Pianist Yoonie Han in Aptos

On Sunday afternoon, July 22, Korean pianist pianist Yoonie Han performed a recital in Aptos sponsored jointly by the Aptos Piano Series and the Episcopal Church of Saint John the Baptist. Ms. Han received her Bachelor’s degree from the Curtis Institute of Music studying with Eleanor Sokoloff, her Master of Music degree from the Juilliard School as a pupil of Robert McDonald, and her Doctorate at SUNY Stony Brook, studying with pianist Eduardus Halim. In addition to being an Assistant Professor of Piano at Bilkent University in Turkey, she has given lectures and masterclasses at Harvard University, New York University, and the San Francisco Conservatory.

Her recital on Sunday, dedicated to the piano works of composer Reynaldo Hahn, is part of a series of recitals she will be giving in a preparation for recording a CD of Hahn’s piano works for the Steinway label. This recording will be produced at Steinway Hall in New York City as a part of a continuing series of recordings by Steinway Artists — Ms. Hahn is, of course, a distinguished “Steinway Artist.”

How often does it happen that we attend a recital and are completely unfamiliar with any of the pieces being performed, or, for that matter, completely unfamiliar with the composer as well? Well, this was such an occasion, and here was the program:

Selections from Le Rossignol éperdu, composed between 1899 and 1911 by Reynaldo Hahn (1874-1947)

 I.  Première suite:

  • Andromède résignée
  • Le Bouquet de Pensées
  • Soleil d’automne
  • Les Deux Écharpes
  • La Fausse Indifférence
  • Chanson de Midi
  • Les Rêveries du Prince Églantine
  • La Danse de l’Amour et de l’Ennui
  • La Danse de l’Amour et du Danger
  • Matinée parisienne

II. Orient

  • La Rose de Blida
  • L’Oasis

III. Carnét de voyage

  • L’Ange Verrier
  • Les Pages d’Élisabeth
  • Le Réveil de Flore
  • La Fête de Terpsichore
  • Le Pèlerinage inutile

It is an interesting thing about titles. In 1850 Louis Moreau Gottschalk (1829-1869)  composed a work published under the title “Grand Concert Waltz in E-flat Major.” After only modest sales, the publisher re-released the work a year later with a picture of a pretty girl on the cover and a new title, “The Maiden’s Blush.” The work, as republished (not a single note was changed), became a hit and sold over 100,000 copies.

If we had listened to any of the pieces on Ms. Han’s program without knowing the titles, could we have guessed what associations the composer had intended for any of them? Even though Ms. Han in brief program notes from the piano attempted to explain each title, we still came to the conclusion that the titles were of little significance. One exception, however, was Les Pages d’Élizabeth, which Ms. Han explained was associated with the great Queen Elizabeth. In this piece we heard some pompous “Pomp & Circumstance” that was indeed suggestive of a ceremony at the British Royal court.

Otherwise, we heard a series of bland piano pieces, each one displaying a different character, but without any one of them displaying a melody that stuck in the mind, or containing rhythmic passages of such ingenuity that we were seized with an irresistible urge to learn the piece ourselves.

That said, we have to admire the artistry of Yoonie Han. She is a pianist with considerable gifts, whom we heard a year ago in selections from Goyescas by Granados — she knocked our socks off with a totally convincing and exciting performance. On this occasion with the pieces by Hahn, all the artistry was there — lovely cantabile, elegant shaping of phrases, complete technical control, and lots of personal charisma. What we were lacking was substance. Perhaps Reynaldo Hahn deserves to be neglected.

Artists often favor us with an encore, and so did she: another little piece by Reynaldo Han entitled “Scent of Love. Incidentally, at the beginning of the recital she performed very nicely a piece often heard as an encore — Mélodie from Gluck’s Orfeo, not in the usually-heard Sgambati arrangement favored by Guiomar Novaes and Nelson Freire, but in an arrangement I had never before heard. Very charming!

Let’s hope Ms. Han returns soon — armed with more substantial repertoire. I will be here to cheer her on.



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