The New York Times - Friday, July 30, 2010 - Written by Vivien Schweitzer

Athleticism and Warmth at the Keyboard

Popular media sometimes transmit highbrow culture, and Liszt’s Hungarian Rhapsody No. 2, with its frenetic, tail-chasing character, has been used in several cartoons. But there is nothing funny about its demands on the performer.

The Korean pianist HaeSun Paik blazed confidently through the triple salchows and back flips of this vigorously athletic workout, which ends with a cascade of prestissimo octaves. The rhapsody, played here with a cadenza by Rachmaninoff, concluded Ms. Paik’s recital on Wednesday evening at Mannes College the New School for Music, part of the college’s lively International Keyboard Institute and Festival.

Her program, in the festival’s Masters Series, opened with an elegant, sweet-toned rendition of Beethoven’s Rondo in C (Op. 51, No. 1), followed by an unmemorable performance of Schumann’s “Humoreske” in B flat, whose title refers to the four humors of Hippocratic medicine. Schumann, whose bicentennial is being celebrated this year, wrote to Clara Wieck, his future wife:

“All week I sat at the piano composing, writing, laughing and crying, all at the same time. You will find this beautifully illustrated in my Opus 20, the massive Humoreske.”

After intermission came an excellent (if occasionally bangy) performance of Scriabin’s Sonata No. 5, which heralded the evolution of his Romantic ethos into a more atonal style. Ms. Paik also gave a thoughtfully considered rendition of Liszt’s “Consolation” No. 3.

As her first encore, she offered a poetic interpretation of Chopin’s Nocturne No. 20 in C sharp minor, the same piece played by Michail Lifits as an encore after his recital earlier on Wednesday evening in the Prestige Series, geared toward emerging artists.

Mr. Lifits, a native of Tashkent, Uzbekistan, proved himself a distinctive performer in his finely wrought approach to Beethoven’s Sonata No. 1 in F minor, which opened the program. He played with a cleanly articulated touch and beautiful phrasing. Particularly in the second-movement Adagio, he provided warmth, intimacy and a singing tone.

The Mozartean hues of that early sonata were contrasted with the epic grandeur of the Sonata No. 32 in C minor, Beethoven’s final work in the genre. It has fugal elements, like his other late-period sonatas, and a stormy first movement, like others of his works in C minor. Mr. Lifits offered an exciting performance of the turbulent opening section and a deeply musical Arietta.

The program concluded with the Sonata No. 3 by Chopin, who admired Beethoven’s Op. 111. Mr. Lifits sailed through the virtuosic finale with aplomb.

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