Dong Hyek Lim plays Chopin

'He doesn't waste energy trying to find novel approaches - he just lets the music speak, exercising restraint where other young pianists take showy liberties'

Our rating 
5.0 out of 5 star rating 5.0

COMPOSERS: Chopin
LABELS: Warner
ALBUM TITLE: Chopin
WORKS: 24 Preludes; Barcarolle; Berceuse; Variations brillantes on ‘Je vends des scapulaires’
PERFORMER: Dong Hyek Lim (piano)
CATALOGUE NO: 2564606888

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This 31-year-old South Korean pianist has made a glittering career on the competition circuit, including an unprecedented refusal to accept third prize – on the grounds of ‘unfair judging’ – at the Queen Elisabeth Competition in Brussels in 2003. But all thoughts of inflated self-worth are banished by this outstanding new CD. Wisely choosing an unfamiliar entry into very familiar terrain, Dong Hyek Lim begins with the Variations brillantes, Op. 12 which Chopin composed to entertain his Parisian audiences a year after he had composed his much more substantial Op. 9 Nocturnes and his first set of Etudes.

As Jeremy Siepmann rightly observes in his excellent liner-note, this work is mere ‘high-class dross’, but what Lim does with it is highly engaging. It’s a showpiece, and Lim plays it like that, with exceptionally clean articulation in the flashes of virtuosity, and elegance in the lyricism. Each of the Preludes is vividly characterised, with Lim running the gamut between dark turbulence and pastoral tranquillity with absolute assurance. He doesn’t waste energy trying to find novel approaches – he just lets the music speak, exercising restraint where other young pianists take showy liberties; I’ve seldom heard the Raindrop Prelude rendered with such persuasive grace, nor the contrasting near-and-far bells at the end of No. 17 tolling so charmingly. But his playing is full-blooded, and when Chopin asks for the impression of a sudden gust of wind, that is what Lim conjures up. The Berceuse is a delight, with the right hand giving a ravishing display of pianissimo pyrotechnics; the Barcarolle is masterly.

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Michael Church