Eight years ago, prodigy pianist Shuan Hern Lee ran on stage at the Concert Hall with flowers for Argentine star Ingrid Fliter after her dazzling rendition of Chopin’s Second Piano Concerto.
On Monday the bouquets were all for Lee as he followed his now-mentor to deliver both the concerto and Ballade No. 4 in a fluent and mature display for Musica Viva’s last big-venue recital of 2021.
The gentlest of touches opened the ballade; sparkling melody and warm chords, first major then minor, permeating the hall like a delicate fragrance, reflective and resonant.
Lee made every note eloquent in colour and meaning, giving each phrase its own weight and gravity; meditation rolling seamlessly into melodrama and back.
Echoes of other Chopin favourites drifted in and out, but Lee held the distinct form of this late work to the final fatalistic flourishes.
The ballade was a genre Chopin developed much as Haydn did the string quartet, injecting the mutual ebb and flow we now expect; a shared experience the Sartory Quartet brought to the C Major Quartet Opus 20, No.2.
Leader Paul Wright promised and delivered a clarity of tone with an underlying energy free of haste or hustle, making time for the music with liberal pauses and rubato, an apt foil for the ballade.
The Capriccio second movement led dramatically into Sophie Curtis’s cello solo picked up in the ensemble yet never quite settling into classical lines; a sense of mystery in all parts, but also majesty in the second theme as violin rode waves of arpeggios and chords.
Dance rhythms of the Minuet broke from the inner focus of the Capriccio, adding a hint of folkloric festivity before the Fugue finale unleashed busy melodic lines passing from Wright to violist Kathy Potter, violinist Pascale Whiting and Curtis’s cello, energy and expression ever present but never overwrought; four voices united in hedonistic harmony.
A reset under blue light cooled the mood for Lee’s return, adding bassist Andrew Sinclair to the mix in a chamber setting of the concerto.
Sonorous violin opened the Maestoso first movement, viola-cello-bass filling out the orchestral accompaniment to usher in Lee’s first dramatic entry; a deft balance of dynamics delivered from behind the ensemble bringing the brilliance in tone and technique this early work demands.
Lee’s fluid runs and melodic phrases were lucid and limpid, effortlessly rising and falling with the drama to the last tutti sequence.
Dark fantasy led in the Maestoso second stanza across piano and strings, the poignant beauty of extended trills holding the hall as if trapped atop a waterfall before cascading down range then recovering in deep currents with mysterious undertows; bass the hand of fate in the background.
A beguiling languor in the cadence broke lithely into the Allegro vivace finale, piano running ahead of the quintet who answered with crisp phrasing to underpin the vitality of Lee’s solo.
Percussive col legno – wood on strings – and pizzicato greeted the second theme as ethereal rivulets of sound spun out of the Steinway, diving into drama then rising again in flight.
Accompanying such a virtuoso piece requires intense concentration, especially in a small group without conductor.
Yet an easy collaboration seemed to run through; the return of the first theme like a class reunion and the “horn” fanfare delivered on Potter’s viola a natural evolution; with the last tempestuous flourish and canter to the line a solo piano triumph.
Musica Viva’s final offering for 2021 is on November 29, with soprano Rachelle Durkin and guitarist Jonathan Paget at Cullen’s Winery in Margaret River. www.musicaviva.com.au.