Pianist Soyen Kate Lee at IPS

Tuesday, April 26, 2016
Soyen Kate Lee

Soyen Kate Lee

THIS YEAR’S International Piano Series at College of Charleston ended with a splendid concert by Korean-American pianist, Soyen Kate Lee, who displayed remarkable insight and technique, coupled with a model of programming.

For the first part of her performance, Lee stuck to the twentieth century, mainly with works by the Russian mystic, Alexander Scriabin. Among five Scriabin pieces was “Fantasy in B Minor, Op. 28” which could have passed for a creation of Sergei Rachmaninoff.

The remainder of the first half included turn-of-the-century (the last one) Russian pieces, reflecting the composer’s virtuoso demands on the pianist. Lee played with a technical flair that spanned the spectrum from delicate pianissimos to thunderous fortissimo sections. She then added seven of the “24 Preludes for Piano” by Lera Auerbach, a contemporary Russian-born American composer who is a friend of the pianist.

While I am sure Auerbach is a talented musician, I am not familiar with her music. The selections played last Tuesday night in the Sottile Theatre were less than expected for someone of Lee’s musical pedigree. The compositions probably need more than one hearing to be appreciated, as is the case with much modern — or “post-modern” — music.

Following intermission, and in more familiar territory, Lee presented Chopin and Debussy. Chopin’s “Barcarolle, Op. 60” is in the style of songs sung by Venetian gondoliers, and is one of the two most famous barcarolles; the other being by Offenbach in his opera, “The Tales of Hoffman.” Lee steered a central course, managing to avoid being too sentimental or too aggressive in her reading.

Shostakovitch composed a series of 24 preludes and fugues after J.S. Bach. Lee offered the former’s “Prelude and Fugue in E-flat minor and in D Major, Op. 87” in a balanced manner that highlighted the dramatic and sarcastic composer’s musical traits with insight and taste.

Demonstrating that she had mastered the style of each composer, Lee then chose Debussy to close her program. The audience had heard two of the three items from his “Preludes, Book I,”  “La fille aux cheveaux de lin” and “Ce qu’a vu le vent d’ouest,” in February — when Robert McDonald performed them at the third concert of this series. Lee made these piano miniatures vibrant and poignant, providing a fascinating contrast with McDonald’s interpretation, with equally masterful insight (see that review here).

Interestingly, Lee studied under McDonald and, in another interconnection, is the wife of Ran Dank, the outgoing Artistic Director of the IPS series.

In her encore, Lee rounded out this final concert of the 2015–2016 International Piano Series with a beautiful waltz by Chopin.

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