Kevin Lee Sun made quite a splash when he won the Grand Prize in the Carmel Music Society’s 2018 Biennial Piano Competition, and he reinforced this positive impression when he appeared as a recitalist on the Music Society’s regular concert season in January 2019. It was, however, noted in 2019, that Sun’s programming for this recital was odd. The most dramatic works that should have ended the program were scheduled in the first half so that the more problematic selections ended the program with a whimper rather than a bang. It so puzzlied the audience that at the end of the program there was a weak standing ovation and no encore.
Well, in his rectal yesterday afternoon for the Aptos Keyboard Series at the Episcopal Church of St. John the Baptist, he certainly got the programming concept right this time. Starting off with a slightly neutral performance of the Bach Toccata in F-sharp minor, BWV 910, an early work, Sun informed us, that might have originally been conceived for organ and influenced by Bach’s trip (250 miles on foot) to spend some time admiring the craftsmanship of Dieterich Buxtehude. The Bach Toccata was followed by an intense performance of Schubert’s Sonata in A minor, D. 845. From its very first notes we heard elegant and sensitive shaping of song-like phrases as well as lots of Sturm und Drang in the more passionate sections.
It was after intermission that Sun had his finest moments. The great surprise of the afternoon was his performance of a contemporary work, Rain Study, composed by Hyo-shin Na in 1999. Sun informed the audience that this work contained Korean idioms merged with western traditions and its central theme was the brevity of life — “Although the sun that sets will rise the next day, a life that passes will not rise again.”
This work featured a weaving in and out of sonorities that were constantly interrupted by melodic fragments and dissonant clusters of notes. The lovely ending of this work gave us an uneasy serenity as its final moments drifted off silently into the ether.
The program ended with a passionate and large-scaled performance of Schumann’s Kreisleriana — I say “large-scaled” because there were some strident percussive passages that threatened to overwhelm the piano. But, Sun’s performance was focussed and artistic in its absolute control of the eight sections of this work, each with its own charm and magic.
Sun took us on a wild journey, and we enjoyed it.