The Straits Times: Hot Tracks, Cliburn Gold 2017

The Straits Times: Hot Tracks, Cliburn Gold 2017

The Strait Times

By Chang Tou Liang

4.5/5 stars

In June this year, 28-year-old Yekwon Sunwoo became the first Korean pianist to win first prize at the prestigious Van Cliburn International Piano Competition held in Fort Worth, Texas. This winner’s recital disc captures “live” some of his key solo performances in three rounds of competition.

Included is the world premiere recording of Canadian pianist-composer Marc-Andre Hamelin’s Toccata On L’Homme Arme, the specially commissioned set-piece for this competition. It is a no-holds-barred fantasy on a mediaeval French song that literally sweeps the entire keyboard and Sunwoo nails it with stunning aplomb.

His musicality is also displayed in Haydn’s Sonata No. 58 In C Major and Liszt’s transcription of Schubert’s lied Litanei (Am Tage Aller Seelen), pieces which may be considered anti-virtuosic for their lack of outright showiness. However, these are a foil for the gilded sheen applied to Percy Grainger’s Ramble On Richard Strauss’ Der Rosenkavalier Final Duet, which demands the most delicate of touches and fine sense of balance in revealing the harmonies.

The through-and-through showpieces come in Ravel’s La Valse and Rachmaninov’s Second Sonata (Op. 36, the shorter 1931 edition), which Sunwoo delivers like any Cliburn laureate should. An hour’s worth of piano gold seems like short measure, but here is a worthy musical calling card.