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Michael Bailey
Blogcritics, May 2007

Naxos’ most recent pianist tapped to the projected 35-Volume Complete Keyboard Sonatas by Domenico Scarlatti is the talented Soyeon Lee. After having lauded the volumes by Jeno Jando, Evgeny Zarafiants and Konstantin Scherbakov, and the fact the Slavic pianists have a sensitive affinity for Scarlatti, I must note that the young Korean Soyeon Lee blasts in from the outer regions to debut on the label with the Scarlatti Complete Keyboard Sonatas, Vol. 8. To consider this recording auspicious is a British understatement.

The best global description of Lee’s Scarlatti is balance. The sonic atomic and subatomic structure of her playing is in perfect harmony. Her pianism is exactly that. Those who look for the 1955-Glenn-Gould harpsichord effect on the piano need to look elsewhere. Soyeon Lee turns in a relaxed and perfectly comfortable piano performance of a demanding and unforgiving repertoire. Graceful.

Lee is not in the least bit shy in her playing or her choice of Sonatas, having gleaned five from the songbook of Vladimir Horowitz. Outstanding among the five is the F Minor Sonata, "K. 466", marked andante. This minor key composition has perhaps its only peer in the Scarlatti corpus in the E Minor Sonata, "K.402" in both its charm and pathos. Lee brilliantly juxtaposes the elegantly paced and ornate F Minor Sonata against the galloping B flat Major Sonata, "K. 441" which sounds so modern and universal to have been composed between Louis Moreau Gottschalk and Scott Joplin.

Lee makes the D Major Sonata, "K. 96" sing with her musicality and unerring sense of balance. She sports an aggressive left hand as did Horowitz with greater tonal modulation in repeats. The same may be said for the A flat Major Sonata, "K. 127", with a more balanced left hand than Horowitz resulting still in a muscular performance of the piece with more vivid tonal pastels and striking tonal primary colors. Everything about this fine disc endorses it for many pleasant listenings.

At the time of this recording, Soyeon Lee was a 26-year-old piano powerhouse with a bevy of bona fides under her belt. Juilliard educated, having studying with Jerome Lowenthal and Robert McDonald. Lee gathered top prizes at the Concert Artists Guild International Competition, Cleveland International Piano Competition, and the Paloma O’Shea Santander International Piano Competition. In 2004 the pianist made her Lincoln Center recital début at Alice Tully Hall as the Juilliard School’s prestigious William Petschek Piano Début Award winner. While at Juilliard, Lee won the Rachmaninoff Concerto Competition as well as two consecutive Gina Bachauer Scholarship Competitions, and was awarded the Helen Fay Prize, Arthur Rubinstein Prize, and the Susan Rose Career Grant.

Patrick C. Waller
MusicWeb International, March 2007

Unless caught up by a project not yet begun, this will be the first complete Scarlatti sonata series on the piano. But don’t hold your breath because it is perhaps about a quarter complete and it certainly started before the turn of the millennium. After volume 7, the voyage had apparently been becalmed for a couple of years although the Naxos website has recently contained news of two further recordings which are now on the way. As with previous issues, there is a different pianist for each disc. Sensibly, the better known works are being shared out and here Soyeon Lee, the Korean born prize winner of the 2004 Concert Artists Guild competition has four at her disposal – Kk numbers, 87, 96, 420 and 466. Kk96 is one of the best known of all and has been recorded by both Horowitz and Pletnev.

The disc begins with a couple of much more obscure sonatas which set a fairly relaxed tone. Kk420 has a martial opening theme which is perhaps a little understated, certainly there is nothing showy about Lee’s playing. K466 is a haunting piece which is taken slowly but the result is well-justified. Sensible programming gives us a light airy work before another example of deeper inspiration from Scarlatti – Kk87. Here the pianist’s rock-steady pace and singing tone are both essential assets.

Kk96 follows – the centrepiece of the recital. If Lee’s rendition is not a striking as either of the great Russian’s alluded to above, comparisons are not entirely to her disadvantage. In Scarlatti, being less distinctive is not necessarily a bad thing and it is hard not admire playing as supple and musical at this. The rest of the programme takes us into the by ways of the oeuvre but these are as good a reason as any for dipping into this series. Worth a particular mention is Kk127 which has an ever changing mood and is set in the rare key of A flat. The disc concludes full circle in the key of A but is one of the composer’s more exuberant creations.

Soyeon Lee is clearly a rising star. This playing is effortless and she invariably seems to catch the most apposite of this composer’s many moods. I’d rather like to hear more of her Scarlatti (and perhaps some Bach) so perhaps there could be some flexibility in respect of future issues? That said, I do have some doubts about the Naxos Scarlatti series as an entity and would regard it as likely to remain something to be dipped into. Of the previous issues, Benjamin Frith in volume 5 is the most persuasive I have heard but Soyeon Lee at least matches him. Indeed this is on a par with another Russian – Yevgeny Sudbin – whose 2005 BIS recital was a very fine achievement.

The recording is worth a special mention – well up to the high standard Norbert Kraft has previously set on various discs for this label. The documentation is also decent and the only thing that feels cheap about this disc is the price.

Jed Distler, March 2007

And Naxos keeps pulling young keyboard comers out of the woodwork. The label’s eighth Scarlatti sonata volume showcases Soyeon Lee, who won Concert Artist Guild’s 2004 International Competition as well as the Cleveland International Piano Competition. As a Scarlatti player…there’s much to enjoy, such as K. 441’s upbeat delivery and terraced dynamics on echoed phrases, trills that strut their stuff in the oft-played D major K. 96, and a beautifully spun rendition of the delicate K. 485. All in all, the best of what Lee offers here certainly makes me want to check out more of her work, either on disc or in concert.

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