Ke Lin – Recital

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Published: 20th November, 2018

Sometimes the most rewarding concert experiences can be found outside the confines of Melbourne’s Southbank Arts precinct – at any of our many rural arts festivals or indeed at any of the smaller suburban venues throughout Melbourne run by various music clubs and societies. These are often organised by enthusiastic volunteers with no other aim than to provide quality Classical music at affordable prices to local communities.  

One such concert highlight of 2018 was heard at Camberwell Uniting Church on Saturday night when Sydney-based pianist Ke Lin presented a program centred around the theme of ‘’moonlight’’ to a capacity audience for the Camberwell Music Society. Lin has garnered many prizes in national competitions around the country and performed with many of our best symphony orchestras. He has performed extensively internationally and his most recent CD features the music of Melbourne composer Julian Yu whose piano concerto on Chinese themes Lin premiered recently in Beijing. While his profile may be low, the quality of Lin’s playing marks him as one of Australia’s leading pianists and he has developed a loyal fan base at this particular music society for whom this was his seventh recital. 

Lin opened unsurprisingly with Debussy’s evergreen Claire de Lune – a work that has so entered popular consciousness it regularly features in episodes of The Simpsons. This was an unhurried and carefully nuanced reading that eschewed any traces of sentimentality. Lin brought to the fore unexpected imitative tenor-line interest, casting a very familiar work afresh. 

Then followed Scriabin’s demanding Fantasie in B minor – surely the work Chopin would have written had he lived ten years more, and fallen under the spell of Richard Wagner. The Fantasie is Scriabin’s largest single movement essay and its dense expansive textures are such that three hands are seemingly needed to negotiate their expressively imitative, contrapuntal lines. Yet Lin did this with apparent ease, constructing climaxes with inexorable surety. The work’s ardent lyricism was highlighted rather than its mere virtuosity as Lin’s hands traversed the full range of the keyboard culminating in a triumphant major key coda that left the listener sated yet also enervated.

A clutch of Debussy Préludes that included the Spanish Alhambra-inspired La Puerta del Vino and Feux d-artifice – a work that evokes the spectacular brilliance of France’s Bastille Day firework celebrations – revealed the extent of Lin’s diverse tonal palette. But it was the nuanced delicacy of La terrace des audiences du clair de lune that most tellingly displayed his command of line, pace and colour. Gloriously spacious and shaded with delicately nuanced finesse this was an unanticipated highlight of the evening.

The most interesting aspect of the recital were the Variations on a theme of Paganini by Canadian super-virtuoso pianist Marc-André Hamelin. Composed in 2011, these can’t have been performed in Australia many times and it was good to hear them for the first time performed so expertly. Paganini’s Caprice No 24 has inspired innumerable composers, for its harmonic simplicity especially lends itself to the variation form and Hamelin’s version ranks among the best. It is a deftly crafted work, though certainly not for the faint of heart due to its sheer difficulty. Highly chromatic and energetic, its appeal lies in the diversity of its compositional influences and keyboard textures. Something of a pastiche, one can hear traces of Beethoven and Liszt here, hints of Rachmaninoff and Chopin there. The variation that alludes to Chopin’s masterful Barcarolle carries the performance direction ‘but play as if the canal were rat-infested’ giving something of an idea of the wry humour that underpins this ten-minute musical extravaganza. Lin negotiated the many difficulties of this transfixing work with deceptive ease, gliding seamlessly from one style to another. 

Naturally Lin closed the recital with Beethoven’s ‘’Moonlight Sonata’’ – the epithet is not the composer’s – which in the wrong hands can easily outstay its welcome. But this is a revolutionary work, structurally novel, and Lin revealed why it deserves to remain so beloved. He tellingly revealed the lyrical poignancy of the opening slow movement, perfectly captured the graceful lilt of the ensuing Minuet, and with uncommon articulatory clarity, persuasively unveiled the dramatic sweep of the finale. 

I recently reviewed Chinese pianist Yundi Li’s Chopin Concerto performance in Brisbane and noted the presence of large video screens either side of the orchestra that projected close-up images of Li’s hands and face. I can’t help but think that this is an innovation that professional orchestras should pursue in order to engage audiences more, especially in larger venues where only those in prohibitively expensive front row and centre seats can experience non-amplified music as intimately as it deserves to be heard. Without the benefit of raked seating, patrons’ sight-lines are too easily obstructed, even in small venues. CMS is to be applauded for leading the pack in adopting this innovation, installing a single elevated large screen to the right side of the pianist, providing a close-up projection of both the keyboard and of Lin’s expressive hand movements. The entire concert experience was all the more enjoyable for this, and seemed not to perturb the artist in any way. 

This recital was for me unquestionably one of the hidden gems of the 2018 concert season. One hopes that other organizations will seek to engage Lin whether as concerto soloist, recitalist or chamber musician. His uncommonly refined musicianship held the listener’s attention from first not to last and I eagerly await his next appearance.