Theater Jones: Cliburn Gold
By Andrew Anderson
I had never heard Cliburn gold medalist Yekwon Sunwoo perform prior to listening to the recording of his recital (available here) in the semifinal round of the competition. If I had, I might have been even more excited, since his recital included some of my favorite works, composers and arrangers. He’s clearly an unusual talent, which is exactly what some of these works need. I also might have been a little scared of what such a colossal talent might do to some of them.
The first work on the recital, a transcription of Ravel’s orchestral La Valse, is a bit of a mystery in that his performance doesn’t match up note-for-note with Ravel’s version, Glenn Gould’s, or Matthieu Cognet’s. It’s likely Ravel’s with a little enhancement by Sunwoo. Whatever the case, it certainly requires considerable skill just to get all the notes in; but the real challenges come later. There seem to be unlimited opportunities for important voices to get lost in the snarl of all that’s going on in this huge piece—and every measure is huge—and not to lose any of them constitutes a near miracle. The orchestral version is one of my favorite works (I’ve been listening to it since I was a kid), but with this performance, I never wish I were listening to the original. That Sunwoo is able to pull so many different colors out of one piano is utterly amazing.
The inclusion of two more arrangements on the program is interesting, to say the least, since neither Percy Grainger’s Ramble on the Last Love-Duet from Der Rosenkavalier nor Franz Liszt’s transcription of Schubert’s Litanei is well-known, and neither constitutes much of a showpiece. Programming savvy, however, is part of the competition, and negotiating corners of the repertoire like this—obscure pieces by well-known composers, let’s say—can often be exciting, especially when performed as well as they are here. For me, these two works were refreshing surprises (not least because I’m both a Grainger nut and a Strauss nut) …