Sunwook Kim performs Beethoven’s Waldstein and Hammerklavier sonatas

The Waldstein is altogether quite impressive, with its dazzling opening movement thrown off with apparent ease

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4.0 out of 5 star rating 4.0

COMPOSERS: Ludwig van Beethoven
LABELS: Accents
ALBUM TITLE: Beethoven: Piano Sonatas
WORKS: Piano Sonatas Nos 21 & 29
PERFORMER: Sunwook Kim (piano)
CATALOGUE NO: Accentus ACC 303551

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The Waldstein, Op. 53 and Hammerklavier, Op. 106 sonatas mark watersheds in Beethoven’s output of piano music, both of them in their very different ways making unprecedented demands on the player in terms of virtuosity and brilliance. Sunwook Kim, winner of the 2006 Leeds International Piano Competition, has clearly thought long and hard about both pieces, though it has to be said that he’s a good deal more convincing in the glittering atmosphere of the earlier Sonata No. 26 than in the more profound world of No. 29, Hammerklavier. The Waldstein is altogether quite impressive, with its dazzling opening movement thrown off with apparent ease, the slow introduction to the finale admirably sustained, and the controversial blurred pedal effects of the concluding rondo itself intelligently handled.

The Hammerklavier begins promisingly, with a tempo for the opening movement that matches the impetuosity, if not the letter, of Beethoven’s impossibly fast metronome marking. But Kim’s playing in the central development section’s fugal episode is under-characterised, and the music soon loses direction. His account of the miniature scherzo is curiously slow (this time, well below Beethoven’s metronome indication), and its minor-mode middle section lacks mystery. But the major disappointment of his performance is the great slow movement, which is far too impatient to convey the expressive intensity of what is essentially a tragic siciliano of enormous proportions. And while I take my hat off to anyone who can negotiate the notoriously tricky writing of the sonata’s concluding fugue with such clarity, the playing here doesn’t generate much feeling of risk or tension.

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Misha Donat