BRAHMS Piano Sonata No 3 FRANCK Prélude, Choral et Fugue
It is a rare thing indeed for a young pianist, fresh from a victory at one of the world’s major competitions, to resist the blandishments of management, producers and well-wishers to record a solo disc. But that is what Sunwook Kim, the now 28-year-old first-place winner of the 2006 Leeds, has done. Until last summer, that is, when he recorded two in Berlin: one of Beethoven sonatas (1/16) and the present disc of Brahms and Franck.
Kim’s deep feelings for Franck are obvious in the breadth and emotional resonance he brings to the Prelude, Chorale and Fugue. The fluttering figurations of the Prelude speak with a delicate poignancy and the Fugue blossoms into that ecstatic exaltation so characteristic of Franck. It faces some stiff competition, however, since the 2010 account by Bertrand Chamayou is likely to hold the field for the foreseeable future.
Facing the manifold challenges of one of the most unpianistic of sonatas, Brahms’s F minor, Kim is justifiably more circumspect. Especially striking is the pristine clarity he invests in the score’s often murky textures. Kim’s lean sound is especially welcome in the opening movement, where it helps activate the forward thrust of the musical argument. Things become a bit waylaid in the Andante, however, with its over-abundance of sentiment, veering perilously close to preciousness. The energy of the Scherzo provides bracing contrast, though its flight is occasionally tethered by a heavy, undifferentiated bass. The brief Intermezzo prepares a truly impressive finale. Kim delineates the proliferation of thematic material with aplomb, pulls off a galvanising fugato and achieves a wonderful orchestral heft in the lonely cadential chords that end the piece. This may not be the last word in the Brahms F minor but there can be little doubt that Kim will be back to share with us his evolving love of this fantastically challenging music.