Korea, sixty years after the war. North Korea, a pariah country of low standard of living and no liberties. South Korea, an almost prodigious example of successful capitalism with innovative industry, very high per capita income and an open society. But that isn´t all: apart from its own culture, quite impressive and distinctive, it has shown the very Oriental capacity of absorbing Occidental culture and in the field of classical music it has produced several generations of admirable talents.
Four artists are famous and have transcendent careers: cellist Yo-Yo Ma and two who are brother and sister: Myung-Whun Chung, one of the best conductors; and Kyung-Wha Chung, a great violinist. And a superb coloratura soprano, Sumi Jo.
This year the Buenos Aires Philharmonic presented a great pianist, Kun-Woo Paik, in its subscription series. Now the South Korean Ambassador, Choo Jong-Koun, commemorating the sesquicentennial of Korean immigration to Argentina and the 70th year of liberation from Japanese domination, presented the cycle Festival of Young Korean pianists. Yi Chongchul, Director of the Korean Cultural Center in Latinamerica, enlisted the help of Professor Kim Dae-Jin, who selected three young artists: Mun Chloe Ji-Yeong, Kim Myeong-hyeon and Park Jae-Hong.
I unfortunately could only attend the third recital; the first clashed with the Mozarteum, the second coincided with the great storm that drenched me completely. Mun is just twenty and has won very considerable prizes, such as the Busoni and the Rubinstein; she did an all-Schumann programme. Kim is 22 and studied both in Berlin and Seoul; he played Beethoven, Chopin, Granados, Ginastera and Rachmaninov´s hefty Second Sonata.
Park is only 16; he studied at the Seoul Art Academy and won the Cleveland competition. As I heard the third and fourth movements of Beethoven´s Sonata Nº 15, "Pastoral", I already had no doubt that I was in front of a major talent (I couldn´t hear the first two due to a private matter).
The Bartók Sonata was simply dazzling: although I admit that he didn´t play the first movement as marked, Allegro moderato (it was rather an Allegro molto), the fantastic rhythmic precision and excitement of the outer movements and the strong phrasing of the slow middle one were the work of an already mature artist of enormous dexterity.
The intelligently conceived programme gave us then Debussy´s "Pour le piano", a three-piece suite that inhabits a different world of subtlety; in Park´s hands we faithfully appreciated the clean articulation of the Prelude, the solemn evocation of the Sarabande and the technical "tour de force" of the Toccata.
To end, "Venezia e Napoli", the Annex to Italy from Liszt´s "Années de Pèlerinage". It showed again that the incredibly difficult Liszt can be played to the hilt and then it emerges as logical and convincing, even if the full paraphernalia may appear excessive. Both the "Gondoliera" and the "Canzone" (which quotes the sad gondolier song from Rossini´s "Otello") were pungently told by the pianist, who then displayed his marvelous mechanics in the final Tarantella; and it wasn´t mere display, the phrasing was always musical and sane.
The pleasure continued in the encores: a young and tortuous Prokofiev (it sounded a lot like his "Suggestion diabolique"), a curious conflation of a Korean song with "La Cumparsita", and a beautiful Debussy ("La fille aux cheveux de lin" – "The girl with flaxen hair"). Kim should have a great career. Just one caveat: he must learn to salute the audience (the people called but he remained unseen).
A group of artists of the Ensemble Phil d´Or organised a trio of concerts called "Spring Bach-Telemann" at the Auditorio Ameghino of the Sociedad Científica Argentina. Their first concert, which I couldn´t cover, was all Telemann. The harpsichordist of the Ensemble, Matías Targhetta, in the second concert had the artistic courage to measure himself with one of the greatest challenges of the repertoire: J.S.Bach´s Goldberg Variations.
This score has an aria (theme), thirty variations and at the end the repetition of the Aria. Nine of the variations are canons, from unison to the ninth. One is an Overture slow-fast, the last one is a Quodlibet (a mixture of tunes). Some are fast and virtuosic, others ruminative, or severely contrapunctal. The best of Bach is in this magnum opus written in 1741 at the instigation of Count Hermann von Keyserling and for Johann Goldberg; he played some of the variations during sleepless nights of the Count. The Variations appeared in 1742 as part IV of the Clavier Exercise ("Clavierübung").
The work can be played either on the harpsichord or the piano, for Bach knew by then the latter instrument, still rather primitive. I prefer the harpsichord for it is closer to the Baroque spirit. However, its volume is low (it needs a cozy venue such as the Ameghino) and you have to accept that the sound is very even (no crescendo-diminuendo).
Buenos Aires has had excellent players through the decades; harpsichordists such as Karl Richter, pianists such as Rosalyn Tureck and Daniel Barenboim. Now for some years the harpsichord version wasn´t heard, so I welcome Targhetta. He decided to play all the repeats, and it´s a difficult decision: either it lasts 45 minutes (no repeats) or it goes on for 90 minutes: very intense concentration for player and audience.
My impression: he is a conscientious, studious artist of good technique; however, he took some rhythmic liberties and wasn´t completely clean. A plausible Goldberg but with maturity it will be even better.
For Buenos Aires Herald