On Wednesday, December 28, Hyeyoung Song gave a sold out concert at the Weill Recital Hall at Carnegie Hall. Presented by Weatherford College, this concert served as a finale to her tour which included stops in Europe and in South Korea, her native land.
The concert began with a set of three Bach transcriptions by Kempff, Busoni and Petri. Of the three, Busoni is most well-known for his Bach transcriptions and compositions. The first two selections which are from Bach’s sacred cantatas, seemed quite suitable for the concert since Christmas was celebrated just three days before the concert. The opening piece, Sinfonia from Bach Cantata(BWV 29), “Wir danken dir, Gott, wir danken dir”(“We thank you, God, we thank you”), transcribed by Kempff, is a lively piece full of octaves, scales runs and broken chords. Performed in 1731, Bach scored this piece for the organ, the Baroque orchestra and a basso continuo. Ms. Song gave a colorful account of this piece and made the piano sound like the orchestra. Perhaps due to the technical demands on the piano, I thought the tempo was slower compared to the original version performed on the organ.
The last two transcriptions from the set are more well-known. The second piece, 4th movement from Bach Cantata(BWV 140), “Wachet auf, ruft uns die Stimme”(“Awake, The Voice Command”) transcribed by Busoni, originally scored for two violins, tenor and a continuo, has a prominent tenor singing a text, “Zion hört die Wächter singen” (Zion hears the watchmen singing). The third piece, “Schafe können sicher weiden”(“Sheep May Safely Graze”) transcribed by Petri, is originally an
Aria from Bach Cantata, BWV 208. First performed in 1713, “Sheep May Safely Graze” is originally scored for the soprano, two recorders, and a continuo. In both of these selections, Ms. Song did a fine job of bringing out the tenor part in the second piece(“Awake, The Voice Command”) and the soprano part in the third piece(“Sheep May Safely Graze”), while keeping a steady tempo in the accompaniment. She is a keen listener who is aware of the voices and their movements. “Sheep May Safely Graze” was tender, calm, graceful and gentle.
Following the recital tradition of a Baroque to Classical order in the first half of the program, Ms. Song moved on to Beethoven’s “Appassionata Sonata”, Op. 57. As Beethoven’s more well-known sonatas, she began with a bit of restraint in the first movement, but was eventually able to let go and play with more abandon. She demonstrated a solid technique and tonal control, especially with the chords that can sound percussive and bangy with a wrong technical approach.
The second half of the program which started with a Debussy set and ended with a piece by Henry Cowell, was like a journey through different genres of music; from French Impressionism to American jazz to avant-garde. The set of three impressionist pieces by Debussy—two preludes, “Voiles”(Sails), “La cathédrale engloutie”(The Submerged Cathedral) and “L’isle Joyeuse” (The Island of Joy) paved a way for the more contemporary works to follow in the program. “L’isle Joyeuse” with its jazzy chords and rhythms, would be followed by two Gershwin transcriptions by Earl Wild(“Embraceable You” and “I Got Rhythm”); both upbeat, Lisztian with fast passages and jazzy rhythm, all of which Ms. Song tackled with flair and showmanship.
The last two pieces, Frederic Rzewski’s “Winnsboro Cotton Mill Blues” from his four North American ballads, and “Exultation” by Henry Cowell were like a drum show; the rumble of the percussion from a distance at the beginning that was gradually approaching, was captivating. I got hooked on the drum, which really was just a piano that she played with her forearm. The hall was filled with the bright, dissonant and percussive sound of the tone clusters.
Through these different genres of music, Ms. Song showed that she enjoys exploring the sound potential of the piano, whether through pedalling in Debussy, or through forearm clusters displayed in both Rzewski and Cowell’s pieces. Her playing is warm, expressive, yet powerful. The last piece was met with a standing ovation and was followed by an encore—another lovely Bach transcription, “Jesu, Joy of Man’s Desiring” transcribed by Myra Hess.