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Review by Paul Merkley FRSC
Toronto ON April 18th 2018
Pianist Sae Yoon Chon; Photo credit: David Kennedy
Piano on the high-wire: Sae Yoon Chon at Mazzoleni Hall
I have heard this promising young pianist at a house concert, and on broadcasts and recordings from competitions. Tonight, Chon gave a recital as part of the requirements of The Glen Gould School’s Performance Diploma program. The evening was an exciting one in different ways.
Chon began with Bach’s Prelude and Fugue in G minor from Book II. The strength of this part of the performance was the voice leading, that is to say the separation of the musical lines, which he did especially well in the Fugue.
This was followed by Beethoven’s Sonata Opus 10, No. 2. The variety of touch, dynamics, and articulation was impressive here.
The next piece performed was the third movement (Chorale and Variations) of Dutilleux’s Piano Sonata, composed in 1948. This beautiful work in the mid-century modern idiom demands a great deal of flexibility and concentration on the part of the artist. The sudden contrasts of range and harmony, the expressive qualities of the piece, and the physical challenges all demand the most from the player in technique and careful expression. Chon understands this musical style well, and he has the piano technique to match the technical difficulties and overcome them. Parts of the movement sound a bit like Franck’s Prelude, Chorale and Fugue. It was quite a few steps forward from the Beethoven Sonata in dissonance and harmonic complexity.
After intermission, Chon was joined by the expert collaborative pianist Todd Yaniw, who played the orchestral part of Prokofieff’s second piano concerto. What a wonderfully imaginative musical world this work is, and it was a delight to hear Chon and Yaniw lead us through the composer’s vivid and demanding exploration of the concerto genre. The pair are to be praised for their accurate and well co-ordinated ensemble.
Chon was at his best in the Prokofieff concerto. No technical difficulty proved too much for him. This seems to be the musical style with which he is most comfortable. Both the piano solo part and the transcription of the orchestra require feats of acrobatic prestidigitation. Chon and Yaniw accomplished these easily.
The work seems as if it wanders through the composer’s mind and tastes. There are many contrasts of dynamics and range as well as tonal and harmonic complexities that require athleticism on the one hand, and on the other sensitivity at the macro and micro layers. Chon’s wide approach to touch lent a widely variegated texture that suits the work very well. The piece seems to call for a vigorous, accepting kind of piano playing that fits what Chon does, including the use of violent contrasts that brought out the expressive traits of this excellent work. Yaniw and Chon’s playing ran the gamut of dynamics and even tempo.
The whole event was well worth attending and listening to. I hope and think that we will hear more from Sae Yoon, as he broadens his expressive realm. This was music-making at is finest: articulate and fearless. Congratulations to soloist and orchestra. Kudos to the Chon and cheers to Yaniw. It was a stellar evening.