Philharmonia Orchestra/Ashkenazy Sunwook Kim – Beethoven & Schumann

Coriolan Overture, Op.62
Piano Concerto in A minor, Op.54
Symphony No.4 in B flat, Op.60

Sunwook Kim (piano)

Philharmonia Orchestra
Vladimir Ashkenazy

Reviewed by: Andrew Maisel

Reviewed: 8 May, 2010
Venue: Southbank Centre, London – Royal Festival Hall

Sunwook Kim being congratulated by Mark Elder on taking First Prize at the 2006 Leeds International Pianoforte Competition. Photograph: leedspiano.comSunwook Kim won the Leeds International Pianoforte Competition in 2006, the youngest winner (aged 18) in 40 years. Schumann’s Piano Concerto (also being performed on this night by the BBC Symphony Orchestra in the Barbican Hall) was here delightfully free of mannerism and affectation, stressing the gentler side of Schumann’s writing. Kim possesses a lovely technique, his runs are clear, the notes firmly shaped. It could be argued that his playing was almost too laidback at times but investing his phrases with ample tonal colouring and shading ensured this performance never strayed into blandness. He was lucky enough to enjoy the sensitive accompaniment of Vladimir Ashkenazy and the Philharmonia Orchestra, the delightful woodwinds in the first movement matching Kim’s expressiveness. The second-movement intermezzo was a model of how a constructive dialogue between a soloist and a conductor can yield poetic results. Virtuosity was kept firmly in check in the finale, Kim’s lightness of touch and finesse never less than compelling.

Vladimir AshkenazyEither side of the Schumann found Ashkenazy on firm if unspectacular form with the two Beethoven works. This was solid old-fashioned Beethoven, well balanced and with tempos on the slow side. Coriolan received a warmly spacious reading, the serenity of the second subject sweetly played by the Philharmonia’s strings. A little more dramatic variation to highlight the shifting moods of Coriolanus would have been welcome though. In the Fourth Symphony, Ashkenazy’s leisurely approach made the work seem even more of a radical departure from the heroic symphony preceding it. Glowing strings and pert woodwinds (Paul Edmund-Davies on flute the pick of the bunch) made this an attractive listen. But, as in the overture, a little more pep and urgency would not have gone amiss so as to bring out the vitality of the Haydnesque first movement and Beethoven’s own teasing humour in the finale.

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