Paik saves best for last in uneven Ravel survey

PUBLISHED : Monday, 13 February, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 13 February, 2012, 12:00am


Kun Woo Paik plays Ravel
Hong Kong Arts Festival
Cultural Centre Concert Hall
February 11

It took two intervals and the best part of three hours for Kun Woo Paik's survey of Ravel's works for solo piano, a rare opportunity to hear limpid miniatures lining up with ferocious giants to justify their inclusion in the spotlight. The programme was neatly compiled, reserving meatier works to conclude each of the three sets, of which the last was a cut above the others in terms of musicality.

Surprisingly, it was the final set's short opener, Pavane pour une infante defunte, that touched the most satisfying spot of the evening, co-ordinating colour, elasticity of line and subtlety of balance. Sonatine followed, similarly liberated from the metronome yet secure in poise and charm. Miroirs, Ravel's five ostensibly random snapshots of life, brought the programme to a close, with Paik displaying an authority of eye and ear for the work's imagery, from the whimsical moths in Noctuelles to the moody swagger of Alborado del gracioso, yet not so authoritative as to justify the self-indulgent pose he maintained over the final chord of La vallee des cloches.

The preceding items were hardly benchmark interpretations, offering limited tonal variety and often fixating solely on the melody at the expense of the details underneath. The Valses nobles et sentimentales were devoid of any lilt, while much of Le tombeau de Couperin was too impetuous to reflect its baroque roots.

Meeting the formidable technical challenges of Gaspard de la nuit is one thing; painting the imagery on top is the double whammy. While Paik drew a good deal of the mermaid's charms in Ondine, the mercurial malevolence of the goblin in Scarbo was less well-realised, leading to a climax that was more of a splashy bang than a well-crafted high point.