Mozart Piano Concerto No. 17 in G major, KV. 453; Chopin Andante Spianato et Grand Polonaise Brillante, Op. 22; Prokofiev Sonata No. 4 Op.29. Performed by pianist Yun Ji Kwak
W. A Mozart
Piano Concerto No. 17 in G major, KV. 453
III. Allegretto- Presto
Andante Spianato et Grand Polonaise Brillante, Op. 22
Sonata No. 4, Op.29
I. Allegro molto sostenuto
II. Andante assai
III. Allegro con brio, ma non leggiero
Mozart’s Concerto No. 17 was written for his Croatian-born Austrian piano and composition pupil Barbara Ployer. Mozart had a pet starling, a bird which is known to have a very strong capacity for vocal mimicry. Mozart jotted down the starling’s song, which appears in the opening bars of the third movement, and the rest of the movement features variations on this theme.
Andante spianato et grande polonaise brillante in E-flat Major, Op. 22, was composed by Frédéric Chopin between 1830 and 1834. The Grande polonaise brillante in E-flat, set for piano and orchestra, was written first, in 1830-31. In 1834, Chopin wrote an Andante spianato for piano solo, which he added to the start of the piece, and joined the two parts with a fanfare-like sequence. The combined work was published in 1836, and was dedicated to Madame d’Este.
Prokofiev’s Piano Sonata No. 4 in C minor, Op. 29, subtitled “D’après des vieux cahiers,” or “After Old Notebooks,” was composed in 1917 and premiered on April 17 the next year by the composer himself in Petrograd. The work was dedicated to Prokofiev’s late friend Maximilian Schmidthof, whose suicide in 1913 had shocked and saddened the composer.
The recital performed by the South Korean pianist Yun Ji Kwak consists of three compositions that in essence capture the history of the piano repertoire from the playful lyricism of Mozart’s Concerto No. 17 through the brilliance and melodic elegance of Chopin’s Andante Spianato et Grand Polonaise Brillante to the reclusiveness of the Prokofiev’s Fourth Sonata. Kwak presents a well-balanced program, in which stylistic variety keeps the listener completely immersed and attentive.
Mozart composed his Concerto in G Major for Piano and Orchestra K. 453 in 1784, the same year he wrote another five piano concertos. Surprisingly, these concertos were not written for the composer’s own performance engagements, but for one of his most beloved students, Barbara Ployer, nicknamed Babette. Being the greatest virtuoso of his own time, Mozart was extremely generous in creating delightful pieces for others and this concerto is no exception. Kwak presents a chamber version of the concerto, accompanied by the string quartet. The reduced texture affords the pianist to highlight constant thematic interactions with the string instruments and creates an intimate and touching version of the work. Her experience as a chamber musician comes to the full force in the finale as she bounces between the delicate accompanying figurations and more soloistic episodes. The recording demonstrates mature interpretation that could be greatly enhanced through broader theatrical gestures to highlight sudden harmonic turns and humorous qualities of Mozart’s music.
Chopin’s Andante Spianato et Grand Polonaise Brillante Op. 22 was originally started in 1830, but it was not until 1834 or 1835 that the composer added the slow introduction as well as a short and triumphant connection linking the two parts together. Thus, both parts of the composition present diametrical contrasts that is evident not only in the use of contrasting keys, G Major and E-flat Major, but also in a complete transformation of the piano’s texture and sound. The lyrical introduction opens with constant arpeggiated motion in the left hand, which serves as a perfect backdrop to the effortless and song-like melody in the right hand. Kwak manages to capture the fluidity of the melody with nuanced phrasing and obvious sensitivity to the harmonic development while keeping it simple and attractive. Her interpretation of the polonaise delivers just the right mixture of the concert bravura in the opening theme with the elegance and refinement of the episodes. She is skillfully able to infuse orchestral timbres into the piano texture for additional exuberance.
Sergei Prokofiev’s Sonata # 4 in C Minor, Op. 29, subtitled “After Old Notebooks,” was composed in 1917 and premiered by the composer in Petrograd. The somber and reminiscent character of the piece serves as a reference to the death of Prokofiev’s friend Maximilian Schmidthof, to whom sonata is dedicated. The abundant use of the low register contributes to the gloomy and reclusive atmosphere of the piece, that creates a startling dissonance with the typically flamboyant qualities of Prokofiev’s music. Kwak’s performance possesses narrative characteristics that fit well with the overall mood of the piece. She is able to calmly but persistently develop the storyline without exaggeration and unnecessary rubato, thus bringing authenticity and clarity to the otherwise extraordinarily complex score.
Yun Ji Kwak studied solo piano and art song interpretation at the University of Music and Performing Arts Stuttgart and Trossingen. She taught at the Jeju National University and is working on her doctoral degree in her home country of South Korea.
Diana Shapiro, DMA, University of Wisconsin-Madison, serves as an Assistant Professor of Piano at the University of Minnesota-Duluth. As part of the Piano Duo Varshavski-Shapiro (www.piano-4-hands.com), she has won numerous international competitions. She regularly presents her research at conferences, adjudicates at competitions, and gives masterclasses across the Midwest.