21st Singapore International Piano Festival
SOTA Concert Hall
26 June 2014
If Schubert wrote a song cycle for the piano, tonight’s programme would have been exactly it. Korean pianist Kun-Woo Paik’s recital comprised entirely of selected pieces from Schubert’s later piano works – the 6 Moments Musicaux D780, Vier Impromptus D980, and Drei Klavierstücke D946 – which he arranged into a specific order and played without breaks for applause, as if performing an entire song cycle.
Beginning with the soft, single melodic line after a unison note, Paik created the atmosphere of melancholic beauty as he brought the half-filled concert hall into the world of Schubert’s songs. The first of the four impromptus was sad, subdued and questioning, yet not overly indulgent or excessive. From there, just like how Schubert often put the parallel major after minor, Paik launched into the bright, sunny no. 3 of the Drei Klavierstücke, accelerating towards the calm middle section, then afterwards racing to the end.
The middle section of the second Moments Musicaux which followed brought to mind a Chopin nocturne, and the fourth played after sounded as though it had been a keyboard prelude lifted off from Bach’s Well Tempered Clavier set! Later on, no. 2 from D946 proved a gripping, sincere and heartfelt rendition, contrasting the simple opening with the almost Beethovenian episode in the middle. With such a programme, Paik revealed the musical influences which Schubert was inspired by, and showed how later composers, in turn, drew from Schubert’s music.
The Eb-major impromptu (no. 2) was a slick, well-oiled roller-coaster ride, the undulating waves of notes unfurled with crystal clarity and control. Here, Paik rarely used the pedal unlike the Gb major impromptu (no. 3) before it.
Throughout the entire evening, Paik was ever sensitive in his playing, always intentionally singing out the melodies. He was a picture of grace and poise, maintaining a dignified composure at the piano while masterfully interpreting the music with a controlled passion. He clearly understood the geist of the works, carefully selecting his tempos and tastefully using rubato to bring forth a shaded, nuanced palette of colours from the Steinway.
The hymn-like chorale, no. 6 from D780, prayerfully and thoughtfully delivered as though a benediction, brought the recital to a close on a unison A-flat, neither major nor minor and unresolved, like the open-endedness of life’s questions which permeates Schubert’s works.