatellen in a simple, inconspicuous manner: “walking, with motion; singing and pleasant”. Hans Suh followed this annotation with clear, light playing, a singing tone, indeed simple, unpretentious, unexcited, never rushed. In the first segment (3/4), also his agogics were inconspicuous, hardly noticeable. This changed with the central 2/4 segment (up to the return of the initial theme), where he “amplified the crescendo/decrescendo forks in the right-hand motifs with distinct ritenuti: beautiful!
Bagatelle No.2 in G minor: Allegro
The artist kept the second piece unspectacular, in a natural tempo, not sporty, clean, clear, not exaggerating the ff in the central segment—leaving room for a build-up in the following Bagatellen.
Bagatelle No.3 in E♭ major: Andante, Cantabile e grazioso
Warm, expressive, calm, solemn even, intimate, subtle in the p/pp, with lovely, “narrating” agogics: telling a secretive story. The music was blooming up in the central cadenza, with a luminous tone in the descant.
Bagatelle No.4 in B minor: Presto
Very natural and flowing in the “pastoral” (B major) segments, with nice agogics / ritenuti at transitions. The contrasting, agitated B minor segments seemed fast, at the limit where the quaver figures just retained clarity. Agile, but also with robust moments in the f / ff / sf accents—though never gross or exaggerated. I felt that the tempo was “right”—though for the type of instrument (fortepiano) that the composer was familiar with? And again I noted the luminous tone in the high descant.
Bagatelle No.5 in G major: Quasi allegretto
Again, there was this natural, simple, unpretentious tone, very decent agogics, the singing cantilena, the careful dynamics—a nice intermezzo / transition towards the Presto finale:
Bagatelle No.6 in E♭ major: Presto — Andante amabile e con moto
Beethoven ended the set with a “showpiece”. In Hans Suh’s hands, this seemed a tad too fast in the surrounding Presto segments, bordering on superficial in the quaver figures. With this, the Andante amabile e con moto formed a stark contrast. Initially this felt like an other, peaceful pastorale segment, though the artist’s agogics (feeling like momentary impatience) indicated that an expressive build-up is yet to follow. I very much liked the Andante amabile segment: beautifully shaped in dynamics and phrasing. The final Presto bars are a short closure—too short (and a little too superficial) at the artist’s fast pace.
I was pleased to note that Hans Suh observed all repeat signs, throughout the six Bagatellen.
An unpretentious interpretation—and an excellent start into the recital!
Piano Sonata No.8 in C minor, op.13, “Pathétique”
After the publication of a group of the three sonatas op.10, the next one, the Grande sonate pathétique in C minor, op.13 from 1798 stands out. Not in size, however, and not necessarily in structural complexity, but in its expressive strength. To this day, it remains one of Beethoven’s most famous sonatas. The op.13, which Beethoven dedicated to his friend Prince Karl von Lichnowsky (1761 – 18145) comes in three movement:
- Grave — Allegro di molto e con brio
- Adagio cantabile
- Rondo: Allegro
I have written about earlier concert performances of Beethoven’s op.13, and I have also written a short comparison post featuring recordings of this sonata on CD.
I. Grave — Allegro di molto e con brio
From my notes: Grave—clarity in articulation and dynamics. Earnest, “serious”, though not exaggerated opening gestures. Soon, though (in bar #3 already), Hans Suh took back the tone to a more simple expression, as if the artist meant to apply restraints. The ff blocks felt somewhat careful, the dynamic span between p and ff rather modest. Too careful, too restrained? The artist did apply agogics—but at the same time, the flow, in particular the cadenza-like parade in bar #4 and the subsequent part felt a little (too) well-behaved, could have been more expressive.
The Allegro di molto e con brio was maybe a little too light-weight, rather fast (causing occasional, minor mishaps). The pianist retained clarity in articulation, but the playing often sounded superficial / flat in the expression: more agogics (e.g., ritenuti around peak notes) would not have hurt. OK, one could state that the fast, “lightweight” interpretation made the return of the Grave at the beginning of the development part stand out more. However, to me, the Allegro still felt too sleek…
II. Adagio cantabile
Hans Suh correctly applied the Adagio to the crotchet beats (2/4): in the semiquavers, the interpretation was definitely not too slow—maybe rather a little too fluid. That may in parts have been in phrasing / articulation, not in the pace as such. With this, the interpretation sounded a tad simple, slightly lacking depth. One should keep in mind that Adagio means calm, not slow (the latter would be Lento)—and here, I sensed an occasional unrest. On the other hand, the pianist nicely kept the focus on the beautiful cantilena.
III. Rondo: Allegro
Clarity, but again a certain simplicity, if not even playfulness in the Rondo theme—as if the artist meant to position this among Beethoven’s early piano sonatas. With “op.13”, it may indeed be “early”—however, doesn’t this breathe more of the composer’s revolutionary spirit? The articulation remained clear, and I don’t expect perfection—but there were also quite a few mishaps and superficialities…
Overall Rating: ★★★½
Piano Sonata No.30 in E major, op.109
The Piano Sonata No.30 in E major, op.109 (a work from 1820) features three movements:
- Vivace ma non troppo — Adagio espressivo — Tempo I — Adagio espressivo — Tempo I
- Gesangvoll, mit innigster Empfindung. Andante molto cantabile ed espressivo
I have written about one earlier performance of this sonata in a concert.
I. Vivace ma non troppo — Adagio espressivo — Tempo I — Adagio espressivo — Tempo I
The Vivace, ma non troppo: playful, light, relatively fast, fluid—a little harmless? Also the Adagio espressivo weren’t all that expressive. The interpretation felt as if the artist viewed this sonata as belonging to the composer’s middle (or early?) period…
Technically clean, clear—but again rather smooth playing, avoiding expressive agogics. Shouldn’t this be more eruptive, with moments of impatience, if not anger / rebellion?
III. Gesangvoll, mit innigster Empfindung. Andante molto cantabile ed espressivo
The title (particularly applying the theme) translates to “Full of song, with the most intimate feeling“. Yes, the theme was cantabile, indeed—but molto espressivo? A little too straight, simple. Also the first variation, Molto espressivo, felt relatively metric, and maybe too careful and a tad too fluid (certainly not overloaded!)—though luminous in the peak notes in the descant.
I did like variation II, Leggiermente, though the teneramente segments could have contrasted a bit more against the light staccato parts. In variation III, Allegro vivace, the persistent semiquaver line was maybe a tad dominant, while at the same time Beethoven’s dynamic annotations were represented only spuriously. Variation V is a four-part fugato, technically demanding (Allegro ma non troppo), as one needs to maintain internal balance between the voices, while also highlighting the theme. Here, the pianist wasn’t always as careful in the touch control as elsewhere: there were several notes (in the descant, mainly) that sounded hard, stood out (inappropriately) from the musical texture.
The final variation VI, Tempo I del tema, featured a nice, broad dynamic arch an climax. The peak notes often again sounded rather hard. However, the very last bar beautifully retracted into the most sublime and subtle ppp, which left the audience stunned and touched for a long moment…
Piano Sonata No.23 in F minor, op.57, “Appassionata”
The Sonata No.23 in F minor, op.57, “Appassionata“ (a work from 1804 – 1806, published 1807) is the climax of Beethoven’s “middle period” piano sonatas. It features three movements as follows:
- Allegro assai
- Andante con moto
- Allegro ma non troppo – Presto
I have written about several earlier performances of this sonata in concert.
I. Allegro assai
Performance-wise the best sonata movement so far, with its build-up of tension / suspense from the first bars, alternating with wild, violent eruptions — first with the surprising downfall in bar #14 (bouncing back up, though) and even more so in the exploding ff chord sequences (first in bar #17). A well-worked out interpretation, demonstrating the revolutionary composer. That said, I sensed that the pianist’s touch wasn’t as careful and controlled as in the previous works. I noted a slight degradation in precision, and the occasional hard, even twanging note in the descant, e.g., in the build-up from bar #117 on (f — sempre più forte — ff).
The sonata was meant to be a virtuosic display. The artist’s interpretation represented that well—without attempts to show off. The articulation was clear, the performance transparent. There were some nice details, such as the extended p / pp fermatas in bar 151 and prior to the stretta / coda, in bar #238. Or, the faithful, accurate pedaling in bars 234 – 237 (and also in the last bars), which nicely produced the intended blurring/mixing effect.
II. Andante con moto
Beautiful cantabile, calm, melodious flow, devoid of expressive overloading, discreet in the agogics, faithful / accurate in the single and double punctuations in the theme. I noted that the artist subtly increased the volume in the second repeat in the first variation. He did the same in variation II (sempre ligato), leading to a harmonious, continuous build-up towards variation 3 (demisemiquavers). I think the tempo was a proper Andante con moto. Only in variation 3, I wished for a little more calm in the demisemiquaver line—hard to achieve, and maybe just my personal preference?
III. Allegro ma non troppo – Presto
Virtuosic, very fluid, at times (especially in the second part) a little (too) restless, allowing expression / differentiation mostly through dynamics, rather than agogics. And there were again some hardnesses in the touch. Maybe the tempo would have been more appropriate on a fortepiano? Interestingly (maybe understandably?), the highly virtuosic second part in the Allegro ma non troppo was the only repeat that Hans Suh did not observe.
With the fast Allegro pace, the concluding Presto (with the repeats again) turned out very demanding in articulation / maintaining clarity on the modern instrument. Indeed, not all semiquaver motifs showed the clarity that a period instrument could achieve. However, they still demonstrated the artist’s impressive technical prowess, arousing vivid applause from the audience.
Overall Rating: ★★★★
Encore I: Piano Sonata No.14 in C♯ minor, op.27/2, “Moonlight” — I. Adagio sostenuto
Beethoven’s Piano Sonata No.14 in C♯ minor, op.27/2 (a.k.a. “Moonlight Sonata”, composed 1801) hardly requires an introduction. I have, however, posted my results of a (somewhat cursory) comparison of a number of recordings, and with this, I have also included comments on the composition. The movements of the sonata are:
- Adagio sostenuto
- Presto agitato
I have also written about concert performances of this sonata. For his first encore, Hans Suh selected the first movement, Adagio sostenuto.
A interpretation that avoided over-romanticizing. Still very atmospheric, calm. One needs to keep in mind that the notation indicates split time (alla breve, ₵), which to some may make the quaver triplets feel unusually fluent—but the artist was certainly correct here!
Encore II: Bagatelle in A minor, WoO 59, “Für Elise”
Hans Suh selected Beethoven’s Bagatelle in A minor, WoO 59, “Für Elise” as second encore. It is common knowledge that the identity of the dedicatee is unclear and subject to speculations. Most people probably ignore that this composition was discovered only decades after the composer’s death—Wikipedia has more information about all this.
This Bagatelle is not a very demanding / sophisticated composition—and unfortunately, it is vastly “over-used”, as every piano pupil at some point has “gone through it”—plus, it has appeared in films, etc.
From that perspective, its use as second and final encore felt like a “step downwards”—even though the composition definitely has its qualities. Once more, Hans Suh did not over-romanticize this work, offering a calm, simple and playful interpretation. Adequate, but (musically) not matching the level of the recital. If at least the artist had chosen the lesser-known, longer alternative version…
The author would like to express his gratitude to the organizer, Nina Orotchko / Musical Discovery, for the free entry to this concert.