Twelve years on from winning the Leeds Competition, Sunwook Kim has lost none of the insight, intelligence and emotional range that mark him out as a remarkably complete, highly connective musician. He is also very persuasive, as became apparent in Mozart’s D-major Sonata. Kim’s fluent and fabulously secure technique enables him to sail through Mozart’s balancing act of cause and effect with flawless results, but he also admits space and sweetness to take you beyond its infectious energy, the first-movement repeat a little more playful and subversive, and the development sounding more opaque and veiled. He then expanded the slow movement’s romanticism while never losing sight of Mozartean tact and his little lingering in the Finale were mischievously operatic. In a recital of three period-defining Sonatas, Kim opened up the Mozart to make way for other possibilities, in the process confirming its freshness.
At first I thought he was making a bit of a meal of the contrasts in Beethoven’s so-called ‘Tempest’ Sonata, the second of the pivotal and prophetic Opus 31 set written in the same year, 1802, as the composer’s Heiligenstadt crisis. Kim, though, was as persuasive as ever, powerfully making the point that the arpeggio motif – as resonant in its way as similar gestures from Schubert, or even Tchaikovsky – both generates and stifles the breadth and volatility of the first movement, to the extent that the similar arpeggio that opens the Adagio marks a point of release. Kim’s lean, decisive playing both explained the music’s drama (the Sonata’s nickname allegedly refers to Shakespeare’s play) and deferred to the Adagio’s romantic depth, underpinned by some lovely orchestral effects that in turn anticipated the Chopin.
Before that came the first performance of Songs and Games by Kim’s South Korean compatriot and contemporary Donghoon Shin. These are Prelude and Fugue-like pairings of two lucid, direct Songs each followed by its own strenuous and dense Game. Various stylistic reminders help you get your bearings but the abiding memory is of furious, pulverising fortissimos and a big expressive question mark. Kim then made a strong case for Chopin the long-range structuralist in the B-minor Sonata, with details of graded dynamics, softened edges and organic rubato giving the first movement a terrific urgency and cohesiveness. This in turn showed off the marvellous evenness of his playing in the Scherzo and powers of spellbinding stillness in a heavenly reading of the Largo. The bite and spontaneity of the Finale brought this fine recital to a visceral conclusion, its impact relieved by Kim’s encore, Schubert’s G-flat Impromptu, D899/3.