Yeol Eum Son, Silver Medalist = HAYDN: Sonata No. 58 in C Major, Hob. XVI: 48; BARBER: Sonata for Piano, Op. 26; DEBUSSY: 6 Preludes, Book I; J. STRAUSS, arr. GODOWSKY: Symphonic Metamorphosis on Themes from Die Fledermaus – Yeol Eum Son, piano – Harmonia mundi HMU 907507, 60:29 ****:
Yeol Eum Son (b. 1986) is the 23-year-old winner of the Silver Medal of the 2009 Van Cliburn Competition, where she also captured the Steven De Groote Memorial Award for Best Performance of Chamber Music. She appears live in concert here, recorded May 22-June 7 at the Bass Performance Hall, Fort Worth, Texas.
Son opens with Haydn’s 1788 C Major Sonata, whose first movement presages much in Beethoven with its slow and ornate Andante con espressione, a meditative tribute to the empfindsamkeit school that followed C.P.E. Bach. Son’s florid runs and pointed recitatives, the evenness of her trills and scales, testify to a lyric, thoughtful gift. The sprightly Rondo dashes by with figures reminiscent of the last movement of the G Major Symphony No. 88.
The Barber Sonata provides an excellent contrast in musical style, percussive and intricate at once. Son would seem to take her cue from John Browning, whose own glittery brilliance set a seal on this piece after the Horowitz debut. One cannot credit Son with projecting warmth in this rendition, but a cold fire permeates the four movements – efficient, plastic, eminently geometric. The second movement certainly adheres to Barber’s “leggero” indication, breaking into a lithe waltz in pointillistic colors, then proceeding with its toccata a la musette. The Adagio mesto receives the tender love and care a young virtuoso applies when she wants to be recalled as a smart player of smart music. The fugal finale achieves what Horowitz asked of Barber, to proffer bravura display in spades, wickedly light and internally manic at the same time.
The Debussy group begins with a wind piece, Le vent dans la plaine, whose moto perpetuo counters sudden bursts of color and whirling figures not far from the composer’s own Fireworks. Son’s touch palpably changes to a creamy soft patina, inasmuch as her instrument permits. Not until the second page does penetrate Les sons et les parfums tournent dans l’air du soir, which conveyed little color but then assumes a sultry veiled eroticism. Les collines d’Anacapri plays as a skittish scherzo-habanera in Mediterranean hues, the chromatic mix close to the second set of Images. The haunted Des pas sur la neige might be Debussy’s equivalent to a Schoenberg moment cross-fertilized by Bergson’s notion of time. The big wind piece, Ce qu’a vu le vent d’Ouest, suggests Son’s capacity to play tempestuous Liszt and Ravel as well as Debussy, although Son’s patina rather shellacs our sensibilities. Son ends with the plaintive La fille aux cheveux de lin, played so as to draw out slowly its accretive phrases in lyrically parlando style.
Whatever the musical virtues of the Godowsky arrangement of the Strauss operetta Die Fledermaus, it remains a decidedly cluttered piece, replacing the direct and graceful melodies with their self-conscious superimposition on each other. Son’s non-legato impetus proves quite remarkable, and we can envision her at Busoni without strain. The swirling roulades having well proven their prowess go on for overkill, and I well relinquish an “I surrender, dear” with full credit to Ms. Son, whose career in the virtuoso keyboard music business appears well assured.