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Johannes Brahms: Piano Concertos Nos. 1&2



Hallé and Sir Mark Elder are reunited with Sunwook Kim in long awaited studio recordings of repertoire with which he won the Leeds Piano Competition.

London-based Sunwook Kim came to international recognition when he won the prestigious Leeds International Piano Competition in 2006, aged just 18, becoming the competition’s youngest winner for 40 years, as well as its first Asian winner. His performance of Brahms’s Concerto No.1 with Hallé and Sir Mark Elder in the competition’s finals attracted unanimous praise from the press. Since then, he has established a reputation as one of the finest pianists of his generation, appearing as a concerto soloist with many of the world’s leading orchestras and in major recital venues in London, across Europe and in Japan.

Sunwook Kim has also enjoyed an ongoing relationship with the Hallé Orchestra and Sir Mark Elder, performing in a variety of repertoire across a number of seasons. Here they return to Brahms’ two masterworks; pieces which were separated by two decades and which display very differing musical and emotional outlooks, from the more ardent First to the more rhapsodic Second.

Johannes Brahms: Piano Concertos Nos. 1&2


Performing these Herculean works end to end takes stamina. Sunwook Kim and the Hallé launch into the first of these as if pacing themselves carefully, but it also may reflect the tortuousness of the Fists Concerto’s gestation. As Anthony Burton’s liner notes point out, it began life in 1854 as the first movement of a sonata for two pianos, then was recast as the first movement of a symphony, with its final form – which Brahms went on tinkering with after its first performance – only emerging in 1859.

But if soloist and orchestra are easing themselves into the opening Maestoso, their emotional restraint has its own allure, and when Kim cracks the whip for the development with fiery double octaves, the movement catches fire. In the second movement his lyricism is ruminative yet too tasteful to communicate the necessary ardour, but the Rondo sees him emerge in bold close-up, with pellucid articulation in the passage work, including the devilish two-hand double trills.

This South Korean pianist, who won the Leeds competition in 2006, is a born classicist with a hotline to Beethoven and Schubert. And he seems more at home with Brahms’s magisterial Second Concerto than with his First, bringing a four-square beauty to the arpeggiations of the opening quasi-cadenza, and reflecting the first movement’s nobility. And if the Allegro appassionato feels too cautious and measured, the Andante – with its framing cello solo by the excellent Nicholas Tyrgstad – is exquisite throughout: in Kim’s hands the piano’s meditative commentary has winning charm. The opening phrases of the final movement – which most pianists deliver with exuberant attack – seem oddly held in, but as they reach the final sprint, Kim and the orchestra under Sir Mark Elder convey a joyful sense of release. Michael Church, BBC Music Magazine. Performance 4 Star. Recording 4 Star