Hyun Ji You, piano
Weill Hall at Carnegie Hall, New York, NY
October 4, 2017
Creative Classical Concerts presented pianist Hyun Ji You in a concert of Bach, Chopin, Scriabin, Debussy, and Villa-Lobos on October 4, 2017 at Weill Hall. Ms. You is a winner of multiple piano competitions both in her native Korea and the United States. She lists Hee Sung Joo, Karen Shaw and Jean-Louis Haguenauer, and Jae Hee Hyun as her teachers. Ms. You has earned her Master’s degree and Artist Diploma at Indiana University, and is working on her Doctorate at Sejong University in South Korea. She also teaches piano in three South Korean Universities.
Before anything else, I must express my dismay about one of my pet peeves. When you are performing at one of the most famous venues in not only the United States, but the world, it should be a given that all materials, such as program notes are done with care. I’m sorry to say that this was not the case (and not for the first time). The very spare program notes were almost an afterthought. Proofreading would have caught the non-idiomatic English and the fact that the 3rd and 4th Preludes of Debussy were listed with the same title. If English is not your first language, it is a must to have a trusted native speaker proofread. Add to this that some of the notes were copied verbatim from Wikipedia without attribution, and I was left thinking that it would have been better to forego the notes altogether. Note to presenters and performers alike: this is not acceptable. With all the time and money invested, there is no excuse (and lest anyone think otherwise, this reviewer has been a presenter as well).
Now that I have dealt with my annoyance, it is time to get to the many positive things about this concert. Ms. You has a fine technique, as one would expect from a multiple contest winner, but she also possesses a true poetic side, which sets her apart from many other contest winners.
Ms. You opened with J.S. Bach, the Adagio, BWV 974 (after Marcello), and Schafe können sicher weiden (Sheep May Safely Graze) from the Cantata Was mir behagt, ist nur die muntre Jagd (The lively hunt is all my heart’s desire), BWV 208. While my sheep prefer a slightly less hectic sound, and one with a bit more clarity, these are preferences more than anything else, and the end result was still lovely!
Chopin Ballade No.4 in F minor, Op.52 followed the Bach. Often considered the most demanding, both musically and technically, of the four ballades, this work was said by Robert Schumann to have been inspired by Adam Mickiewicz’s poem The Three Budrys; although this connection has been disputed, the epic sweep is undeniable. Ms. You showed both artistry and virtuosity, especially in the fiercely difficult coda. Rather than forcing a cohesive shape on the sprawling work, she surrendered to Chopin’s dream-like writing in what was truly a wondrous performance. It deserved a much better reaction from the audience, but it was the highlight of the evening for this listener.
Alexander Scriabin’s Sonata No. 5, Op. 53 ended the first half. This eleven minute, single-movement work was written in 1907 and marks Scriabin’s transition away from traditional harmony, including the so-called “mystic” chord and movement away from a clear tonal center. In an earlier review I wrote for this journal, I quoted pianist Joong Han Jung, who described the piece as “hyper-romantic,” a simple description that I find rather apt. Ms. You seems to agree, as her approach was what some might call “over the top,” but I found it to be just right. If one does not embrace the ecstatic quality that Scriabin demands, the result seems a mishmash of random impulses. It is the extravagant spirit that holds the work together, and Ms. You captured it to a tee. It was an excellent end to a dynamic first half.
After intermission, Ms. You offered six selections from Book I of Claude Debussy’s Préludes. They were numbers three through eight: Le vent dans la plaine (The Wind in the Plain), “Les sons et les parfums tournent dans l’air du soir” (“The sounds and fragrances swirl through the evening air”), Les collines d’Anacapri (The Hills of Anacapri), Des pas sur la neige
(Footsteps in the Snow), Ce qu’a vu le vent d’ouest (What the West Wind Has Seen), and La fille aux cheveux de lin (The Girl with the Flaxen Hair). Ms. You was judicious in her selections. Her “winds” were ferocious and the “perfume” was exquisite. The “footsteps” were delicate, and her flaxen-haired maiden was delightfully innocent. I would like to hear Ms. You play the entire book, and have a go at the second book as well.
Ms. You closed her program with Heitor Villa-Lobos’s Ciclo Brasileiro, W. 374. She offered three of the four works in the cycle: No.2, Impressões seresteiras (The Impressions of a serenade musician), No. 3, Festa no sertao (The Fete in the Desert), and No. 4, Danca do Indio Branco (Dance of the White Indian). Written in 1936, this work brings to mind Stravinsky’s Firebird, but is not derivative – it is pure Villa-Lobos, overflowing with ideas, brimming with energy, and often alternating between poignancy and brutality (especially in The Impressions of a serenade musician). It is a fiendishly difficult work that is a much a showstopper for the eyes as for the ears. Ms. You wowed the audience, and they reacted with a standing ovation.
Ms. You offered two encores, the Paganini-Liszt La Campanella, in what was another display of technical prowess, and Debussy’s Clair de Lune, which she played with ethereal beauty.