Classical Music Guide Forums - Thursday, July 29, 2010 - Written by Donald Isler

HaeSun Paik Recital - IKIF

As a member of the panel that selected Haesun Paik as one of the winners of the Bruce Hungerford Memorial Award at the Young Concert Artists auditions in 1991 I was very interested to finally hear her again, especially as her program this evening included the Scriabin Fifth Sonata. Although she has a very busy international career, I had somehow not heard her again in all this time. But I remembered she had played the Scriabin at that audition, and that I was impressed with her flair and sense of drama. And after 19 years, I thought, it should be at least as good, or better! (Actually, 19 years is not such a long time to have a piece in your repertoire. When I read Rubinstein's memoirs I realized that some of the works I heard him play late in his career had been in his repertoire for 60 or 70 years!)

Ms. Paik began the evening with a reading of the Beethoven Rondo that was warm and sensitive, though having a bit more rubato than one often hears in Beethoven.

And, with that, I will end my "criticism."

This was a fabulous concert, and Haesun Paik should be a big name!

We are, of course, long past the days when people took seriously the idea that the nationality of the performer should guarantee success in music by composers of the same background, ie. that a Pole should be expected to play Chopin well, or that a German should be good at Beethoven. However, were that notion still considered valid, this evening might have been used to support the premise that Schumann, Liszt and Scriabin were all Korean, so great was the pianist's identification with their idioms!

What makes Haesun Paik such a terrific interpreter of Romantic music? Several things come to mind.

She has both power and subtlety. She understands pacing, one of the most important and least talked about aspects of music. And she is, so to speak, an actress. No, she doesn't impose herself upon the music; rather, she finds and reveals the drama within the music, which is what playing "classical music," even of the Romantic era, is all about.

There are myriad changes of color, mood and everything else in Schumann's strange and wonderful Humoreske. Ms. Paik missed not one of them. Just a few of the noteworthy details included hearing the beautiful and sensuous G minor theme, marked Einfach und zart, as it shifted into the tumbling Intermezzo, and how the section marked mit einigem Pomp was played strongly, yet leaving room for an even more rousing sound in the final Allegro.

The Scriabin Sonata was fantastic! Having an even greater emotional range than the Schumann (if that's possible) it went back and forth between lush, languid phrases with gentle palpitations and lurching great eruptions of sound, sometimes resembling whiplash. This was as impressive a performance as I've heard of this work. And I've heard Horowitz.

The Liszt Consolation seemed, in a way, a sort of Liszt equivalent to a Beethoven slow movement, in that it's not easy to sustain the line, so sensitive pacing and phrasing are all important, not just fine fingerwork.

The Hungarian Rhapsody was dazzling. Ms. Paik never takes "careful" tempi, and plays fast sections with great energy and abandon, never, however, neglecting attention to the other parts, such as the exquisite E major theme. The Rachmaninoff cadenza, new to me, seemed mischievous and a bit odd. (After the program I suddenly had the peculiar idea to imagine what a Schnabel cadenza to this Rhapsody might sound like, but was informed by my seat mates, who should know, that it is not likely one will be found!) A standing ovation from almost the entire audience followed.

Ms. Paik's first encore, the C Sharp minor posthumous Nocturne of Chopin, was gorgeous, especially the winding down at the end. And the famous Liszt arrangement of Schumann's song Widmung (Dedication) was also wonderfully played.

It seems that, with Romantic music especially, this pianist can do no wrong. Go hear her!

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