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S & H Recital Review

Chopin, Schubert, Ravel: Dong-Hyek Lim (Piano), Wigmore Hall, 15th January 2004 (H-T W)


The UK debut of the young South Korean pianist Dong-Hyek Lim (born 1984) was an overwhelming and unforgettable experience. Here, for once, a pianist gave us an evening not in the by now too familiar manner of acrobatic overexposure killing the piano and the music at the same time, but of incredible musical insight, breathtaking maturity and a magical range of instrumental colours. He mirrored all the great pianists of the past - from Arthur Schnabel to Tatiana Nikolayeva - who have built the basis for the once famous Wigmore Hall tradition of excellence. Simultaneously, his recital assured the audience that this tradition is still alive and fresh, even if sadly only occasionally.

After early studies at the National Conservatory in Seoul he became a student at the Moscow Central Music School at the age of 10, from where he graduated in 1998. He continued his studies at the Moscow State Tchaikovsky Conservatory with Lev Naumov and is currently a student of Arie Vardi at the Hochschule für Musik in Hannover. Lim has won numerous prestigious competitions and has already appeared with many famous orchestras and at piano festivals in Switzerland, Germany, Poland and France. In his native South Korea he has acquired the status of a pop star leading to a fan club of more than seventeen thousand members. Last year he made headlines by refusing to accept the 3rd prize in the Queen Elisabeth International Music Competition in Brussels.

One wondered if this young pianist was trying to foster his career through arrogance. But nothing could be further from the truth. If this were the case, Lim would have chosen a repertoire of extreme virtuoso and not too well known pieces for this important debut. Instead he played works every piano enthusiast is familiar with, thereby risking comparison with many famous interpretations on disc. His appearance on the platform showed neither vanity nor arrogance; unpretentious he went to the grand and started playing without any delay and without the slightest mannerism. Chopinīs Three Mazurka, Op.59 and his Piano Sonata No.3 in B minor, op.58 formed the first half. I have not heard Chopin played live with such feeling for belcanto in years. Limīs phrasing and breathing combined with an effortless technique, lightness and inner musicality. His playing never produced a single harsh tone; instead we had constant beauty, changing his intonation where necessary and never loosing sight of the overall view. It was reminiscent of Horovitz. One cannot learn to play Chopin this way one must be born with it.

After the interval Lim played Schubertīs all too well known Four Impromptus, Op.90, D.899. He made me listen afresh discovering again many nuances and details, which so often get lost. Despite never loosing sight of the whole arch of Schubertīs different intentions for each of these four musical diamonds Lim captivated the audience with his own magical heartbeat and with a simplicity that held ones breath. He finished with Ravelīs masterpiece La Valse, composed in 1920 as an apotheosis of the Viennese waltz, but in fact a diabolical reminder that this work followed the First World War, a world-changing event. Here, Lim pulled out all the stops in his use of pianistic colours as he created a true picture of the demonic nature of this ingenious piece. This young pianist is not only a great musician true to the composer, but also a deeply creative artist with a fascinating sense for the beauty of sound.

He gave four very different encores, which again proved this point: a movement by Bach (possibly in an arrangement by Wilhelm Kempff), an Etude by Scriabin, one movement from Tchaikovskyīs The Seasons and finally Clementi, played like the most incredible string of endless pearls. Limīs recital gave me the hope that not all is lost. It coincided with the release of his second CD for EMI, entirely devoted to Chopin and a must for every Chopin fan, while his first CD for the EMI series `Martha Argerich Presentsī contains works by Chopin, Schubert and Ravel.

Hans-Theodor Wohlfahrt

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