in: Reviews

September 1, 2014

Historical Piano Concerts 30th Fall Season

by

Junghwa Lee (Christopher Greenleaf photo)

Junghwa Lee playing the 1877 Érard (Christopher Greenleaf photo)

In her third appearance for the Fredericks’ Collection, Junghwa Lee* opened its milestone season Sunday afternoon in the sanctuary of the Ashburnham Community Church with a brilliant performance of music by the Schumanns on the Collection’s 1830 Tröndlin, one of its rarest and most popular instruments. Her consummate handling of the piano and this music gave us brilliant, powerful, and spectacular sound moderated at times by classic French restraint.

Lee opened with Clara Wieck’s Scherzo in D Minor, Op, 10, composed in 1838, before her marriage to Robert Schumann, closed the first half with her Valses romantiques in C Major, Op. 4 composed five years earlier in 1833-35 when she was 14-16, and opened the second half with the Larghetto, No. 1 of her Quatre pieces fugitives, Op. 15, dating from 1840, the year of her marriage, to 1844. The styles of the three works are dramatically different from each other, differences accounted for both by her ages at writing and by her acquaintance and studies with Robert, all leading to a progressively greater compositional concentration and achievement. Clara had a direct connection with Tröndlins in that she premiered Robert’s piano concerto on one, and may also have owned one, now in a museum, that was pictured on the reverse of a former Deutsche Mark bank note that bore her portrait on its face.

The major works were a pair of Robert’s sets of character pieces that feature his competing/debating alter-egos the exuberant extrovert Florestan and the refined introvert Eusebius: Davidsbündlertänze, [18 Character  Pieces], Op. 6, written in 1837 and revised in 1850 (title changed to Davidsbündler) on the first half and Kreisleriana, Op. 16 from 1838 on the second. For the former, Lee, who gave detailed spoken program notes before each work explaining their structure and interconnections−for example, this one is based on a theme by Clara in the Mazurka, Op. 6, No. 5 from her 6 Soirées musicales (1837), played the revised version but added some repeats from the first that Robert had eliminated. She played as an encore Robert’s “Von fremden Ländern und Menschen” (From foreign lands and peoples) No. 1 of his Kinderszenen, Op. 15 (1838). Thus, virtually all of the music dated from the first decade after the instrument was built, making its quiet, restrained, melodious, warmly resonant soundscape eminently well-suited for it. It is unquestionably better for it than a modern instrument, revealing its delicacies and nuances, especially in the Eusebius pieces, with greater clarity, and toning down the brilliant forceful power of Florestan’s outbursts, making, for me at least, these bi-polar-disorder works more palatable and enjoyable. Lee’s performance was impressively expressive without any of the flamboyance that many pianists display, and with her controlled and precise touch both masterful and enchanting. Her dynamics and tempos were extremely finely nuanced. She played the pieces straight through, without any breaks between them, however, making them appear to tell a continuous story, which they do not; brief pauses would have separated each one more distinctly from its neighbors.

Some additional links and biographical details follow:

* Korean-born Junghwa Lee, received a DMA in Piano Performance and Literature from Rochester, NY’s Eastman School of Music, Assistant Professor of Music at Southern Illinois University in Carbondale, IL, and Director of its Summer Piano Camp and Competition. You can also find my reviews of Lee’s two previous appearances in these pages: her début in a program of Gabriel Fauré, Maurice Ravel, and Franz Liszt’s Sonata in B Minor [reviewed here] and her return in a program of Emmanuel Chabrier, Claude Debussy,Camille Saint-Saëns, a Bach-Busoni transcription, and César Franck [here], for both of which she chose the Collection’s largest and also popular instrument, the 1877 Érard extra-grand modèle de concert.

There are more details on the 1820 Trondlin in a 2010 review here].

Marvin J. Ward, a retired translator and teacher of French (Ph.D., UNC Chapel Hill), has been writing for Classical Voice of North Carolina, a professional journal, for a decade and was founding Executive Editor of Classical Voice of New England through December, 2009. He is a member of the Music Critics Association of North America and also writes for its web site: Classical Voice North America

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