Visiting often and living for enough time per year in Korea, I noticed recently the emergence of one very new and one rather more "seasoned" talented pianists to create some sort of history, the former in the local market and the latter more globally.
The new "recording music icon", as the Korean media labelled him, is the 21-year-old Cho Seong-jin, who won the most prestigious Piano award this year, the highest honour of the 17th International Chopin Piano Competition (held in Warsaw, last month). The very young Cho is the first Korean, who wins this very reputable award, and, inevitably, the media, the market and even the state took him at a level quite unique for the Korean standards: a) The state bestowed upon him the country's highest honour for young artists and b) he achieved a unique place in the recording market: his first CD, released globally on Nov.6, sold 40,000 copies in Korea, in just four days (out of the initial 50,000 stock), becoming the first ever classical CD to rise to No.1 on the all-genre local chart. The main features in his disc are Chopin's Preludes and the Second Piano Sonata in B flat minor (on DG).
The other pianist is the 10 years older Lim Dong-hyek, who attracted quite favourably the attention of the Editor of this esteemed publication, this month, with -what else- another Chopin disc (on Warner), featuring -what else- the Preludes!.. Incidentally, Pianist Lim has won the third prize of the Chopin Competition in 2005 along with his brother Lim Dong-min.
Lim Dong-hyek is by now a rather established name with some discs already in the market, mostly on Chopin and an above average Goldberg Variations one (mostly on the defunct EMI). There is also a fine disc, on DG, with works for Violin and Piano by Schubert with another talented but not that "famous" (even locally) violinist, Mrs. Kim Suyoen.
As far as I am concerned, I am not impressed by the overall performances of the Korean musicians, particularly when you can judge them in live concerts. In this vein, these two new discs of Chopin's Preludes are fine, in many ways, but they do not thrill me, particulalry when the recording field is saturated with all kind of great interpretations of more profundity, mature style and emotional depth.
Having seen how many heralded as "great", "superb" etc. classical musicians here come and go so quickly, while a considerable number of them never manage to see the limelight, I wonder whether these two young bright pianists are going to stay and create a legacy as the very few compatriots have managed so far (the truly great violinist Chung Kyung-wha, her brother conductor Chung Myung-whun -but with some controversy as for his ways as Musical Director of the Seoul P.O.-, the violinist Sarah Chang (but only at her early stages of her career), cellist Chang Han-na (likewise) and, to some extent, cellist Yang Sung-won)...or they will become some sort of another shooting stars. Time will tell...In the meantime, our best wishes may accompany them.