sunwook kim

Sunwook Kim review: subtle touch, dynamic range

Versatile Portland Piano International recitalist knows when to exercise restraint — and when not to

By ANGELA ALLEN

Sunwook Kim opened his January 14 Portland Piano International recital with J.S. Bach’s Toccata, Adagio and Fugue in C Major, BWV 564, written for organ (think majestic, reverential, full-voiced) and ran furiously through the opening toccata. The word, toccata, comes from the Italian toccare, to touch, and Kim certainly had touch: his technical virtuosity, his fingers dancing like glittering lights, was unquestionable. But what about dynamics?

In 1900 when Busoni published his piano transcription of Bach’s original (likely written about 1712; most of the dates of Bach’s organ works are undocumented), he took plenty of liberties, including with dynamics, though like a harpsichord, an organ’s dynamics can be hard to express. But Busoni is reputed to have rescued Bach’s work from overwrought romanticism anachronistically imposed by other arrangers, and by the time Kim finished the three-movement piece, he showed he had far more than bravura in his tonal repertoire. The subtle touch and varying dynamics that surfaced there continued throughout his recital.

Portland Piano International presented pianist Sunwook Kim on January 14. Photo: John Rudoff/SipaUSA.

Kim won the prestigious International Leeds Piano Competition when he was 18. He was the first Asian to do so and the youngest winner in 40 years. Since then, the 29-year-old Korean pianist has carried a heavy load in his lithe hands to keep up the international reputation, but he’s doing quite well at it, playing with some of the world’s best orchestras including the London Symphony Orchestra, Royal Concertgebouw and the Berlin Radio Symphony, among them.

Portland Piano International presented him on Jan. 13 and 14 in its Solo Series at Portland State University’s Lincoln Hall. His two-hour recitals, featuring different repertoires, fell smack in the middle of MLK weekend. The 475-seat auditorium wasn’t full on Jan. 14 for the concert I heard, but he didn’t seem to mind. Blessed with sleek hair long enough to fling creatively but short enough to stay out of his eyes, he filled the hall with technically precise, multi-dimensional music, though he does have a jones for the Germans.

Kim knows their music well. He played works by Bach, Ludwig van Beethoven and Robert Schumann. Though he did not make a special request for the PSU Hamburg Steinway, he sounded quite comfortable with it. Europeans are used to playing Hamburgs over the New York version. The Hamburgs have a slightly thicker soundboard than the New York-made pianos, so their sound is a bit more subdued. Kim produced a lot of sound out of that Hamburg, and there was nothing subdued about his performance. Again, he was all over the range of dynamics.

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MusicWatch Weekly: revolutionaries

Concerts celebrate 20th century geniuses

Oregon music this week features the work of a couple of revolutionaries from a century or so ago whose imagination has left its mark on the present and maybe even the future, enhanced by today’s technology. Tesla: Light, Sound, Color (Thursday-Friday Hult Center’s Soreng Theater, Eugene; Saturday, Newmark Theatre, Portland; Monday, Tower Theatre, Bend) brings the eccentric genius inventor/engineer to life via music, dance, digital imagery and even physics experiments. Stay tuned for my ArtsWatch preview and Rachael Carnes’s ArtsWatch review.

This weekend’s Oregon Symphony’s concerts at Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall feature the revolutionary dance score that helped transform 20th century music, Stravinsky’s The Rite of Spring, enhanced by digital projections.  We talked about it a lot on ArtsWatch during the centennial year. The rest of the program rocks, too —  Bartok’s fab, faux-lky second violin concerto and one of the middle-ish (but not middling) period Haydn symphonies we don’t hear often enough. His 70th was also innovative in its way, adding timpani and trumpets to the composer’s arsenal, which he would later use to great effect in other orchestral works.

Third Angle New Music’s Thursday and Friday shows at Portland’s Studio 2 @ N.E.W. shine the spotlight on cellist Marilyn de Oliveira and fellow musician family members and Oregon Symphony players in music by Portland’s own nationally renowned composer Kenji Bunch, 20th century British composer John Tavener, recent Pulitzer Prize winner Caroline Shaw, and young New York phenom Andy Akiho.

Marilyn de Oliveira takes center stage at Third Angle’s concerts.

Baroque Rarities

Even without the arias and more elaborate orchestration of his famous cantatas, Bach’s half-dozen (depending on how you categorize them) surviving motets constitute some of his richest and most complex choral music. It takes exceptional singers to perform them with only one voice singing each part, which affords a wonderful intimacy and transparency, and that’s what The Ensemble of Oregon brings to three of these masterpieces Saturday at Eugene’s Central Lutheran Church, Eugene, and Sunday at Portland’s Old Church. This all-star team drawn from Portland’s finest choirs also sing arias from two Bach cantatas. A bonus Bach cello sonata provides an instrumental interlude.

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