Shuan Hern Lee

Shuan Hern Lee Adelaide 2016Recitals Australia. Elder Hall. 26 Jun 2016


In his post-concert interview/Q&A with wunderkind Shuarn Hern Lee, the inestimable Graham Abbott suggested Lee’s playing was “sublime”. High praise indeed, and much deserved. Lee is only thirteen years old and already has an impressive diary of international engagements and a repertoire that traverses major works from the baroque, classical, romantic and twentieth century periods.


His generous Elder Hall recital programme included Haydn, Beethoven, Chopin, Liszt, Debussy and Balakirev, and every piece demonstrated his exceptional technical expertise and astonishing musicianship for someone so young. It is one thing to get the notes right, but quite a different thing to communicate a strong sense of the music and what makes it ‘tick’. Lee achieved both, in buckets!


In interview Shuarn Hern Lee quipped that he treats concert programming as if planning a dinner menu. Following that metaphor, Balakirev’s phenomenally difficult Islamey – fantasie orientale was relegated to a mere dessert! Islamey puts most pianists to the sword; it is not often performed in recital because of its near impenetrability, and to play it at the end of a programme that is already demanding in many respects, and play it exceptionally well, is a testament to Lee’s pianistic prowess.


He prefaced each piece with a long pause – as much as twenty seconds – which was almost uncomfortable from an audience perspective, as if we were intruding on a private communion. After each silence was over Lee gave himself over to a driving force that released him, and us, into quite a different place.


Lee gave each movement of Haydn’s Sonata No. 60 a distinct personality; lightness where it was needed, and strength where the piece demanded it, but perhaps a little too much on the forte side of the ledger, which was also the case in the sotto voce section of Chopin’s Ballade No. 2 in F. Lee imbued the Ballade with a degree of anguish and hurt that was commensurate with the piece supposedly being Chopin’s homage to Polish ‘national martyrdom’.


Liszt’s Rhapsodie espagnole, which is perhaps better known in the form of Ferruccio Busoni’s orchestral arrangement, is a show piece because of the technical ordeals it presents to the pianist. Lee handled the rapid octaves and chords with apparent ease and achieved a bell-like effect on the Steinway.


Beethoven’s Sonata No 16. in G, Op. 31/1, is somewhat quixotic and transitional in nature: it sits between more well-known Pastorale (No.15) and Tempest (No. 17). Shuarn Hern Lee perhaps stressed too much of the humor in the piece and took it a pace that overshadowed its expressivity. His handling of the ornamentation in the adagio second movement was superb.


With Debussy’s L’isle joyeuse we started to get a deeper insight into Lee’s emerging sophistication as an interpreter of music. Just stopping short of being a little heavy handed, Lee relished the exuberance of the piece and extracted every nuance.


And then to the Islamey. It almost defies description – it is a brute of a piece. I am not aware whether Lee used some of the easier alternative passages that are available, but whether he did or not, his performance was visually and aurally spectacular.

And that he should have enough energy left to deliver a Chopin nocturne for an encore.


This young man is a remarkable musician. Technically he is awesome, and musically he is on a very rapid path to something quite special.

Congratulations to Mark de Raad and Recitals Australia for bringing this musical sensation to Adelaide.


Kym Clayton


When: 26 Jun

Where: Elder Hall

Bookings: Closed

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