CHOPIN Complete Preludes
Comparisons may be invidious, but they seem inescapable for two new sets of Chopin Preludes by Dong-Hyek Lim and Yundi. At 33, Yundi is much the better known and more recorded, while the 31-year-old Lim is a relative newcomer. Their two recordings provide a glimpse of contemporary Chopin interpretation in microcosm.
Yundi’s Preludes are vividly contrasted and convey an exhilarating sweep. One can imagine, for instance, that several successive pieces were captured in a single take, without pause. The bubbling, insouciantly rhythmical No 5 (D major) is followed by a satisfyingly subdued No 6 (B minor). The barcarolle-like No 13 (F sharp major) is pleasantly lyrical. No 16 (B flat minor), on the other hand, impresses more as a technical feat than as an expressive study, while an agitated No 22 (G minor) devolves into a rage so over-pedalled that the musical contours blur. The overall impression is of long-fixed interpretations that, in their indebtedness to received wisdom, never fail to dutifully demonstrate the obvious.
If Yundi’s readings are short on poetry, that is precisely the quality that Lim’s performances offer in abundance. His approach might best be described as close reading: Chopin’s markings are observed to the letter, including impeccable phrasing that lives and breathes. Unrushed tempi and sparse pedalling reveal a wealth of detail. Rhetorically, Lim does not hesitate to separate the hands for expressive emphasis and an extraordinarily wide dynamic spectrum imbues his cantabile playing with rare eloquence. Hypersensitivity to the harmonies of the gloomy No 2 (A minor) describe a contour that ultimately collapses in defeat. The tiny No 7 (A major) is a gem of understated plenitude. Lim’s inerrant sense of pacing is particularly evident in the ‘Raindrop’ Prelude, No 15 (D flat), where the relentless A flat becomes the signal pulse of psychological terror before subsiding, and No 16 (B flat minor) has the searing intensity of a mind unhinged. A noble cantabile wafts over the spacious No 17 (A flat major), with a hushed sotto voce section creating magical contrast. The impassioned No 24 (D minor) is free of laborious brute force, deriving its power from the insistent melodic declamatory arc above textures of utmost clarity.
A youthfully fresh set of Variations on ‘Je vends des scapulaires’, a Barcarolle that ardently sings over calm waters reflecting the exquisite play of light between sun and sky, and an effortless, gossamer Berceuse, among the most beautiful I’ve heard, round out this splendid recording. But Lim’s Preludes alone are worth the purchase price. They speak from the heart, comparing favourably with such recent interpretations as Trifonov’s (DG, 12/13) and sitting alongside classic accounts by Argerich, Rubinstein and Cortot without apology.