Soyeon Lee


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E1 Entertainment's (formerly known as Koch) Re!nvented is the debut disc on that label of Korean pianist Soyeon Lee, who combines her passion for music-making with a zeal for issues related to the environment. Even as Lee is looking to expand her musical footprint through recording, she is just as concerned to reduce the carbon footprint of her product by making it out of recycled non-recyclable materials. Yes, you heard right -- the CD case consists of 99% recycled Frito-Lay chip bags, not normally recyclable but now being collected under the aegis of a program funded by Frito-Lay to retrieve them. The case is manufactured by a company called TerraCycle and, apart from the thin plastic slip containing the tracklisting, an attached booklet, a thin foil strip to join the two boards together, and a sort of a foam nipple to hold onto the disc, the case is the package.

Of course, no matter how interesting a package is, it won't mean anything if what's inside isn't worth its salt, and the good news is that this aspect of Re!nvented is certainly as strong as it needs to be. Lee has chosen a program that, at least in part, reflects her interest in musical reinvention; her interpretation of Ferruccio Busoni's Chaconne in D minor after J.S. Bach does not treat this transcription as a vehicle through which a concert pianist can access Bach's most famous violin work, but she appreciates the part of it that's Busoni; it's doublings, hammering chords, arpeggios, and Mephistophelian portentousness. Lee likes the big statement, but tempers it with good storytelling; Ravel's La valse emerges out of the depths of mystery and builds through a series of ecstatic climaxes, and the Albéniz pieces are put forth with a lovely sense of ebb and flow. Clearly Lee is looking out for the narrative in each piece and concentrating on trying to impart it as well as she can. One might not think Prokofiev's portentously abstract Sonata No. 7 in B flat minor, Op. 83, as "narrative," but Lee gets to the bottom of that; her projection of the Andante calaroso is particularly affecting. One might like a little more "bang" out of the piano in the famous Precipitato movement, although Lee's tempo is extremely regular at a brisk pace in this difficult piece and the dynamics as marked well-adhered to. Chinese composer Huang Ruo's Divergence is a piece that has plenty of bang, at least in its beginning; not all will be pleased with the composer's own Chinese opera-styled vocal that goes along with Lee's accompaniment, but the kids might get a kick out of it.

Memory takes one back to an LP released by the British group the Durutti Column in the early '80s that arrived in a jacket with a thin layer of sand coating the outside. One rakish friend -- who did not like the album -- suggested that the sand was included in order to rub the grooves off the surface of the record. Indeed, the sand was deleterious to the vinyl, stray grains seeping off and making their way to the surface of the disc, wreaking havoc thereon. While Lee's CD cover is interesting visually owing to its impasto quality -- no two copies are the same -- one wonders that in time this rough surface might not serve so well for storing the disc, especially with wear and the possibility that some of this building material might come loose. That is the kind of risk one takes with such inventiveness, and with Re!nvented Lee has established herself as a risk taker of the first order.

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