Contemplating infinity

Franz Liszt: Transcendental Etudes (Steinway)

Artillery Row Lebrecht's Album of the Week


The world awoke to Yunchan Lim in the Rachmaninov concerto final of the Van Cliburn competition when the conductor, Marin Alsop, was seen wiping away a tear in wonderment at this astonishing young talent. Just 19 at the time, Yunchan has been pursued ever since with media deals. He says he prefers to spend his time on a Korean mountain, contemplating infinity.

This, his debut recording, is a live take of the semi-final round of the Van Cliburn, issued by its piano sponsor. The audience is inaudible except at start and finish and the ambience is intense. A professional record label might have made the piano sound less clattery but there is no smidgeon of fault to be found with the staggering playing.

Where mature pianists tend to show off in Liszt, Yunchan veers to introspection, looking for the transcendence of the work’s title rather than instant stardom. The effect is hypnotic from the prelude on. Yunchan plays the notes — all of them — as pathways to a surreal elsewhere.

At molto vivace he is at least twice over the speed limit. In the Eroica movement he is thoughtful, reserved, far removed from Lisztian extravagance. This is an artist with a mind of his own. We shall hear a lot of him when he chooses to share more of himself. Meantime, just listen to this.

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