Korean pianist Zheeyoung Moon helped wind down the 2014 Paderewski Festival in Paso Robles in a gala recital exhibiting astonishing levels of expressive and emotional intensity that constantly surprised us as she performed standard works we all know well and infused them with a freshness that made them seem new and exciting all over again.
Her technical mastery is equal to any pianist alive today, but what makes her playing so compelling is that it is not technique that is driving her, but rather her imaginative way of getting to the heart of the music and making it come alive. Her music making is quintessentially natural — nothing is done for gratuitous effect. In this era of the super virtuoso, who never met a fortissimo he didn’t like (or couldn’t play louder), Ms. Moon never produced an ugly sound, even while storming through the climaxes in the first movement of Chopin’s B-flat Minor Sonata or Liszt’s Rhapsodie espangole.
Some of the loveliest moments in this recital were in the unpretentious less technically demanding pieces like Chopin’s “Raindrop Prelude, Paderewski’s Nocturne in B-flat Manor, Op. 16, No, 4, the Funeral March movement in the Chopin Sonata, and the Schumann/Liszt Widmung. In these pieces there was a kind of inevitability — you just couldn’t imagine them played any better.
Especially interesting in this recital was her performance of Chopin’s great Polonaise in A-flat Major, Op. 53. In the middle section Ms. Moon played the left hand rapid octaves, although not excessively fast, so softly and evenly, it permitted her to create a super cantabile in the right hand melody that was so clear and unforced, it was like I had never truly heard this passage before. It was magical
Ms Moon received a prolonged standing ovation and rewarded the audience with a single encore, Jazz Etude No. 1 by Ukrainian composer Nikolai Kapustin (b. 1937). It was astonishingly well played. This was the kind of recital that transports you to a higher level, one you would like to visit again, and often.