The Wesley Centre, Canberra.
Performance on 3rd August 2023, reviewed by BILL STEPHENS
He took the stage through an enthusiastic welcoming ovation, then announced that, having checked the acoustic during the afternoon, he had decided to replace the Beethoven and Prokofiev sonatas, programmed for the first half of the program, with Bach and Chopin.
And so began the extraordinary Canberra recital by the winner of the 2023 Sydney International Piano Competition (The Sydney), Jeonghwan Kim.
Remarkably poised and astonishingly gifted, Jeonghwan Kim, who was born in Seoul, turned 23 during the early weeks of The Sydney. He began playing the piano at the age of six, but after winning numerous first prizes in national competitions was accepted into the Seoul Arts Center Academy for Young Talented Musician at age nine.
He moved to Berlin at age 11 to continue his studies there and since 2017 has been studying at the Hochschule for Musik Hanns Eisler under Professor Konrad Maria Engel, during which time he has given concerts in major halls in Berlin, Weimar, Hamburg and Aarhus and performed with the Konzerhaus Orchester Berlin and the Aarhus and Odense Symphony Orchestras.
He beat off pianists from sixteen countries to win The Sydney, for which he pocketed $50,000 in prize money, as well as a whirlwind six-city national tour, of which this Canberra concert was part.
His choice of the Bach “Prelude and Fugue in A Minor” to commence his recital seemed remarkably appropriate given that the section of the Wesley Centre in which the recital was being presented is also a church.
The music sat easily under his fingers and his virtuosity was immediately obvious, every note heard, even in the fastest passages, creating an impression that he was using the intricacies of the composition to familiarise himself with his instrument.
By the Chopin “Piano Sonata No. 3” which followed, he was in full flight, using the stormy introductory chords and filigree to galvanise his audience, before launching into the dreamy, almost nocturne-like, Largo, then leaving them cheering at his brilliance as he left the stage following its mighty conclusion.
Returning after interval he changed mood completely with a superbly phrased interpretation of the four contrasting character pieces of Robert Schumann’s “4 Nachstucke Op.23”. Then some more Chopin, this time, his “Berceuse in D flat Major, Op.57.
However it was his awe-inspiring rendition of Messiaen’s hideously difficult “Regard de l’Esprit de Joie” from “Vingt Regards sur l’Enfant-Jesus” that made this a concert performance which few who experienced it are likely to forget.
Kim attacked the frightening complexity of the work with almost demonic zeal. Thrashing up and down the keyboard, he scattered discordinance with stunning abandon and mesmerising accuracy, until finally, jumping up from the piano, he ran from the stage, in an exciting display of showmanship, leaving his astonished audience cheering.
But, of course there was an encore, and with another display of showmanship, Kim left his audience charmed with a sublime rendition of Chopin’s “Etude No.1, Op.25”, which, after the Messiaen, was like pouring balm over a wound.
Image by Jaimi Joy
This review first published in the digital edition of CITY NEWS on 4th August 2023.