Distinguished Concerts International New York (DCINY) presents Warren Lee in Review
Distinguished Concerts International New York (DCINY) presents Warren Lee
Warren Lee, piano
Weill Recital Hall at Carnegie Hall, New York, NY
November 17, 2016
Distinguished Concerts International New York (DCINY), as a part of its Artist Series, presented pianist Warren Lee at Weill Hall on November 17, 2016. In a program with works by Bach (in arrangements by Busoni), Beethoven, Chopin, Tan Dun, and Mr. Lee himself, it was to prove a rewarding evening.
Mr. Lee ( www.warren-lee.com ) has an impressive resume as a contest winner, performer, composer, and teacher, and through his engagement in charitable outreach . He has been a Steinway Artist since 2009.
Opening with two Bach-Busoni works, the Choral Prelude, Wachet auf, ruft uns die Stimme, BWV 645, and the Chaconne from Violin Partita No. 2 in D minor, BWV 1004, Mr. Lee established his authority immediately. This was principled playing, with careful attention to voicing and articulation. Some might find his approach to be too rigid, but this listener would disagree. Mr. Lee presents what might be an excellent example to students on what constitutes an intelligent interpretive approach to this music. There were some moments of the left hand sounding heavy, something that I am wont to attribute to the Weill Hall house piano, as I have numerous other examples of this being the case from previous recitals with the same instrument. In any case, these small moments hardly detracted from what were superior performances of which Mr. Lee can feel proud.
Eight Memories in Watercolor by Tan Dun (b. 1957) followed the two Bach works. These early works, a sort of “East meets West” (with Debussyan influence throughout), were written when the composer was twenty-one. Mr. Lee played these charming miniatures with the same reverence as he did the Bach, which probably served the works better than they served him. It was a pleasant ending to the first half.
Opening the second half, Mr. Lee offered one of his own works, entitled Three Novelettes. Written in 2015, the three pieces (Reflection, Levity, and Blossom), are dedicated to Robert L. Blocker, Dean of Music at Yale University. Mr. Lee writes in his program notes that Reflection pays tribute to the many ways Mr. Blocker inspires those around him; Levity, his fun-loving and humorous side, and Blossom his infectious warmth. These pieces were an interesting bookend to the Tan Dun, as the style was quite similar (though I did detect some kinship with York Bowen’s Preludes as well in Levity!).
Beethoven’s monumental Sonata in E major, Op. 109 followed. This work presents many challenges, not the least of which is a distinguished performance history by some of the legends of the piano. Mr. Lee suffered no complexes, as he delivered a performance of intelligence and sensitivity that reminded one of Alfred Brendel. It was the highlight of the evening for this listener.
Closing with Chopin’s Barcarolle in F-sharp major, Op. 60, often called the “Fifth Ballade,” Mr. Lee played with a bright tone and a freshness of sound that sparkled without a hint of labored effort.
Mr. Lee is obviously very much at home with the works on this program. He has thought through his approach to the finest of details and executed those details with exact precision and no elements of display. One must not take this as saying that Mr. Lee is lacking in technical prowess, as he has more than enough digital facility to negotiate any challenge, but that he does not make his technique “front and center.” If anything, he gives the appearance that it is all so very easy, and to the viewing public more used to seeing demonstrative motions (often to the point of histrionics), he might not get his proper respect.
Mr. Lee opted for a most unusual choice as his encore, a truncated arrangement of the opening movement of the Grieg Piano Concerto in A minor. This was not exactly what most would consider “encore” material, but the audience found it to be thrilling and gave Mr. Lee a standing ovation.