RACHMANINOV Variations on a Theme of Corelli LISZT Paganini Etudes
Many pianists, I suspect, would envy the long résumé of recital dates, chamber music collaborations and teaching credits mentioned in the biography included with Jooyoung Kim’s Haydn, Rachmaninov and Liszt recital. The back cover gives no information about what sounds like an unusually responsive and vibrant concert grand, except that Christoph Thompson’s production values do the instrument sonic justice, not to mention Kim’s undisputable pianistic poise and warm, focused sonority.
Kim’s interpretative virtues, however, are open to debate. Her literal, faceless account of Haydn’s wonderful two-movement C major Sonata abounds with square, cookie-cutter phrasing and predictably accented down-beats. Her heavy-gaited Presto Rondo reveals neither the lightness, the wit nor the sense of surprise one hears from Brendel, Hamelin and Horowitz.
Likewise, Kim’s control of the Rachmaninov Corelli Variations’ chordal leaps, vertiginous passagework and often gnarly textures cannot be faulted. Yet she often flattens out the music’s contrasts in mood and character, while paying little attention to the harmonic felicities and contrapuntal interest. For example, the second variation’s leggiero writing generally transpires on a uniform level, in contrast to, say, Nareh Arghamanyan’s far more nuanced reading (Pentatone, 10/12). The rhythmic variety and cumulative progression of Vars 5, 6 and 7 are nowhere to be found as Kim pounds these variations out. She dispatches Var 12’s obsessive phrases too uniformly and neutrally to be truly agitato, although the central Intermezzo’s cadenza-like writing at least conveys a modicum of fantasy.
In Liszt’s Paganini Études, Kim revels in No 1’s busy tremolos without paying heed to the long lines that Goran Filipec shapes so imaginatively in his recent recording (Naxos, 6/16). No 2 begins promisingly, yet Kim’s playing grows thicker and blander as the piece progresses. Her prosaic accounts of Nos 3, 4 and 5 come nowhere near the suppleness and characterful spark generated by Hamelin, Trifonov or, best of all, the underrated George-Emmanuel Lazaridis (Linn, 10/06). But who wrote the excellent booklet notes? No one seems to be credited.