Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Playing To Extremes

From KCMetropolis. I attended this concert Saturday night and while I disagree with some of the things Robert says, I have to say that one of the downfalls of the free show was the crowd in attendance was really really loud. Maybe I'm just used to quiet and respectful crowds at the Kauffman but this crowd was incredibly loud during the performance. I understand it's a free show for the masses blah blah but people need to shut the hell up during a show.

By Robert Pherigo   
Wed, Sep 25, 2013

Pianist Ji-Yong opens the Harriman-Jewel Series with virtuosity and some questionable interpretive choices but finishes strong in a program of Bach, Busoni, Schumann, Brahms, and Ravel.
Last Saturday night the Harriman-Jewell Series presented Korean pianist Ji-Yong, age 22, at the Folly Theater as part of their Discovery Concert series, which is free to the public. This was Ji-Yong’s second appearance at the Discovery Concerts, his first being in 2004 at the age of 13. It was an evening of extremes. He began the program with Busoni’s transcription of Bach’s organ work Toccata, Adagio, and Fugue in C Major, BWV 564. His fingers flew over the keyboard at an extremely fast pace at the beginning of the Toccata with a clarity and shape that was exciting and boded well for the rest of the program. After the more improvisatory beginning, which consists of a single line of music, non-harmonized, originally played on the organ pedals, the music becomes more structured, with a rising melody taken through different harmonic modulations and registers of the piano.
Ji-Yong chose to use more rubato than is usually heard but since this is Bach through the prism of late Romanticism it could be justified. What was questionable was his extremely loud playing. Perhaps he was trying to suggest the power of the pipe organ but it was harsh and in no way had the depth and power that great fortissimo playing can have. What should have been full ringing chords became metallic hammer blows. I suspect that when he learns to use gravity and less muscle his fortissimos will acquire a fullness of sound without harshness. The Adagio was beautifully played though the last chord was surely held out longer than Bach or Busoni would have wanted. The Fugue also was very well played, though the initial statement was rather fussy. Ji-Yong made the decision to end each of the three one measure phrases that begin the fugue with a diminuendo and staccato note, whereas Busoni specifically writes a tenuto line over the last note of each of those phases. It’s a small thing but sometimes it’s better just let the music speak without too much messing about. Other than that and the loud volume the playing was brilliant and enjoyable overall.
Next came two Brahms Intermezzos, Op. 118, Nos. 1 and 2, followed by Schumann’s Kinderszenen(Scenes from Childhood), Op.15.  The first Brahms was passionately played though it was questionable to change the dynamic from forte to piano during the second section repeat. The second intermezzo is one of Brahms most beautiful creations but Ji-Jong’s phrasing was jerky at times and his volume extremely soft. There are sections marked pianissimo but when they came there wasn’t a sufficient difference in dynamic to really make those sections as magical as they can be. The Schumann started out wonderfully with the pianist playing the first of these 13 scenes simply and beautifully. From there on it was a mixed bag; the phrasing at times was too extreme, with a melodic line rising suddenly, abruptly in volume, and then just as suddenly falling off. At other times the melodies were too subdued, as in the most famous of these scenes, “Träumerei;” played extremely softly and without much dynamic shape. Ji-Yong was fully involved in his music making but I kept wishing for less fussiness, and more volume! He more or less avoided the middle volumes which was fatiguing as a listener. He would also sometimes linger over final notes or chords and at one point put a rest in the middle of a scene “FĂĽrchtenmachen” that is not indicated in the music!
After the first half I was wondering how he would approach the Bach Partita (No. 1 in B-flat Major, BWV 825) that opened the second half. Here, the music making was much more satisfying. It was clear, direct, and beautifully phrased. The concluding Gigue, though taken at a clip that obscured the accompanying triplet figures, was impressive; controlled and shaped in a way that elicited a murmur of satisfaction from the packed theater before the applause started.Ravel’s La Valse concluded the program. It is a transcription that Ravel himself did of his orchestral piece by the same name. It’s music that is extreme; a kind of hallucinogenic fever dream of waltzing, and Ji-Yong’s extreme way with phrasing and dynamics served him well. This reading was an exciting and virtuosic performance that brought the crowd to its feet, deservedly so. He rewarded their enthusiasm with an encore; my best guess (it was unannounced) is that it was a Liszt reworking of a Schumann (maybe Schubert?) song. It was well played and sent the audience away satisfied.
The free Discovery Concerts are a real treasure for the Kansas City public. It was heartening to see so many young people there paying real attention to what was happening on stage. 
REVIEW:Harriman-Jewell Series
Ji-Yong, pianist
Saturday, September 27, 2013
Folly Theater
300 W 12th St., Kansas City, MO
Top Photo: Ji-Yong
By Robert Pherigo
Classical Contributor
Robert Pherigo is a composer, pianist, tenor and an occasional conductor. He is a member of newEar contemporary music ensemble, he sang with the Kansas City Chorale for 10 years and he is the pianist for Unity Temple on the Plaza. He has performed with the Kansas City Symphony and Lyric Opera of Kansas City. He has performed Liszt in Paris and has music published by Santa Barbara Music Publishing and by Kansas City Music Publishing. Other activities that he enjoys are reading, Haruki Murakami being one of his favorite authors; movies, bicycling, travel, and meditating. Born and raised in Kansas City, Robert went to college at ASU (piano performance with Robert Hamilton), lived one year in Florida, and spent 9 years freelancing in Chicago before returning to Kansas City. You can read his blog at http://52composers.blogspot.com. He is excited to be adding his voice to KCMetropolis, and hopes that his reviews inform, educate, entertain and challenge the reader.