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Concert Review: Pianist Kwiran Lee at the Sejong Chamber Hall, 6/16/14

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Article first published as Concert Review: Pianist Kwiran Lee at the Sejong Chamber Hall, 6/16/14 on Blogcritics.

Kwiran Lee

Kwiran Lee

Acclaimed pianist and Ewha Woman’s University faculty member Kwiran Lee performed a dynamic and engaging solo recital of Bach, Mozart, and Schumann at Sejong Chamber Hall on June 16 at 7:30 p.m. A former student of renowned fortepianist Malcolm Bilson, Ms. Lee’s extensive background on period instruments shows in her treatment of the works on her program, even on a modern concert grand.

Attributes of her playing include delicacy of touch and clear interpretations, with subtle hints of pedal. This appears in the opening work, the vibrant Bach’s Italian Concerto, a concerto in microcosm. Aside from slight rushing in the first movement, Ms. Lee is precisely rhythmic without sounding mechanical, and reveals great command of the keyboard. Her sound is never forced or unnecessarily tense, especially in the spirited third movement. A relaxed approach to the keys and a supple, fluid tone marks her playing. Her performance of Mozart’s Piano Sonata in E-flat, K. 282 is sensitive and translucent, her well-balanced phrasing true to the style of that period. Her handling of the cantabile first movement abounds with nuance and feeling.

The same inclination towards understatement appears in the massive Davidsbundlertanze, which concludes the program. Although there are clearly no technical limitations to her playing, Ms. Lee’s instinct is for the more introverted pieces in the set, played with great warmth and intimacy. It is wonderful to see her range exhibited in the musical “dialogues,” as she transitions from the dreamy Eusebius to the impetuous Florestan.

Ms. Lee is also known for her premieres of contemporary Korean works for piano, many of which she includes in her concert programming. I missed the inclusion, but nevertheless enjoyed this wonderful night of music.

Clavier Companion May/June 2013: Musical Toys

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For the May/June 2013 issue of Clavier Companion, Sang Woo Kang has reviewed pianist Mei Yi Foo’s release on Odradek Records, titled Musical Toys.

For information on how to subscribe to the magazine, please go here. 

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Clavier Companion November/December 2012: Saint-Saëns

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For the November/December 2012 issue of Clavier CompanionSang Woo Kang has reviewed pianist Geoffrey Burleson‘s recording of Saint-Saëns’s piano works. This recording is Vol. 1 in a series of Saint-Saëns’s complete piano works, and promises to be an engaging collection. Digital subscribers can log in here or subscribe to the print/digital magazine here.

Clavier Companion September/August 2012: Duckworth: The Time Curve Preludes

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Check out the September/October 2012 issue of Clavier Companion for Sang Woo Kang’s review of pianist R. Andrew Lee’s recording of the Time Curve Preludes by William Duckworth. Digital subscribers can log in here or subscribe to the print/digital magazine here.

On Minimalism: Repetition and Change

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[Article first published as On Minimalism: Repetition and Change on Blogcritics.]

Minimalism — Dictionary.com defines the movement as “a reductive style or school of modern music utilizing only simple sonorities, rhythms, and patterns, with minimal embellishment or orchestrational complexity, and characterized by protracted repetition of figurations, obsessive structural rigor, and often a pulsing, hypnotic effect.”

Two years ago, I wrote a blog post about the experience of hearing Philip Glass’s “Mad Rush” at a concert, and noted back then that this was music that could be extremely beautiful both in its attractive textures, consonance, and hypnotism. On the other hand, I found it an extremely limited musical language. Lately, I’ve been thinking again about the appeal of minimalism, especially as I program John Corigliano’s “Fantasia on an Ostinato” for some upcoming concerts.

In trying to explain the rise of minimalism, Kyle Gann wrote that minimalism was an expected return to simpler forms after serialism, or music both extremely difficult to compose and hear, had run its course. But while serialism may be an extremely difficult listening experience, and a disorienting one at that, minimalism poses its own challenges to the listener even with all its seeming tonality. John Corigliano, who dabbled in minimalistic techniques in his 1985 piano composition “Fantasia on an Ostinato,” wrote,

I approached this task with mixed feelings about the contemporary phenomenon known as minimalism, for while I admire its emphasis on attractive textures and its occasional ability to achieve a hypnotic quality (not unlike some late Beethoven), I do not care for its excessive repetition, its lack of architecture and its overall emotional sterility.

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