Philharmonia Orchestra/Juraj Valčuha – Beethoven & Cherubini – with Sunwook Kim

Medée – Overture
Piano Concerto No.4 in G, Op.58
Symphony No.7 in A, Op.92

Sunwook Kim (piano)

Philharmonia Orchestra
Juraj Valčuha

Reviewed by: Colin Anderson

Reviewed: 24 October, 2013
Venue: Southbank Centre, London – Royal Festival Hall

Juraj Valčuha. Photograph: www.vermont-classics.comBeethoven was a great admirer of the Italian-born, Paris-residing Luigi Cherubini (1760-1842). If he has fallen somewhat from view these days, then his religious works, not least as conducted by Riccardo Muti, keep him in the frame. His numerous operas are even further sidelined. Occasionally the Overture to Anacréon (1803) is heard, if not as regularly as when Karajan, Klemperer and Toscanini were around. Another opera opener was aired at this Philharmonia Orchestra concert, that to Medée (1797), the role of Medea revitalised by Maria Callas in the 1950s. The Overture is rather good. Scored for a traditional orchestra if without trumpets but with timpani, the opening dramatic idea anticipates by some years the teenage Mendelssohn’s exuberant First Symphony (1824). The impetus of Cherubini’s curtain-raiser is unforced, the lyrical contrasts elegantly introduced. Indeed, Cherubini’s craftsmanship is expert and fluent and this outing under Juraj Valčuha made a strong case for investigating his music further, not least re-acquaintance with the appealing Symphony in D.

After the interval, Beethoven 7 was given a propulsive but not over-fast reading, repeats refreshingly overlooked in the outer movements (such things can be slavishly adhered to), the development of the first one catching fire. The suceeding Allegretto could have enjoyed a more moderate tempo and therefore greater gravitas but the scherzo was nicely buoyant, and the trio had a related flow. This wasn’t a classic performance but it did refresh the work in a pleasing way.

In 2006 the Jury of the Leeds International Pianoforte Competition made the wise choice of giving First Prize to the then 19-year-old Sunwook Kim. Since then he has built a notable career. His playing here of Beethoven was intelligent and probing, crisp and considered, always respectful but displaying much character, the recesses of the music not overlooked and he balanced ideally strength with poeticism. His varying of dynamics was impressive as was the investing of emotional charge, and whatever he did came from an immersion in the score. It was a shame that a claque of clappers ruined the atmosphere built-up during the first movement (they would also intrude the Symphony), but Sunwook Kim went on to appease the curt strings of the slow movement and to sparkle in the finale. If the accompaniment, while always attentive, occasionally lacked focus, Sunwook Kim himself was a vibrant, subtle and personable soloist throughout Beethoven’s miraculous music.

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