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Franz SCHUBERT (1797-1828)
Six Moments Musicaux, D.780 (1823-1828) [32:00]
Uzong CHOE (b. 1968)
Moments Musicaux (2019) [13:49]
Sergei RACHMANINOV (1873-1943)
Six Moments Musicaux, Op 16 (1st version 1896) [31:02]
Yeseul Kim (piano)
Rec. 11-13 February 2020, Mendelssohn-Saal, Gewandhaus zu Leipzig, Germany
GENUIN GEN21725 [76:52]

This appears to be Korean pianist Yeseul Kim’s debut recording, but she is already a veteran of numerous international concert tours and has been a prizewinner in a number of prestigious piano competitions. This CD is certainly a very fine calling card, with good piano sound in a pleasantly resonant but by no means swampy acoustic.

Recording Schubert’s Moments Musicaux D.780 has to be considered fairly daring these days, with so many great recordings around. It is however always an attraction and rightly so. Kim’s playing is full of poetry, beautiful phrasing and lovely lyrical lines. For me there is however a touch too much reverence in some of these pieces. The second, Andantino lingers on nearly into the seven-minute mark, and the sense of musical flow is in places just too static. The following Allegro moderato is bouncy enough, and Kim’s elegance and sensitivity in colouring is evident even in this lighter bonbon and the following Moderato. This has a good sense of momentum to start with and plenty of contrast, though this also involves a kind of over-legato effect in which definition can become blurred. The central section has a gently rhetorical identity, but this again involves a bit too much stop-start between phrases. Touches such as a momentary lingering on the first chord of the Allegro vivace give the piece a mildly mannered feel, but I quite like Kim’s approach in the final Allegretto, which is not overly funereal and has the right kind of intensity to keep one engaged.

My alternative reference in the Schubert has in this case been Paul Lewis (Harmonia Mundi - review), not that he is necessarily the very best in this set of pieces, but his playing is more of a character that makes it memorable. Just by way of comparison, that second Andantino works better from Lewis in that, while there are inevitably those breaks between gestures, he ends each one in such a way that propels us towards the next. The Allegro vivace is an excuse for Lewis to bring out his bigger guns, but you can hear where a less fussy interpretation carries us forward and ultimately heightens the drama in this piece.

Uzong Choe works in a wide variety of styles including Korean popular music theatre. His Moments Musicaux, of which we hear a selection in this programme, contrast between the pared-down and atmospheric and even impressionistic, to dramatically compact and urgent pieces. There are moments with romantic flourishes, ritualistic repetitions, inclinations towards tonality and enigmatic open-endedness - in short this is a fascinatingly colourful world and one that would certainly seem to deserve a complete recording.

Rachmaninov’s Moments musicaux Op 16 were written when he was 23 years old, and the title at least draws inspiration from Schubert’s D.780. This may be a relatively youthful work, but it is full of this composer’s feel for compelling harmonic progressions and pianistic fireworks in the service of remarkable musical intensity. Yeseul Kim proves her technical chops to stunning effect here, and while she might not have quite the Russian character as Vladimir Ashkenazy in his Decca recording (review) there is certainly enough to be going along with. Expressive pulling around of the music is arguably less problematic here than with Schubert, but Kim’s approach for instance in that gorgeously dark No 3 Andante cantabile is not so very different to Ashkenazy’s, the latter only gaining extra points for a more weighty touch in the left hand to bring out that soulful Russian spirit in the music. Elsewhere No 5 Adagio sostenuto has the right kind of line and layers of texture and is for once a little faster than Ashkenazy, while the final Maestoso is truly breathtaking.

In summary this is a very well-considered piano programme, and I have very much enjoyed hearing it. The Schubert worried me probably more than it would most people, and taken on its own terms it is still a masterful performance of that composer’s late masterpiece. Uzong Choe’s music has some magical moments, and the Rachmaninov is indeed stunning, so all things taken into account this disc has to be well worth considering.

Dominy Clements



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