Monday, 29 April 2013


Esplanade Recital Studio
Friday (26 April 2013)

This review was published in The Straits Times on 29 April 2013 with the title "Chopin with sympathy and authority".

Frederic Chopin (1810-1849) is one composer whose piano music is varied and absorbing enough to sustain an entire recital. When performed with both sympathy and authority, it makes a rewarding proposition. Such was the case with Korean pianist Jinho Kim, presently an artist-in-residence at the LaSalle College of the Arts. Kim may be considered a Chopin specialist, having been the only person to have performed both Chopin’s piano concertos at Esplanade in a single concert.

Tickets for his all-Chopin recital were “sold out” and people had to be turned away at the box office. Yet there remained significant gaping lacunae in the seats, a public relations faux pas on the part of event management and no-show patrons, which was only mitigated by the quality of the playing. Kim showed that Chopin’s music was full-blooded, not effete or sickly.

Both dramatic and declamatory, the opening bars of the Second Sonata in B flat minor (Op.35), marked Grave, demonstrated on the outset he had something urgent to say about the music. The life and death struggles were brought out trenchantly, and the repeat which rightly included those vital bars upped the ante for the movement’s tumultuous development.

There was no relenting in the equally belligerent Scherzo, and even some notes were missed here and there, it was forgivable during the heat of the moment. The eponymous Funeral March was a dignified procession, the central cantabile being a brief oasis of repose. The whirlwind Presto finale, played with a remarkable evenness, was a chilling portrayal of the afterlife – an unforgiving terminal void. Little wonder the genteel Mendelssohn was so sickened by this work.

Chopin by Eugene Delacroix

The shorter works between the big sonatas were very well chosen. The Nocturne in D flat major (Op.27 No.2), beautifully gilded, evinced genuine warmth and nostalgia. The Second Scherzo in B flat minor (Op.31) closed the first half on a coruscating high despite the split note at the end. The three Mazurkas that opened the second half were totally satisfying, the gentle lilt in triple time being a potent reminder of Chopin’s Polish nationalism.

Concluding with the less frenzied Third Sonata in B minor (Op.58), Kim brought out a patrician, more restrained view of a classic. His sense of proportion was unerring in the substantial first movement, omitting the exposition repeat being a good choice on the occasion. The etude-like Scherzo could have sparkled a little more, but it was the expansive slow movement and its painstaking build-up that evoked the greatest pathos.

The rollicking finale that followed rode on waves of seemingly unlimited reserves, each statement of the resolutely striding theme arriving inexorably and with greater finality. After its brilliant end, Kim asked the audience, “Shall I play some Rachmaninov?” His view of the Elegie in E flat minor (Op.3 No.1) had an elegant and brooding melancholy that was hard to resist. The Russian Rachmaninov could be the subject of his next recital. So what about it?

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