Music / “Theme & Variations Recital” CIMF. At Drill Hall Gallery, April 27. Reviewed by ROB KENNEDY.

DEDICATED to assisting exceptionally talented young Australian pianists to reach their potential, the Theme & Variations Foundation recital showcased an outstanding talent in this concert.

With the help of the foundation, pianist Tony Lee was able to pursue his studies in Europe. Then in 2016, Lee won the Australian National Piano Award and was named best Australian pianist at the 11th Sydney International Piano Competition.

Performing in the Drill Hall Gallery on an amazing, refurbished 1884 Bechstein grand piano, Lee opened with the “Sonata in A Major” D959, by Franz Schubert.

Straight into it, without sheet music, Lee began his recital. This sonata is a powerful and lyrical work.

Lee exudes confidence at the keyboard. It comes through in the quality of the music he creates. The Bechstein had a room-filling symphonic sound. When required, Lee pushed it, and it produced.

There was quite a difference between his left- and right-hand dynamics in the slower, more gentle sections. It was clearly on purpose to bring out the singing quality in the treble range.

His soft passages were well thought out and perfectly timed. With his eyes shut for most of the slow movement, it was like a listener could see the music running through his head.

The last movement crossed a lot of musical territory. The lyricism never ceased. The sensitive handling of the music from the very first note right up until the last remained clear and strong. A commanding performance.

Three movements from “The Firebird” by Stravinsky followed. Immediately breathing fire, bouncing across many notes in an awesome display of virtuosity, Lee attacked the music. Again, all from memory, his display and feel for this dynamic, fast-paced, loud dance music captured everyone’s

Deeply dark in places, “The Firebird” is like few other pieces. Every orchestral instrument could be heard in this piano rendition. To say it contains a bit of everything is not an overstatement.

What a performance! At the end, I heard many wows coming from the audience.

Feature image: CIMF 2023. Tony Lee Recital at the Drill Hall Gallery. Photo: Peter Hislop

This review was originally written and published by ROB KENNEDY from CityNews on 27 April 2023.