Dallas News: Cliburn Winner Yekwon Sunwoo Provides Subtle Surprises in a Daring Performance
Cliburn winner Yekwon Sunwoo provides
subtle surprises in a daring performance
By Scott Cantrell
Yekwon Sunwoo clearly had decided to defy expectations.
The stereotypical piano competition winner has expertly machined technique and enjoys showing it off, but without overly rocking interpretive boats. Sunwoo’s recital Tuesday night, though, was conspicuously short on showpieces.
Indeed, not until the final dozen minutes of the 28-year-old South Korean’s recital, his first in the area since winning the Van Cliburn International Piano Competition in June, did he release the fireworks.
It was a daring gesture, in the first program of the 2017-18 Cliburn Concerts, at Bass Performance Hall, to make so much of so many small-scale pieces. The first half was all Mozart, and in the Romance in A-flat major (K. Anh. 205), Rondo in A minor (K. 511) and Sonata in C major (K. 330), only rarely did the playing suggest so much as a forte. The bulk of the recital’s second half was devoted to six Schubert pieces composed for amateur pianists, the Moments musicaux.
From the very beginning of the Romance (which may not even be by Mozart), though, it was clear that something special was happening. There was the loveliest soft focus, the most gracious turn of phrases, the keenest sensitivity to harmonic nuance, but never with the slightest fussiness. There was dancing jollity in the outer movements of the sonata, but in an 18th-century silks-and-satins sense.
This was the opposite of playing to impress an audience. In the Schubert pieces, even more so, one had the feeling of overhearing a musician almost unaware of listeners, engaged in an intimate, wholly focused communion with a composer.
The ostensible simplicities of these pieces are deceptive. Assembled in the last year of Schubert’s life, when his health was failing from complications of syphilis, they inhabit some of the same world as the tragic song cycle Die Winterreise. There’s the perky little F minor march (No. 3), but much else in the Moments musicaux seems as much about lost love and innocence as the songs.
At least so it seemed in Sunwoo’s intimate, subtly timed and textured interpretations. In music whose dynamic level rarely rises above a piano, I sensed emotional depths I’d never before imagined.
The showpiece was Ravel’s La valse, which, although by a Frenchman, continued a Viennese theme. (Mozart spent his last 10 years in the Austrian capital, Schubert most of his life; Ravel imagined La valse evoking a surreal Viennese ball.) Sunwoo delivered the flash and flair, but also the patches of real weirdness, with cinematic vividness.
After a rousing ovation, though, the encore was yet another intimacy, an aptly autumnal “October” from Tchaikovsky’s The Seasons.
I had mixed feelings with Sunwoo’s performances during the competition back in June, but this recital displayed rare sensitivity and subtlety. I look forward to hearing more from a very promising young artist — maybe next time in Dallas’ Moody Performance Hall?