[Review] Jason Bae – an enterprising, exploratory and heroic performer

Jason Bae – an enterprising, exploratory and heroic performer

By Peter Mechen, 13/04/2018

Te Kōkī New Zealand School Of Music

A recital by Jason Bae

Debussy – Images oubliées
Esa-Pekka Salonen – Dichotomie (NZ Premiere)
Grieg – Ballade Op.24
Medtner – Piano Sonata No.11 Sonata tragica Op.39 No.5

Jason Bae (piano)

Adam Concert Room,
Te Kōkī New Zealand School Of Music,
Victoria University of Wellington

Friday, 13th April 2018

Korean-born NZ-adopted pianist Jason Bae made a welcome return a week ago to the Wellington region for a lunchtime recital at the School of Music’s Adam Concert Room, Victoria University. He brought with him a programme he’s taken to a number of venues around the country, one whose content suggested that there would be no compromises on an artistic level, despite the degree of informality and relaxation often associated with a “lunchtime concert”. This was a programme deserving of serious, five-star attention from start to finish, and received playing that fully realised the “serious” intent of the pianist’s enterprising choice of repertoire.

Bae has already made his mark in the world of piano-playing with many prize-giving performances and awards in various places around the world – according to his web-site, his recent activities include performing recitals in Helsinki, Finland and in Seoul, Korea, as well as currently in New Zealand.  The young pianist is also turning his attention to orchestral conducting, making his New Zealand conducting debut with the Westlake Symphony Orchestra in Auckland. He’s obviously one of those multi-talented musicians who has the aptitude to succeed at whatever he turns his hand to.

Judging from the programme we heard Bae perform at the Music School on Friday, there’s no ‘resting on his laurels”, no trotting out well-consolidated warhorses with which to impress audiences. These pieces required his listeners to come some of the way themselves towards the music, itself extremely varied in content and character, rather than simply let it all “wash over” the sensibilities in a generalised way. Perhaps the best-known of these works, albeit in a roundabout fashion, was that of Debussy’s “Images oubliées” (an earlier work than each of the two, better-known sets of “Images”, but one which, for some reason, wasn’t published in the composer’s lifetime). Recently,  though, there has been some recorded attention given both to Medtner’s solo piano works and to Grieg’s hitherto neglected output outside the “Lyric Pieces”. Certainly the remainder of Bae’s programme indicated there were treasures aplenty awaiting more widespread awareness and approval.

The opening of the Debussy work (Lent) brought forth exquisitely-voiced tones from the young pianist, the sounds resembling some kind of ethereal recitative, accompanied by the softest, most velvety of arpeggiations. This accorded with the composer’s own description of the pieces as “not for brilliantly-lit salons…..but rather, conversations between the piano and oneself”. Bae allowed a beautifully-appointed ebb-and-flow of colours and contours, a kind of nature-benediction in sound, allowing the tones at the end to breathtakingly mingle with the silences.

The second piece “Souvenir du Louvre” bore a close relationship with a movement from the composer’s later “Pour le piano”, a rather more fulsome version of what became the Sarabande from the latter work. Again, the pianist’s evocations were meticulously directed towards detailings of wondrous delicacy, with dialogues throughout sounded between the piano’s different registers, sculpted strength set against liquid movement. Debussy’s original was actually written for Yvonne Lerolle, the girl both Degas and Renoir painted at the piano, and for whom the composer described the piece with the words “slow and solemn, even a bit like an old portrait” (hence the title).

The title of the third piece betrays its inspiration even more candidly than does the later work it (only) occasionally resembles – “Jardins sous la pluie” from “Estampes” with its well-known folk-song quotations. Here it is somewhat teasingly called by the composer “Quelques aspects de ‘Nous n’irons plus au bois'” (Aspects of the song “We will not go to the woods”), with the added afterthought, for the benefit of his young dedicatee, “…because the weather is dreadful”…….Bae’s fleet-fingered playing evoked a game of chase through the woods, by turns lightly-brushed and hard-hitting, with some tolling bells sounding towards the end, the piece then disappearing literally into thin air.

By way of introducing the next work on the programme, Bae spent some time talking with us about his relationship with a composer who’s better known as a conductor, Esa-Pekka Salonen, after which the pianist performed Salonen’s work for solo piano “Dichotomy”. One of a select few of brilliant contemporary performing musicians who significantly compose, Salonen has a number of important works to his credit, for orchestra, two concerti (piano and violin), and a large-scale work for orchestra and chorus, “Karawane”, which premiered in 2014 in Zurich.

Salonen’s work isn’t exactly “hot off the press”, Dichotomie having received its premiere as far back as 2000, in Los Angeles. The composer wanted a short, encore-type piece as a present for a favourite soloist, Gloria Cheng, but, as he discovered, the material he wrote seemed to take on a life of its own,  and expand to proportions bearing little relation to its actual conception. Jason Bae explained to us, along with his account of a serendipitous encounter with Salonen that led to his espousal of the composer’s work, how the music came to be, its two-movement structure representing a relationship between the two “kinds” of music that Salonen seemed to create almost involuntarily. Thus the first movement of this work, Mechanisme, represented machine-like processes, while the second, Organisme, had a more naturalistic way of developing and extending created material. Salonen wanted to explore how these very different styles might, by dint of juxtaposition, “borrow” qualities from one another which could affect their development.

I confess to being fascinated by what I heard, which is a way of paying tribute to Jason Bae’s playing of it as well. The opening of Mechanisme was indeed motoric and Prokofiev-like, the rhythms growing and developing in dynamically varied ways, with different sequences taking on different and unpredictable characters, variously syncopated, symmetrical or angular. Bae’s playing built to almost frighteningly orchestral levels of volume and intensity, before abruptly adopting flowing, legato phrasing that suggested some kind of counter-impulse had been mysteriously, even covertly activated within the work’s being. It preluded a mercurial section where one sensed the creative process was in a kind of ferment of crisis (the machine, perhaps, trying to be human?), with the musical argument appearing to fragment under scrutiny, almost to the point of stasis. A final counter-burst of incendiary energy, notes swirling and figurations exploding in every direction, left the music almost insensible, with only a few legato-phrased, wider-spaced chords holding the centre, and pronouncing the “new order”.

The following Organisme brought forth shimmering, exploratory textures containing reiterating figurations attempting to secure their tentative foot-and finger-holds in the music’s fabric. I thought it Debussy-like in places in a textured sense, the basic materials gradually coalescing and producing a kind of ambient glow, with beautifully voiced fragments of melody floating by on wings of air. The trajectories were passed from hand to hand, thereby suggesting a kind of osmotic continuity of flow, one which inevitably built up tensions of a kind that saw the tones take on increasingly rhythmic and thrustful expression, becoming tumultuous in the sense of a storm, the pianist sending great arabesques of tone shooting upwards and into the ether. Having resisted the temptation to inhabit “the dark side” the music made a flourish of quiet triumph, and the piece ended enigmatically – all told, an enthralling listening experience, thanks in part to Bae’s brilliant advocacy.

Further explorations were furnished by the pianist with his programming of Edvard Grieg’s rarely-heard Ballade Op.24, in my view one of the composer’s greatest works. It was one of the pieces that the tragically short-lived New Zealand pianist Richard Farrell recorded (as part of an all-Grieg recital disc), but has yet to claim a regular place in the concert repertoire. Though part of this is due to the piece’s technical difficulty, my feeling is that Grieg is still regarded by many people as a “miniaturist”, able to turn out  pretty Scandivavian picture-postcards in the form of his numerous “Lyric Pieces”, but lacking the ability to handle larger forms (despite his magnificent Piano Concerto!). Debussy’s well-known swipe at Grieg (“a pink bonbon filled with snow” was his description of one of the latter’s “Elegiec Melodies”) hasn’t helped the latter’s cause – but less well-known is the remark made by Frederick Delius to Maurice Ravel, that “modern French music is simply Grieg, plus the third act of Tristan”, to which Ravel replied, “That is true – we are always unjust to Grieg.”

Justice was certainly done to Grieg by Jason Bae, here a rather more turbo-charged reading in places than that of Richard Farrell’s poetic soundscapings, one underlining the music’s virtuoso aspect, while giving the more ruminative passages enough space in which to breathe Grieg’s bracing air. The work is basically a theme-and-variations treatment of a Norwegian folk-song melody,  “Den Nordlanske Bondestand” (The Northland Peasantry), and ranges from extremely simple elaborations of the theme to full-scale, almost orchestral outbursts of expression, including some forward-looking, even daring excursions into harmonic conflict, particularly during the work’s final cataclysmic section, before the music suddenly dissolves all such conflicts and returns to the melancholy of the original theme. In general, I thought Bae most successfully brought out the music’s brilliance and sharply-etched contrasts, underlining in places the music’s debt towards and kinship with that of Liszt (Variations 11 and 12 are here particularly overwhelming in an orchestral sense!) but also paying ample tribute to Grieg’s own originality. The pianist’s playing of No.9 allowed the composer’s singular gift for melodic piquancy its full effect, while No.10 here vividly captured the music’s characteristic rustic charm and feeling for grass-roots expressions of energy. In the wake of this performance I’m sure Bae would have garnered in many listeners’ minds fresh respect for Grieg as a composer.

The recital concluded with a work from a figure whose music has only recently received the kind of mainstream espousal needed for it to flourish. Russian-born Nikolai Medtner (1880-1951), a younger contemporary of Rachmaninov and Scriabin, received much the same acclaim as a result of his musical studies in Moscow, but then elected to devote himself entirely to composition rather than pursue a career as a pianist. However (and perhaps not surprisingly) the piano figured in practically all of his major compositions, both prior to and after leaving Russia in 1921. Altogether, Medtner completed fourteen piano sonatas, Jason Bae performing for us the eleventh (which the composer subtitled Sonata Tragica, possibly as a reaction to the aftermath of the Russian Revolution) The sonata, incidentally, was one of a set of pieces separately entitled “Forgotten Melodies” (Second Cycle) by the composer. Those who have a taste for idiosyncratic numbering methods of musical compositions will find much to enjoy in Medtner’s own various enumerations of these works.

None of which is relevant to Jason Bae’s performance of the music, which seemed to me to front up squarely to the piece’s overall character, with its big-boned, declamatory  aspect at the beginning and the war-like march that follows proclaiming a Slavic temperament, with the swirling textures obviously breathing the same air as did Rachmaninov’s music. Bae gave the flowing lyricism which followed plenty of “soul”, allowing the deeper textures to make their mark amid the frequent exchanges between the hands, then gradually building the excitement to almost fever pitch, before strongly arresting the flow of the music with a portentous left-hand, almost fugue-like version of the opening declamation – all very exciting! The pianist’s beautifully wrought filigree finger-work introduced further agitations, the music building inexorably towards a kind of breaking-point (Bae’s left hand performing miracles of transcendent articulation) at the apex of which the sonata’s main theme thundered out at us most resplendently and defiantly! It was music that, in this player’s expert hands, punched well above its own weight, with a bigness of utterance which belied its brief duration!

Very great acclaim greeted the young pianist, at the conclusion of this challenging, and in the event splendidly-achieved presentation of some monumental music.

[Review] Youthful, exuberant virtuosity - Jason Bae at St. Andrew's, Wellington.

By Peter Mechen, 27/09/2015, ©Middle C

Wellington Chamber Music presents:
JASON BAE (piano)

CHOPIN – Four Scherzi
No.1 in B Minor Op.20
No.2 in B-flat Minor Op.31
No.3 in C-sharp Minor Op.39
No.4 in E Major Op.54
BRITTEN/STEVENSON – Fantasy on Peter Grimes (1977)
LISZT – Venezia e Napoli – Gondoliera / Canzone / Tarantella

St.Andrew’s on-the-Terrace, Wellington

Sunday, 27th September, 2015

I remember hearing for the first time New Zealand pianist Richard Farrell’s recording of Chopin’s First Scherzo, and being bowled over by the playing’s youthful verve and exuberance.  Similar to Farrell’s in brilliance of execution and youthful élan was the performance of this same work by Jason Bae which opened his Wellington Chamber Music Series recital at St.Andrew’s on-the-Terrace on Sunday. For me, in fact, the “shock” of the recital’s opening generated by this young pianist had the effect of a sudden electric charge sent tingling through one’s being, which, of course, was exactly what the composer would have intended.

Jason Bae continued on as he had begun throughout this work, his playing capturing the compulsive “churning” aspect of the figurations, and bringing off the transitions between sections with a fine sensitivity – the central lyrical theme remained slightly “charged”, unable, it seemed to me, to completely relax, brought here, as it had been, in a veritable whirlwind, tempestuous and unnerving!  When it came, the pianist’s reiteration of these agitations heard at the opening simply renewed our astonishment at the fieriness of both music and its performance.

Following this, the tense “question-and-answer” opening phrases of the Second Scherzo were beautifully contrasted, the reply to the darkly-covered beginning ringing and resounding in great style. When repeated, this dialogue took on for me an even more spectral aspect, as if death had made a spoken gesture and been recognized, though Jason Bae’s sensitivity and nimble fingers also kept the passage’s melodic quality stoically to the fore. I liked the pianist’s rich, mellow plunge into the middle sequence’s world – and he did so well with that alchemic transition from those reverential tones back to the recapitulation – a wonderful mini-adventure! Then, in his hands the return to those first exchanges brought out a more rueful, even a somewhat “old friend” quality, after which the interplay of growing tensions culminated in a blistering coda, startling in its power and velocity!

The third Scherzo’s opening was less spectral and sharp-edged than grim and unremitting, dark, terse mutterings followed by angry octaves, delivered with incredible panache! Jason Bae caught the nobility of the contrasting episode, with its beautifully-weighted chords, but seemed to me somewhat at a loss to know what to “do” with the descending filigree figurations, treating them, I thought, as if they were purely decorative. Even when those same noble chords re-emerged decked with darker hues, beautifully voiced by the young pianist, the downward cascadings still lacked, to my ears, any kind of discernible character – strange, when his responses to the music’s other episodes were so sharply and/or richly focused.

After all of this grim, tight-lipped stuff, the relative genialities of the Fourth Scherzo were more than welcome, though Bae seemed more concerned with bringing out the elfin brilliance of the piano writing at the outset more than its good humour. There was breathtakingly delicate playing, with amazing right-hand work in places, the figurations at times just “brushed in”, everything clear as crystal, but light as air and swift as thought.  And the lyrical heart of the work was expressed with legato playing of such loveliness, it seemed churlish to wonder what it was that was in the young pianist’s mind other than the desire to make a beautiful sound. A friend I conferred with immediately after the concert felt much the same thing – that the virtuosity of the playing was breathtaking, but the lyrical moments needed more “character”.

Chopin reputedly said, once, that “if you want to play my music, go to hear Pasta or Rubini” – two of the stars of the opera at the time. Chopin loved the female voice as an instrument (though, surprisingly, he wrote fewer songs than did, say, Liszt), attended the opera regularly,  and befriended opera singers such as Pauline Viadot and Jenny Lind. Though his Nocturnes are celebrated as the most markedly lyrical works in his output, singing lines occur almost everywhere in his other compositions, as witness the central sections of these Scherzi. And just as a singer inflects the melodic lines he or she sings, according to the texts of the songs, so do Chopin’s melodies suggest appropriate dynamic and rhythmic nuance and a range of colour, according to the music’s overall character.

Throughout these Scherzi performances I thought Jason Bae readily captured a sense of the music’s excitement and dynamism, giving the works a wonderful volatile aspect, and a real sense of danger, of encountering the unexpected, and of conquering in places incredibly complex strands of creative impulse and making their intertwining cohere. He was able, as well, to display a gift for realizing a beautiful legato, one which was possible in many instances to enjoy as pure sound (as Chopin was reputed to have enjoyed the female voice or the sound of a violin). Still, in places in these performances I felt the need for more than beauty per se, for a stronger identification with the music’s expression that would give those sounds real intent.

The subjective nature of listening to music enables nine people in a room to add each of their very different impressions of a piece of a music to that of the musician playing it! – ten different reactions to the same piece of music! But I feel that what stimulates this process is the initial recreative thrust given by the performer – without that kind of interpretative commitmenton the part of a player, music can sound incredibly bland, for all the accuracy or surface beauty of its performance.  Bae himself demonstrated such a level of interpretative focus and skill in bringing to us, immediately after the interval,  the programme’s next item – this was Ronald Stevenson’s Fantasy on Peter Grimes, Benjamin Britten’s most famous opera.

Ronald Stevenson (whom I think of as Scottish, but who did have an English mother) died earlier this year at the age of 87. Called by commentators one of the great composer-pianists, his output was considerable, including both large-scale works, a huge body of transcriptions, and hundreds of miniatures. Though he’s credited with writing the longest single-movement work in the piano literature (his Passacaglia on DSCH, inspired by Shostakovich), his songs and piano transcriptions are the best-known of his works. Among the transcriptions for solo piano ( the style of Franz Liszt and his operatic transcriptions or “Reminiscences”) is this Fantasy, written in 1977, the year after Britten’s death.

Not dissimilar to Liszt’s Don Juan Fantasy, which recreates for the listener Mozart’s Don Giovanni through elaborating upon a number of scenes from the opera, though not in theatrical order, Stevenson sets about recreating certain subject-themes from “Peter Grimes”, and, unlike Liszt with “the Don” more-or-less following the design of the opera. Crashing chords with plaintive replies immediately evoke angry voices calling the outcast fisherman’s name at the opera’s beginning, followed by agitated, energetic figurations representing rumour and heresay swirling around Grimes’s head, suspected as he is of causing the death of one of his apprentice boys.

We heard the tumult of the storm and in its desolate wake an extended recitative with softly-whispered scintillations of stars in the firmament overhead, piano writing that staggered with its brilliance, sensitivity and sense of evocation. Jason Bae’s performance caught it all, revelling in the tumultuous piano-writing, but then recreating great vistas of silent, pitiless wonderment, as Grimes took the inevitable, tragic steps towards drowning himself at sea. All that was left at the end was the dawn, which the pianist magically brought into being by plucking the piano strings directly, sounding the “Daybreak” theme from the opera in doing so – a few evocatively-sounded Liszt-like chords, and the piece was over – what a work, and what a performance!

To conclude the recital, Jason Bae chose Liszt’s Venezia e Napoli, music composed as a kind of sequel to the composer’s second Années de Pèlerinage (Years of Pilgrimage) collection, consisting of impressions from his sojourns in Italy. There are three separate pieces in the work, the first two relating to the Venice (Venezia) part of the title, and a final Tarantella associated with Southern Italy (Napoli).

Beginning with a kind of introduction in which we heard the rhythm of the gondolier’s oar and the rippling of the water, the music intoned a popular song “La Biondina in Gondoletta”, Liszt most interestingly casting the opening music in the same key (F-sharp) as Chopin was to use in his Barcarolle for solo piano. Jason Bae gave us some exquisitely-sounded, shimmering textures throughout this section, voicing the gondolier’s song with great sensitivity, and making the accompanying arabesques scintillate all around the melody, perhaps not with gossamer ease in places, but certainly with sheer youthful delight! I loved the reminiscence of Berlioz’s “March of the Pilgrims” from his Symphony Harold en Italie at the end of the gondolier’s song, Liszt’s chiming notes recalling something of the dying echoes in Berlioz’s work.

The agitated Canzone which followed gave us the darker side of this picture, the music actually based on another gondolier’s song, this time by Rossini as used in his opera Otello  Bae plunged himself and his instrument into this scenario of darkness and despair, leavening things a little in places with some resigned moments of light in the gloom before rechannelling his energies for another irruption which seemed to come out stamping and snorting! – to then immediately break into a tarantella, the “wildest of dances”, the pianist’s fingers flying over the keys, alternating strength and power with delicacy. Respite of sorts came with the cantabile theme, though as the piece gathered momentum, and the “swirl of the girl gone chancing, glancing, dancing” became wilder, some of the melody’s accompanying trajectories began to sound as hair-raising as the tarantella itself. The ending? – it was pure, unadulterated panache on both composer’s and performer’s part, and earned Jason Bae an enthusiastic and well-deserved reception.

We were returned to normality of a sorts by a couple of encores (yes, really! – and I’m obviously showing my age by remarking “and after all that expenditure of energy!”) – neither of the pieces I knew, though I laid bets with a friend afterwards as to their respective identities – the first, I thought sounded like Liszt, the second Rachmaninov! Thus far, neither of us has collected any winnings from the other, though I’m sure it’s only a matter of time……..

[REVIEW] Admirably adventurous piano program from Jason Bae at Waikanae

Admirably adventurous piano program from Jason Bae at Waikanae

©Middle C (2015) 

By Lindis Taylor, 20/09/2015

Jason Bae – piano

Liszt: Three concert études, S 144 (Il lamento, La leggierezza, Un sospiro)
Puccini/Mikhashoff: Portrait of Madame Butterfly
Chopin: The four Ballades

Waikanae Memorial Hall

Sunday 20 September 2:30 pm

The concert by Jason Bae was one of a nationwide series arranged through Chamber Music New Zealand. He also plays, a different programme (see our Coming Events), on 27 September at St Andrew’s on The Terrace for Wellington Chamber Music.

It is commonly a mark of an intelligent and serious minded musician when he plays entire works and, where it’s feasible, complete sets of pieces. Liszt’s Three Concert Études and the four Chopin Ballades are examples of groups of pieces that benefit from being heard together, and formed the major part of an interesting programme.

Il lamento announces its subject with a series of descending phrases, though with little decorative turns that partly disguise much overt grief. In fact, to my ears, rather than the loss of a loved one, it suggests the sort of emotion one feels at the end of an exciting and happy holiday, when the reality of work and chores looms again; but always tempered by delightful memories, and that was reflected in the somewhat sentimental tune that takes over through most of the study. Bae’s playing was unaffected, free of any rhetorical or theatrical excesses, and he even maintained a fairly limited dynamic range, hardly above a mezzo-forte.

La leggierezza assumes a tone that is, of course, lighter, creating a mood of pleasure, where circumstances have produced an ebullience in the spirit; it was fluent and colourful and though he seemed to hit the notes purposefully, they were never percussive.

And Il sospiro, understandably more popular as a result of its sighing (if I can’t find a better word), mildly reflective tone; again even tone, taking full advantage of the fact that humans have two hands; and loving warmth rather than self-indulgence. The trio of beguiling pieces induced me, at home, to dig out a couple of LPs, one by Katchen, one by Jerome Rose, both in lovely warm analogue sound, in performances that hardly surpassed what I’d heard a few hours before in Waikanae.

One approaches arrangements or transcriptions or paraphrases or reminiscences or pot-pourris of others’ music with caution (I’m still thinking of Liszt of course, though a lot of his are wonderfully heart-warming and exciting). An arrangement, perhaps rather a fantasia, on music from Act II of Madama Butterfly, by an American pianist/composer Yvar Mikhashoff (real name Ronald Mackay), is one of several transcriptions from Puccini operas which have been recorded by Jean-Yves Thibaudet.

It’s a very creditable and attractive piece, with most of the recognisable themes from ‘Un bel di’ and the Flower Duet onward; they captured the spirit of self-delusion and of the character of the opera generally. It seemed to be cast the three parts, like a classical suite, with plenty of scintillating virtuosity that suited Jason splendidly.

Then came the rare chance to hear all four of Chopin’s Ballades played successively. They run almost the full gamut of Chopin’s composing life in Paris from 1831 to 1842, and explore all the moods to be found in his piano music: the delicacy, the achingly melodic, the sentimental, the massive climaxes, the limpid gentleness; from passages that even an ordinary pianist can cope with to the parts where that pianist simply closes the score and gets a recording. I

These were admirable performances, which seemed to be enhanced by close proximity to each other. They are hard work and I sensed that towards the end a little tiredness revealed itself. One sometimes wonders whether it is only musical tradition that permits some disparate groups of movements to be known as sonatas or suites and others, like Schubert’s Impromptus or his Drei Klavierstücke, like Chopin’s Scherzi or Ballades, which are rarely played as a group. But then, the challenge of playing them all in a row might be quite a persuasive reason.

After most of the crowd stood in acclamation, Jason talked his way to playing another tough piece, another opera transcription. Because he judged that not many in the audience might have been familiar with the story of Peter Grimes, he went through it and then played a seven-minute-long Peter Grimes Fantasy by Ronald Stevenson, a pianist and composer who died earlier this year (why is he only a vague name to me?). It’s a fantasy on many of the musical ideas in Britten’s great opera and the sounds he produced created a disturbingly realistic impression of the opera, with recognizable moments like the storm, Ellen’s Embroidery aria, motifs from the last harrowing scene, suggesting the dawn and the sea and the work’s enigmatic conclusion. Towards the end he stood to reach inside the piano to pluck the strings: for once with some musical purpose. Though the place in the opera of the little evanescent motif eluded me, it conjured the uncanny atmosphere that Britten evoked during the depiction of Grimes’s crisis and disappearance.

I found a quote by pianist John Humphreys about Stevenson’s piece: “His seven minute ‘Peter Grimes Fantasy’ encapsulates the essence of the opera in a way that astonished Britten at a private performance in Aldeburgh”.

As an encore it was courageous and in a way, was the most revelatory and memorable piece that we heard in the afternoon. It also revealed something of the breadth, and perhaps the depth, of this young musician’s musical experience and understanding; he is no mere piano virtuoso, but a well-schooled artist with an admirable curiosity, and the entire programme reflected those qualities.

[REVIEW] A sparkling tour de force

By JANET DUNN, 24 July 2013 - ©Marlborough Midweek

Pianist Jason Bae took Blenheim by storm when he ended a gruelling 11- recital, two programme New Zealand tour in Marlborough.

Despite the cold (at one point Bae said he could not feel his hands), this highly disciplined 21-year-old artist provided the audience with a performance on July 12 that shimmered and sparkled.

The opening Beethoven sonata was controlled and cleanly enunciated with the fugue-like passages and Beethoven’s light touches of humour intelligently handled. The strict tempo provided a forward rhythmic drive, suited to the baroque- like character of this work.

 Young pianist Jason Bae signs the Marlborough Music Society’s Steinway grand piano, watched by society members Malcolm Tomes, back left, and Alistair Elliott.

Young pianist Jason Bae signs the Marlborough Music Society’s Steinway grand piano, watched by society members Malcolm Tomes, back left, and Alistair Elliott.

After a low, respectful bow, Bae quickly resumed his seat and with a quick flex of the fingers he was off again with the Ravel’s Gaspard de la nuit.

Part dream, part nightmare, this three-piece suite describes images of a lake-dwelling mermaid, a hanged corpse in a sunset, and a whirling Goblin-like figure that appears in the dead of the night. It is widely regarded as the most challenging and virtuosic music in the instrument’s repertoire and requires absolute concentration from the opening ppp shimmer to the final whiffs of the Goblin as he suddenly disappears in a final arpeggio run in the treble.

Bae met the virtuosic challenge with beautifully controlled articulation in all its varieties, but I missed feeling the shivers of horror and nightmarish intensity in the second and third musical poems.

As with the Beethoven, the Chopin Mazurkas were carefully controlled though possibly a little homogenous. Then came the Rachmaninov in a rendition characterised by warmth, energy and sensitivity of voicing that brought out the best in both instrument and artist.

Bae said it gave him goosebumps to think that Rachmaninov himself had also played on this Steinway. 

To a standing ovation, Bae responded generously with two Chopin Prelude encores. These displayed real warmth from a more relaxed Bae, no doubt looking forward to a well-earned break before heading to London to do a Master of Arts at the Royal Academy of Music.