On Oct. 2, the silver medalist from this year's Van Cliburn Competition made her local debut. Korean pianist Yeol Eum Son appeared under the auspices of the Lane Series in UVM's Redstone Recital Hall. Her program covered all the major periods for keyboard literature. The program carefully highlighted her technical abilities, which are a major blessing for a performing artist such as she, because technically nothing seemed to be beyond her.
Yeol has phenomenal strength in her hands and arms, wedded to a general facility that is truly awe inspiring. Now and then during the program, I found myself wondering if her technical prowess overtook her musicality-the interpretation side of performance that can really only be totally attended to when technique is, so to speak, "in the bag". It's just that to my ears, sometimes, especially when it came to Debussy and Chopin, where there are clues to the interpretation of a piece, such as rubato and rallentando markings, that were not quite so well integrated into the performance.
She opened with a performance of Bach's Partita No. 6 in e minor BWV 830 which profited from her technical prowess. The Toccata was beautifully articulated, the Corrente ("running") a fleet chase. The Sarabande had a good deal of the lassitude requisite for this somewhat slow-motion dance, and the notes were strung together by her with the care that is soprano would show in a Bel Canto aria. Those movements that profited from careful articulation -- and this included all of the movements with the possible exception of the Sarabande.
Samuel Barber's Sonata for Piano, Opus 26, is a bear of a piece. I recall the American pianist John Browning used regularly to perform the work-indeed, to champion the work -during the 1950s and early 1960s.Yeol certainly has all the necessary equipment to make a splendid showing of this piece, and yet my heart kept whispering to me that the third movement, an adagio mesto (a sad adagio), needed its essential forward motion to compel the forward motion, much like the intrinsic forward motion produced by the harmonies in Barber's Adagio for Strings. The opening of the first movement was also somewhat distracting because it seemed to lack the articulation which is Yeol's strengths. However, the second and fourth movements were models of rapid playing still yielding tremendous articulation.
After intermission, Yeol chose Preludes 3-8 from the first book of Preludes by Claude Debussy. Number 4-"the sounds and perfumes swirling through the evening air"-seems slightly to miss the mark, which is to reproduce the effect of an invisible fog in a way it moves and swirls. The swirling with their sometimes, and sometimes it wasn't. But on the whole, her playing brought across the ideas.
Chopin's wall says were nicely shaped and gossamer-transparent. Only on the second waltz, No. 11 in G.-flat Major, Opus 70, No. 1, did the expansion of the tempe seem to be too studied.
Her playing of this Scriabin tudes, Opus 8, Nos. 10, 11 and 12 was admirable, especially the waltz-tempo of No. 10. No. 12 brought the concert to an appropriate end.
There is no question that this young pianist has been blessed with many gifts. Sometimes, however, the technical aspects of a piece are not enough-as in the words of a Broadway song" "You [also] gotta have heart, miles and miles and miles of heart!"
Investing time in the underlying shape of the musical thought is what it means and what it needs to recreate apiece that was originally conceived as a lifetime's task. Such a task begins when one is young.
Burlington resident Dan Wolfe observes and critiques the local arts scene for The Eagle. His column appears weekly.