Jae Hong Park
Schumann / Scriabin / Franck

Aula der Universität, Zurich, 2022-10-14

4.5-star rating

2022-11-13 — Original posting


Jae Hong Park (© Tiberio Sorvillo Luca Guadagnini)
Jae Hong Park (© Tiberio Sorvillo Luca Guadagnini)

Table of Contents


Introduction

Venue, Date & TimeAula der Universität, Zurich, 2022-10-14, 19:30h
Series / TitleMusik an ETH und UZHPiano Recital Jae Hong Park
OrganizerMusical Discovery
Reviews from related eventsPrevious recitals in the Main Convention Hall (Aula) at Zurich University
Concerts organized by Musical Discovery

The Artist

The South-Korean pianist Jae Hong Park (*1999 in Suwon) started playing the piano at age 7. Already two years later, he made his first stage appearance. He received the main part of his piano education from Prof. Dae-jin Kim (*1962) at Korea National University of the Arts in Seoul. After his international debut in Buenos Aires at age 15, he launched a successful career with concerts and recitals throughout Europe, the United States, Israel, and, of course, South Korea. However, his international breakthrough came 2021, when he won the first prize at the 64th Ferruccio Busoni International Piano Competition.


Program


Setting, etc.

I took a seat in one of the fist rows in the right-hand side block. My position offered the opportunity of a direct view onto the pianist, unobstructed by people in the audience. One disadvantage was that the prop for the lid was occasionally right in front of the pianist’s face. As an aside: given the choice of capturing either the pianist’s hands, or his or her face, I typically select the latter option. In parts, this is because in poor stage lighting the fast movements of hands and fingers typically yields blurred pictures.

The instrument was the University’s mid-size Steinway grand piano, model B-211.


Concert & Review

Robert Schumann, by M. Lämmel
Robert Schumann

Schumann: Arabeske in C major, op.18

Composer & Work

Robert Schumann (1810 – 1856) wrote his Arabeske in C major, op.18 in 1839, one year after he moved from Leipzig to Vienna. In Vienna, he communicated with Clara Wieck (1819 – 1896) through letters only—and through his music, such as this Arabeske. Schumann’s annotation in this single-movement piece are

Leicht und Zart (Light and delicate, ♩= 132) —
Minore I, etwas langsamer (More slowly, ♩= 126) —
Ruhiger (calmer)—
Minore II, Etwas langsamer (♩= 126) —
Tempo I
Zum Schluss, Langsam (♩= 58)

Clara Schumann later modified the first three metronome marks to 126, 112, and 120, respectively (no change in the last part).

The Performance

Jae Hong Park opened the Arabeske with a gentle, mellow touch, with warm, rounded sonority. To me, it didn’t feel exactly pp—albeit not loud, though. Does the opening of a recital require “marking some presence”? To me, this is lyrical Eusebius music (see below for more on the Davidsbündler characters Florestan and Eusebius).

Also the first Minore was maybe a little robust, but expressive. True, Schumann opens mf, returns to p, then builds up to ff. So more volume seems appropriate. Some people see this as Florestan episode. I think, the segment should still be expressive, but still fit into the overall, lyrical atmosphere of the composition: after all, the pace is a little calmer.

The 16 bars of the Ruhiger, however, were definitely introverted, introspective, reflecting, hesitant: beautiful! In the Tempo I, I liked the calm flow, the agogics, the rubato: very much back to Eusebius now! On the other hand, Florestan marks his presence in the f opening bars of the Minore II—however, even prior to the Tempo I, this again turned lyrical, intimate.

The Langsam ending—such a typical, touching Schumann ending! To me this was entirely in the spirit of Der Dichter spricht, the last piece (No.13) from Schumann’s Kinderszenen, op.15. Beautiful!

Rating: ★★★★

Schumann: Piano Sonata No.1 in F♯ minor, op.11

Composer & Work

1833 – 1835, a few years prior to the “Arabeske”, op.18, Robert Schumann (1810 – 1856) composed his Piano Sonata No.1 in F♯ minor, op.11. He published it anonymously, as “Pianoforte Sonata, dedicated to Clara by Florestan and Eusebius“. Florestan (impetuous) and Eusebius (lyrical, introverted, poetic) are the two “lead characters” in Schumann’s Davidsbündlertänze, op.6. The tempo annotations in the sonata’s four movements are as follows:

  1. Introduzione (un poco adagio) — Allegro vivace
  2. Aria: Senza passione, ma espressivo
  3. Scherzo ed Intermezzo: Allegrissimo — Più Allegro — Lento, Alla burla, ma pomposo — Tempo I
  4. Finale: Allegro un poco maestoso

The Performance

Jae Hong Park meant to carry over the tension from the Arabeske to the sonata—and he almost managed, ending up aborting the first clap of an emerging applause.

I. Introduzione (un poco adagio) — Allegro vivace

The big, rhapsodic tone of the Introduzione, however, instantly made this a negligible mishap. Jae Hong Park shaped this into an expressive, even dramatic “announcement”, gradually transitioning into an emote dialog between bass and descant: a strong narration, building up to a dramatic ff—and ending in a sudden “pp void”. Impressive!

The Allegro vivace featured a lively, dramatic pace. Schumann annotates Pedale. To me, the beginning of the exposition either felt a little fast. Or, considering the sonority of a modern Steinway, it would have required a little less sustain pedal, in order to retain clarity with the semiquaver motifs. Overall, though, I really liked the artist’s rubato, the expressive tone, the mood swings, the changes in atmosphere. In general, I was pleased with the full sonority, the big, dramatic arches. Jae Hong Park did occasionally reach the limitations of the instrument, though. A question of touch, or rather one of adjusting to the instrument’s sonority?
★★★★

II. Aria: Senza passione, ma espressivo

Intense singing in the Aria theme in the initial A major part—indeed expressive, not just in the melody, but also in the agogics—yet simple, almost in folk tone. Too bad the melody moved into the background once it was in the bass / left hand in the middle part, where the semiquaver figures in the right hand were rather dominating. The final A major restored the lyrical role of the melody, though.
★★★★

III. Scherzo ed Intermezzo: Allegrissimo — Più Allegro — Lento, Alla burla, ma pomposo — Tempo I

The artist followed up with the Scherzo instantly, attacca. Virtuosic, dramatic, with sf chord flashing up like lightning strokes—excellent! The Più Allegro part with excellent dynamic clarity and differentiation, keeping the focus on the melody lines.

The Lento is totally different in character. Yet, Jae Hong Park managed to take the momentum along from the Scherzo, maintaining a strong narrative: an expressive arioso followed by an equally “talking” recitative. A brief, lyrical, reflective Eusebius moment—a dramatic exclamation, and a return to the Tempo I, with verve and momentum. Enthralling!
★★★★½

IV. Finale: Allegro un poco maestoso

Another attacca movement: excellent in the un poco maestoso: agile enough, not too heavy. The marcato after the fermata (C major) felt rather too hard, almost violent. However, I really liked the frequent changes between hard and mellow in touch and dynamics, the dramatic concept. Jae Hong Park’s performance was impressive and virtuosic—he did not appear to be challenged by Schumann’s demanding, power-draining textures in the dramatic part. My only quibble (as a non-pianist!) was in an occasional tendency to over-predalize. Not sure how much the acoustics and/or the instrument have contributed to this impression.
★★★★

Overall Rating: ★★★★

Alexander Nikolayevich Scriabin
Alexander Scriabin

Scriabin: Piano Sonata No.3 in F♯ minor, op.23

Composer & Work

Alexander Nikolayevich Scriabin (1872 – 1915) wrote his Piano Sonata No.3 in F♯ minor, op.23 between 1897 and 1898, while in Paris. The sonata features four movements (for details see Wikipedia)

  1. Drammatico
  2. Allegretto
  3. Andante
  4. Presto con fuoco

Initially, Scriabin allegedly called this sonata “Gothic“, with the idea to evoke the impression of a ruined castle. Later, however, he changed this title to “States of the Soul“, with the following program (quoted from the above Wikipedia reference, which includes additional information):

  1. Drammatico
    The soul, free and wild, thrown into the whirlpool of suffering and strife.
  2. Allegretto
    Apparent momentary and illusory respite; tired from suffering the soul wants to forget, wants to sing and flourish, in spite of everything. But the light rhythm, the fragrant harmonies are just a cover through which gleams the restless and languishing soul.
  3. Andante
    A sea of feelings, tender and sorrowful: love, sorrow, vague desires, inexplicable thoughts, illusions of a delicate dream.
  4. Presto con fuoco
    From the depth of being rises the fearsome voice of creative man whose victorious song resounds triumphantly. But too weak yet to reach the acme he plunges, temporarily defeated, into the abyss of non-being.

The Performance

After the intermission, Jae Hong Park just briefly acknowledged the applause, sat down at the instrument, and instantly launched into Scriabin’s sonata. He performed all movements attacca, or at least quasi attacca.

I. Drammatico

The big, rhapsodic opening gestures, the full sonority momentarily almost felt like direct Schumann heritage. A highly expressive, late-romantic interpretation (certainly appropriate for the early Scriabin!) with big, rounded sonority. Almost too rounded? Big dynamic arches, strong agogics and rubato, impressive in the broad, dramatic waves, the expressive climaxes. Beautiful, intense music, for sure!
★★★★½

II. Allegretto

Excellent technique, full sonority again—dramatic, and exploiting, occasionally exceeding the sonoric capacity of the mid-size grand. As a contrast, the second part, con grazia: lovely, gentle, intimate, lyrical—except for the dramatic stretto ending, of course.
★★★★½

III. Andante

Intimate, gentle, highly expressive in the agogics, legato singing, rounded, harmonious sonority. Excellent dynamic structuring, “fetching out” secondary voices, expressing the love, the big, wistful feelings in the composer’s program. To me, the highlight of the performance.
★★★★★

IV. Presto con fuoco

The last movement is the only one where the compose explicitly wrote attacca—and indeed, the transition was seamless, dramatic. Intense, highly expressive, and still romantic in the singing. Big dynamic waves, urging, towering climaxes, almost overwhelming in the intensity of the feelings in the wistful, romantic moments (after all, the composer’s program says it all!). An impressive, coherent and compelling interpretation.
★★★★½

Overall Rating: ★★★★½

César Franck, 1880
César Franck

Franck: Prélude, Choral et Fugue, FWV 21

Composer & Work

César Franck (1822 – 1890) wrote his Prélude, Choral et Fugue, FWV 21 (more information in the French Wikipedia) in 1884. The inspiration for this composition came from works by Johann Sebastian Bach (1685 – 1750). As the title suggests, there are three movements:

  1. Prélude: Moderato
  2. Choral: Poco più lento — Poco allegro
  3. Fugue: Tempo I

All movements are performed attacca. The Prélude is based on three different motifs, the Chorale adds a fourth one. The Fugue introduces a fifth theme, descending chromatically, while also returning to motifs #2 and #4. The Poco allegro is a 32-bar transition from the Chorale to the Fugue.

The Performance

The beginning of the Prélude made me realize what an excellent program choice this was. It struck me as an ideal fit to Scriabin’s Sonata No.3—not just in tonality (H minor vs. F♯ minor), but also in the spirit, in the late-romantic attitude of the two pieces:

I. Prélude: Moderato

Gentle, rhapsodic waves, surrounding the embedded four-tone motif / theme (F♯ — E — G — F♯), expressive rubato, giving the impression of a rhythmically free flow. Very good sonority in the chordic transition to the second theme / motif (ff) and the somber, wistful passage that follows—even on this mid-size grand piano. After the second segment with rolling waves, another, chordic passage led to a intense interplay between the three themes in the Prélude. Jae Hong Park was able to keep each of the themes “on the surface”, i.e., to maintain a good balance between the themes.

II. Choral: Poco più lento — Poco allegro

Jae Hong Park avoided excess celebrating. He did not appear to present the chorale as a particularly religious element. Rather, the chorale was a highly expressive, harmonious cantabile, an intense lamentation that gradually built up to orchestral grandeur, an interplay between sadness, resignation, and hope. Big sonority and intensity in the passages with the wide-spanning, arpeggiated chords. Grandiose!

The Poco Allegro momentarily anticipates the fugue, but then reverts to a short, virtuosic transition, before the actual fugue begins.

III. Fugue: Tempo I

Initially, Franck appears to present us with a strict, almost baroque fugue. However, the harmonious waves that evolved under the pianist’s hands soon revealed a highly expressive and virtuosic, romantic texture. The sonority often expanded into big organ or orchestral dimensions, in huge waves, which sometimes seemed exceed the capacity of the instrument: moving and impressive, if not overwhelming!

Rating: ★★★★½

Johann Sebastian Bach, ca. 1722
J.S. Bach
Alexander Siloti
Alexander Siloti

Encore — Siloti: Arrangement of J.S. Bach’s Prelude in E minor, BWV 855a

Composer & Work

Alexander Siloti (Aleksandr Ilyich Siloti, also Ziloti / Алекса́ндр Ильи́ч Зило́ти, 1863 – 1945) was a Ukrainian pianist, conductor and composer, born in Kharkiv. Today, he is known not so much for original compositions, but for a large body of over 200 piano transcriptions. Among these, the most well-known is his Prelude in B minor, an arrangement of the Prelude in E minor, BWV 855a by Johann Sebastian Bach (1685 – 1750), the No.18 (“Praeludium 5“) in the 1720 “Klavierbüchlein für Wilhelm Friedemann Bach, a collection of keyboard works for Bach’s eldest son, Wilhelm Friedemann Bach (1710 – 1784).

The Prelude BWV 855a served as model for the Prelude in E minor, BWV 855 in Bach’s Well-Tempered Clavier, Volume I, which has a richly ornamented right-hand in lieu of the simple chords in BWV 855a. In addition, in the Prelude BWV 855, Bach added a Presto part.

Alexander Siloti turned to the simpler, original version of the Prelude, BWV 855a. In his arrangement, he swapped the parts: the semiquaver line now is in the right hand, while the chords are moved into the bass, and he transposed the piece down to B minor. This completely alters the character of the piece, making it mellow and romantic.

The Performance

Naturally, Siloti’s arrangement didn’t feel very baroque, as the announced “Prelude by Bach” might suggest. Rather, Jae Hong Park presented this as expressive, thoughtful and highly atmospheric conclusion of his recital. A very fitting romantic piece. And much better than any virtuosic, “splashy” ending.


Conclusions

I hadn’t followed the Busini competition. So, I wasn’t aware of this artist prior to this recital. However, to me, the recital confirmed the high artistic ranking of this pianist. We wish him success in his career!


Acknowledgement

The author would like to express his gratitude to the organizer, Nina Orotchko (Musical Discovery) for the invitation to this recital.



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