CONCERT REVIEW | Rossini, Grieg, & Tchaikovsky | Philharmonia Orchestra/Kim & Sung | Royal Festival Hall, London | "what drew Kim as original yet was his balance between boldness and silence, as the echoes of the slightest of notes aired poignancy as much as imagination"

United Kingdom: Philharmonia Orchestra, Sunwook Kim (Piano), & Shiyeon Sung, (Conductor). Reviewed at Royal Festival Hall, London on 14 June 2018.

Rossini, William Tell: overture
Grieg, Piano Concerto in A minor, Op.16
Tchaikovsky, Symphony no. 5 in E minor, Op.64

Shiyeon Sung, © Yongbin Park

The world of classical music or not, the misfortune of an individual can be an opportunity for another. When the established Han-Na Chang pulled out two days prior to the Korea-UK cultural partnership concert, it was to Shi-Yeon Sung – who relocated to Berlin last year after quitting her position as chief conductor of Gyeonggi Philharmonic – that the Philharmonia Orchestra turned their attention.

The short notice appointment along with limited rehearsal time perhaps meant that the individual flavour of Sung may have fallen short in consolidating itself. Indeed, the general approach of Sung was that of no-nonsense and hesitant of flair, but equally Sung’s approach had an eye on the expressive qualities of the woodwinds and timpani. Thus had the William Tell Overture a noble tone, which included an alluring clarinet (Mark van de Wiel) and cor anglais (Christine Pendrill) duo in the Ranz des vaches. One could have wished for a tad more rhythmic and dynamic control in the outer movements and cantabile in the central ones of the echt-Romantic Tchaikovsky symphony, but Sung made sure that keeping a steady and natural flow had its place in shaping a satisfying performance. Although occasionally marred by technical imperfections, the Sung-Philharmonia collaboration was promising in light of the limited preparation time they shared.

Central to an outstanding performance of the Grieg concerto was the soloist Sunwook Kim. Kim’s register had both authority and sensitivity, and striking was the feeling that the pianist had internalised every bit of the nuance and explicit beauties of this attractive work. If Kim had initially made a name with Beethoven and the Germanic repertoire, there was a Hammerklavier-esque look of weight and grandeur in, for example, the first theme of the Allegro molto moderato and the cadenza of the same movement. The more contemplative and lyrical parts (the second theme of the Allegro molto moderato & Adagio), in contrast, had a swell that emerged with flexibility never lacking in clarity. Evincing Kim’s legacy as the youngest ever recipient of the Leeds International Piano Competition, what drew Kim as original yet was his balance between boldness and silence, as the echoes of the slightest of notes aired poignancy as much as imagination.

Given the underpinning of the evening’s concert as a Korea-UK cultural exchange, the decision to forgo works by Korean composers – Isang Yun and Unsuk Chin, most notably – in place of these Romantic works may have been a consideration of popular taste. Thus a short orchestral rendition of Arirang, a Korean folk song, was as judicious a choice as encores could get.

Young-Jin Hur