Andante spianato and Grande Polonaise Brillante, Op.22
Fantasy on Polish Airs, Op.13
Piano Concerto No.1 in E minor, Op.11
Piano Concerto No 2 in F minor, Op.21
Variations on Là ci darem la mano, Op.2
Kun-Woo Paik (piano)
Warsaw Philharmonic Orchestra
Recorded 7-12 June 2003 in Philharmonic Hall, Warsaw
Reviewed by: Rob Pennock
Reviewed: April 2006
CD No: DECCA 475 169-2
Duration: 2 hours 21 minutes
Kun-Woo Paik was born in Seoul in 1946 and has been touring the world and recording for – amongst others – Dante, Naxos and Virgin Classics. His repertoire is wide with a leaning towards the French and Russian schools and he now has a contract with Decca: his set of middle-period Beethoven sonatas [Decca 475 6909, 3 CDs] contains some thought-provoking performances and a barnstorming ‘Appassionata’. Likewise, in recording Chopin’s concertante music Paik is inviting comparison with most of the big recorded names of the 20th-century – but, after listening to these discs on several occasions, he has little to fear from such comparisons.
In the Andante spianato (a piano solo) the tone is sweet, the phrasing relaxed and limpid, the rubato refined, and there are small tempo and dynamic variations. Thankfully this is about as far from modern soulless interpretation as it is going to get. The Polonaise is taken at a moderate tempo with superb pointing and an orchestral accompaniment equally alive to every rhythmic and dynamic variation. In the Krakowiak, Polish Fantasy and the Mozart Variations, the same qualities are displayed – with real fire, attack and crystalline finger-work in the more tempestuous sections, the orchestra never appearing plodding or contemptuous. The overall effect is rather imperious but nevertheless commanding.
In the concertos, Paik colours phrases and rhythms and in both slow movements the decorative elements are integrated into the sound-picture rather than seen as pretty accoutrements and his ability to insert slight pauses without this becoming a mannerism is very affecting. Also impressive is the way in which the opening Maestoso of the F minor work is never allowed to become stodgy or lumbering and the way in which the finale of the E minor concerto dances at a tempo which, while relaxed, seems totally convincing. Much the same can be said of No.2’s last movement, for although it is perhaps just slightly too relaxed, the dance rhythms are elegant, yet vivacious. Throughout, Antoni Wit ensures that the orchestra plays with precision and, like Paik, dynamic and rhythmic inflection.
The recorded sound finds the soloist too forwardly balanced and the orchestra rather bass-heavy, with absolutely no surrounding ambience. But this is a fascinating set, which will repay study and give great enjoyment.