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Concert Review: Pianist Yoonie Han at the Louis K. Meisel Gallery, NYC, 3/21/13

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Art dealer Louis K. Meisel is best known as the founding champion of the art movement known as Photorealism (he even coined the term). He’s also an enthusiastic exhibitor of Pin-Up art, a large and eye-opening selection of which is on display in his studio through March 30.

Also in the studio is a magnificent specimen of piano craftsmanship and a living historical artifact: the Centennial Steinway, a beautiful and (in its time) state-of-the-art instrument made in 1876 and exhibited in the Centennial Exposition that year in Philadelphia.

 


The Centennial Steinway at the Louis K. Meisel Gallery in Soho

 

This exquisite piece of art sounds as good as it looks, at least when it’s played by a pianist with the kind of finesse possessed by Yoonie Han, who delivered her encore – Mompou’s variations on Chopin’s shortest and perhaps most famous prelude – on the Centennial the other night at the Louis K. Meisel gallery.

It was the finishing touch on a fine main program performed by Ms. Han on the plain old black Steinway “D” in the upstairs studio/living space, where a distinguished audience of musicians, conductors, composers and other music lovers gathered for the latest in the series of informal chamber concerts that Mr. Meisel, who is also a music promoter, hosts regularly. The program opened with a piece I’ve heard Ms. Han play before, Busoni’s transcription of Bach’s Chaconne in D minor. It was a clear-eyed, powerful and, not least, highly entertaining performance of this grand, dark work, and it established the evening’s surprising and fulfilling theme: transcriptions of great composers’ works by other composers.

It felt very appropriate to begin with Bach because of the vast library of his compositions that have been rewritten for different instruments and ensembles over the centuries. Just as popular songs today are freely re-done by new voices, artists and bands with very different styles and sounds, a great many of Bach’s works were written in full expectation that they’d be transcribed for other solo instruments.

The second major showpiece was Ms. Han’s own transcription of Liszt’s Piano Concerto No. 1. I’d never heard this piece distilled for solo piano before and I would have said making it so was well-nigh impossible, but the pianist handled the difficult piece she had produced with flash and grace. Smaller works on the program included the famous “Swan” from Saint-Saëns’s “Carnival of the Animals” and a “Tango” by Albéniz transcribed by Godowski, both lovely breaks from the dramatics. A rewarding retelling of Paganini’s well-known Etude No. 3 “La Campanella” by Liszt was a pleasure.

I never quite settled into Gershwin’s “Rhapsody in Blue,” which closed the main program; while I enjoyed the lyrical, even Chopinesque interpretation of many passages, I felt it missed some of the jazzy rhythms essential to this hybrid classical/jazz work. But there’s no arguing with the energy and flair with which Ms. Han polished off the piece, or with the standing ovation it elicited. This was an altogether very rewarding evening of transcriptions that don’t need to make any excuses for what they are, devised and performed by a pianist with great sensitivity and a sure touch.

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About Jon Sobel

Jon Sobel is an Executive Editor of Blogcritics as well as lead editor of the Culture & Society section. As a writer he contributes most often to Culture, where he reviews NYC theater; he also covers interesting music releases. He writes the blog Park Odyssey, for which he is visiting and blogging every park in New York City—over a thousand of them. Through Oren Hope Marketing and Copywriting you can hire him to write or edit whatever marketing or journalistic materials your heart desires. By night he's a working musician: lead singer, songwriter, and bass player for Whisperado, a member of other bands as well, and a sideman.