Pianist Hae Sun Paik's Washington solo recital debut Sunday afternoon at the Phillips Collection was an interesting exercise in contrasts. Paik, the 1989 University of Maryland-William Kapell Piano Competition winner, is a lucid, technically secure player with power and finesse. The bulk of her recital, however, was anything but the cool, precise music one might expect from such a player. Instead, she chose some of the wildest stuff in the repertory and succeeded brilliantly in making it tight, accurate and vital.
Beethoven's Sonata in A, Op. 101, is a work that still sounds more like a laboratory for musical ideas than a sonata. Paik took the piece's rich, loose texture and made it dramatic and clean. She managed this in the Beethoven, as well as in selections from Book II of Debussy's "Images" and in Scriabin's truly loony but wonderful Fifth Sonata, by always keeping the rhythmic impulse intact. No matter how complex the musical texture, Paik always had control of the beat. A strong sense of musical color also helped Paik keep things clear. Themes and melodies were always well voiced, and she often drew a slightly different sound to underline a different musical idea.
Paik closed with strong performances of the Bartok Sonata and Liszt's "Rigoletto Paraphrase." Like the Beethoven, these works were adventuresome, intelligent choices from a pianist worth keeping an eye on.