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at the Van Cliburn Competition,

JONG HWA PARK (Korea), age 26

Jong Hwa Park

To say that Jong Hwa Park, the brother of Jong Gyung who was the first to perform, is a somewhat maturer pianist than his younger sister would be an understatement. Of course, that is not saying very much, as his ghastly performance of the Liszt Sonata proved amply enough, but at least it's a start. The sexist remarks that the Fort Worth Star Telegram reported have often been used to describe them -- namely, that Jong is fiery and brilliant , while his sister is poetic, sensitive and seductive -- are not necessarily incorrect, but just silly, as these lofty attributes apply to neither of them. Poetry and sensitivity are certainly as far from the sensibilities of these two pianists as you can get, while any discernible brilliance is of the most superficial, rather than intellectual variety. Unlike Ms Park, whose ill-informed Haydn playing made a travesty of period style, Jong Hwa demonstrated, in the same composer's brief D major Sonata, considerable charm and a firm grasp of its innumerable complexes of articulation.

As a Messiaen interpreter, Mr Park is only occassionally persuasive. His principal interest in the music is the opportunity it affords him to show off, thus ignoring the fact that the point of view that informs the work developed from precisely the opposite attitude. Aside from persistently confusing rhythm for meter, nothing of Messiaen's' Catholicism and wholly spiritual perspective is immanent in Mr Park's playing. While it is easy to admire his seriousness of purpose in his survey of this repertoire, he would be well advised to take a closer look at the score and Messiaen's abundantly specific instructions, especially with regard to dynamics. A
fortissimo for Mr Park, unfortunately, becomes an occasion for dynamic stasis; he fails to exploit the interior registration of a chord, for example, which only attenuates tension in the context of a repetition, such as the climax of Premier Communion de la Vierge. Thus, in lieu of a crescendo, here and elsewhere, Mr Park simply pounds things out with a kind of merciless dispatch, seeing fit to reside within a single, opaque dynamic without change. This basic misunderstanding additionally compromises his reading of Regard de l'Esprit du Joie; as Mr Park played it -- with a kind of military pugilism as he punched out ruthlessly each of
its radiant chordal sequences -- joy had absolutely nothing to do with it. In this repertoire, Mr Park would be well advised to listen to Yvonne Loriod, whose definitive reading of Vingt Regards has never been equaled; and to Hakon Austbo, a Messiaen protege and an exemplary interpreter whose recording for Naxos, while very good (though acoustically compromised) fails to match his live performances.

Whoever advised Mr Park to play the Liszt Sonata gave him very bad advice. This is hardly a work, given its enormous complexities and spiritual provenance that even remotely suits him. Though he nailed down every note, he is not sufficiently mature to engage its rich world of noble sentiments, tenuous regrets, dramatic proclamations, and now demonic, now angelic flights of imagination. He has yet to come to grips with the sonata's architecture and litany of long lines which emerge endlessly, one from the other, as a measure of the dance of motivic transformation that informs them. Like his sister, Mr Park knows absolutely nothing about bel canto, the sine qua non of Liszt playing; evidently no one has ever elaborated this work for him, or explained that its operatic dimensions demand an interpreter intimately familiar with the proclivities of the human voice, with breath and resonance, and with dramatic contrasts. Instead, Mr Park's brutish, workaday and thoroughly undifferentiated reading, which never availed itself of a dynamic below forte, was stillborn form the opening. Failing to understand or convey anything of the philosophy behind the notes, his performance was consistently stiff, hard and frankly arrhythmic. What's more, his tone, so shallow and ugly, compromised even the possibility of legato, which for him is nonexistent. Even in the rhetorical and sometimes epigrammatic strands of the works middle section, Mr Park ignored every crescendo and decrescendo, equalizing every note with the juvenile, careless detachment of an assembly line robot. Witness how callously he plays the conclusion of the middle section, just before the introduction of the fugue. To the heartbreaking intimacies that Liszt voices so poignantly in the ascending and then descending scales, Mr Park brings a sledgehammer, bludgeoning them with the heavy hand of a human metronome, assassinating inflection altogether. His playing is so awful in these few measures, which form the very heart of the piece, as to create a metaphor for his performance of the entire work. As he pounded and banged his way through the coda (just as he did in the magniloquent chorus of the middle section) , Mr Park betrayed just how little he knows of Neuhaus's sage advice pertaining to voicing and the balancing of chords; for Mr Park, just applying as much pressure as possible at every available opportunity is enough to get the job done. The pianissimos that Liszt so meticulously notates at the conclusion of the work, surrounded and enhanced by silences (which is where one finds the music) became, in Mr Park's hands, nothing more than harsh mezzo fortes oblivious to inflection.


Copyright © 31 May 2001 John Bell Young, Tampa, Florida, USA


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