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The recital room and yard at Fairlight Hall

The well-tempered piano put through its paces

This Saturday evening, 5 July,  Hastings’ piano champion returned to delight us at Fairlight Hall and put the piano through its paces again with something old, something new… writes HOT’s Chris Cormack.

Before the five o’clock concert, guests were privileged to picnic out in the surrounding parklands of the estate and view the redesigned and restored walled garden with its large glass house and open-air amphitheatre. The weather stayed warm and dry for that long and longer, and the audience then congregated in the courtyard outside the recital room.  One can only wonder at the trials and tribulations for head gardener, Tony Howard, trying to protect the estate from the gales and horizontal rain this last Winter, but the gardens were looking lovely on the day.

Taek Gi Lee, our 17 year old and very deserving Hastings International Piano Competition first prize winner, started the concert with Bach’s Prelude and Fugue in b-flat minor (BWV 867), described by Professor Wibaut, after a conversation with Horowitz, as the most expansive of fugues. Like the well-tempered Clavier, it did put the piano through its paces and one can quite imagine how in Bach’s time it could demonstrate the virtues of a new fangled tuning system that allowed for effortless key-changes. Early on, I heard from afar some seagulls and a sheep (or was it a gull pretending to be a sheep, or even a llama?). However, recognising the quality of the music, they stayed dutifully mute from then on.

To follow Professor Wibaut, one could describe the next piece, Haydn’s piano sonata in E major, as ‘something blue’ – Haydn’s tendency to include a melancholic middle section is thought to be a sign of a ‘depressive’ temperament.  However I only noticed the playfulness and humour punctuated with pregnant pauses.  For my money the Prokofiev piano sonata in B flat major was the ‘something blue’ and the ‘allegro inquieto’ was very inquiet, maybe as befits a War Sonata;  I am sure I heard a nesting bird on the roof protest at the percussive clamour of the first movement and I for one was relieved to move on to the relative warmth of the ‘Andante caloroso’.  The audience broke out in spontaneous and loud applause at the end of the ‘Precipitato’ and gathered themselves happily for another stroll around  the beautiful park in the break.

The Three Finalists: Marcin Koziak, Taek Gi Lee, Yekwon Sunwoo Photo: John Cole

My favourite piece came at the beginning of the second half: Rachmaninoff’s Variations on a Theme of Corelli Op. 42 the ‘something borrowed’  of the concert; so borrowed in fact, that even Corelli borrowed the melody from an earlier Portuguese dance, la folia. No ‘program music’ this, but I was minded to think of Sparky’s magic piano! This was followed by an old favourite, Schubert’s Impromptu in G flat major, by which time the music was accompanied by a gentle pitter-patter on the tops of the giant parasols, not protecting us from the sun this time. By the time we were to listen to  Lowell Liebermann’s ‘Gargoyles’  we could readily adjust the title to ‘Gushing Gargoyles’  but there was no rushing towards better shelter and it finished to great and sincere applause, allowing us a ‘freebee’ encore, an unnamed impressionist piece; well it made a great impression on me!

Who am I to judge the performance of such a great pianist who has already been judged the finest by all the great and the good?  I could not even judge the Bluthner piano which I heard said produced an unavoidably drier crisper sound. My wish is that Taek Gi Lee return to Hastings in 2066, the thousandth anniversary of the Battle, at the climax of a triumphant career in music when he will be 69, by all accounts a very young age for a South Korean, just as Luciano Pavarotti returned to Llangollen in 1995 in recognition of that important stepping stone in his career. And in the meantime I shall follow Taek’s career with interest!

Become a member/patron, sponsor a key for the Hastings International Piano Concerto Competition  

See also:Rain doesn’t stop play at Fairlight Hall

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Posted 13:30 Sunday, Jul 6, 2014 In: Music & Sound

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