HAYDN: Piano Sonata; RACHMANINOV: Variations on a Theme of Corelli; LISZT: Paganini Etudes – Jooyoung Kim, piano – MSR 

Jooyoung Kim delivers an audacious program of both Classical and Romantic repertory that exhibits polish and fiery bravura at once. 

HAYDN: Piano Sonata in C Major, Hob. XVI:48; RACHMANINOV: Variations on a Theme of Corelli, Op. 42; LISZT: 6 Grandes Etudes de Paganini, S. 141 – Jooyoung Kim, piano – MSR Classics MS 1636, 56:52 Distr. by Albany] ****:  

Recorded 14-18 January 2017, these polished performances of music by Haydn, Rachmaninov, and Liszt show off an active recitalist and pedagogue, Jooyoung Kim, who currently serves on the faculty of Indiana University. Kim opens with Haydn’s sprightly 1789 Piano Sonata in C Major, a two-movement work that dispenses with certain, usual formalities. It begins Andante con espressione, in a two-bar theme that suffices in variation for the whole movement. Each phrase from the evolving melody adds another note to the accompanying chord. The C Major antics find response in the parallel minor, and Haydn develops the material in the form of an ongoing improvisation. The charming Rondo: Presto conforms to sonata-form, the secondary tune evolving from the opening motif. There comes a diversion into C minor, but this episode yields to the joyous impulse of the main idea. Kim plays the piece with solid, confident enthusiasm, the luster of her tone complemented by her digital acumen.

Rachmaninov in 1931 adapted the La Folia melody from Corelli’s Op. 5, No. 12 Violin Sonata —likely introduced to the composer by the dedicatee, Fritz Kreislerfor a plastic series of 20 variations. Composed in Switzerland, the piece exists as one of the few solo piano works Rachmaninov conceived outside of Russia. The original tune starts in D minor and then passes into the relative major. Liszt utilized the theme for his Spanish Rhapsody. Curiously, the expansive, eighteen-minute work correspondsin the manner of Franckto a three-movement sonata, with periods set off by variations 1-13; cadenza (interlude); and, shifting to D-flat, two variations  that constitute a slow movement based on La Folia; and then 5 variations that constitute an extended finale. Kim delivers several sterling moments of liquid or hard-patina sound, as in Variation 3 “Tempo di Menuetto,” Variation 5 “Allegro man non tanto,” Variation 8 “Adagio misterioso,” and Variation 18 “Allegro con brio.”  The aggression Kim sometimes brings suggests she sees the piece as a solo anticipation of a more orchestral concept, such as the soon-forthcoming Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini, the composer’s Op. 43.

Liszt first heard the famed violinist Nicolo Paganini in Paris, 1832.  In 1840 Liszt published his Six Studies based on Paganini’s solo Caprici.  The opening study in G minor (from Paganini’s No. 6) adds keyboard tremolos to the original, and it assumes a steadily rising, gripping monumentality, clearly earning its epithet transcendant. Liszt exploits ravishing scale passages and octave runs, including the violin’s bariolage effect. Liszt takes the Caprice No. 17 in E-flat and opens with an Andante, quite dramatic, then proceeding Andantino capriccioso, Liszt demands gliding scale passages alternating with powerful, emphatic chords in the keyboard’s low register. Piu animato, a central section emerges in octaves that follow Paganini’s own directives for solo violin. Kim makes this piece resound with a potent authority. The famous “La Campanella” Etude derives as a G-sharp minor treatment of the last movement of Paganini’s Violin Concerto No. 2 in B minor. The repeated notes, the “little bell,” becomes an elaborate skein of brilliant sounds and gloss that many great pianists delight in.  For Kim, the last page offers a chance to explode into the stratosphere. Liszt then addresses the Caprice No. 1 in E Major, a study in light, stop-on-the dime arpeggios, and Liszt marks the tempo Vivo and imitando il flauto. The brilliant staccati travel so fast they become legato. The No. 5 in E Major “La Chasse,” creates the sonic effect of antiphons in hunting horns, succeeded by powerful block chords. The dynamic can easily suggest a music box in competition with a dazzling, gypsy band. Finally, the sixth Etude capitalizes on the A minor Caprice (No. 24) that Paganini himself augments with eleven variations. Paganini’s triple stops transform into blazing syncopations in the Liszt piano transformation. What served as staccato in Paganini becomes pizzicato in Liszt. The figures under Kim cavort or thunder by us in dazzling parade, and we can well wish the Brahms sets of variations were here to beguile us as well. To call the last pages, set in fff stretti, triumphant, is to understate the resounding success of Kim’s program.

—Gary Lemco

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