Sonata Album – Works of KIM; W.F. BACH; MOZART, BEETHOVEN – Quentin Kim, p. – Blue Griffin

by | Sep 27, 2011 | Classical CD Reviews

The Sonata Album = KIM: Sonata in G-sharp Minor; W.F. BACH: Sonata in E-flat Major; MOZART: Sonata in B-flat Major, K. 333; BEETHOVEN: Sonata No. 23 in F Minor, Op. 57 “Appassionata” – Quentin Kim, piano – Blue Griffin BGR225, 78:05 [Distr. By Albany] ***:
Recorded 28 April 2010, this recital features pianist-composer Quentin Kim (b. 1976), whose Sonata in G-sharp Minor bears a dedication to fellow artist Vassily Primakov and whose liner notes contain a commentary on aesthetic beauty—and by extension on the unspoken loyalties of this entire disc—by Lord Alfred Douglas, the intimate friend of Oscar Wilde. Kim offers this as deliberately programmatic in four movements: Resigning Sun; Visions at Twilight: Glittering Society and the Graveyard; In an Old Chapel; and Shooting Star. Each movement exploits an augmented triad in order to posit the opposing tendencies of rest and restiveness; and the syntax heavily relies on “romantic” idioms we associate with both Scriabin and Brahms.  The skittering figures of the second movement mean to comment on vanity and superficial glory in a syntax that sounds like Grieg or an etude from one of Liszt’s competitors. The “penance” of the third movement Larghetto plays out in modal terms centered on G. The melos as such progresses in jazz sequences, cross-fertilized by the accidentals of Rachmaninov and Scriabin, perhaps an oblique allusion to the Tristan chord? Another Lisztian etude in the manner of La Leggierezza concludes, the so-called Shooting Star movement. The last page ends flamboyantly, a kind of glittery Rachmaninov etude-tableau whose end succinctly embraces the void.
Kim then turns the pungent tones of his Steinway D to the idiosyncratically “emotional” style of W.F. Bach, whose Sonata in E-flat opens with contrary temperaments that alternately brood and hustle in broken figures and roulades. The Largo certainly echoes the melancholy and introspective aspects of J.S. Bach, here in the form of a three-part fughetta. The concluding Presto evolves an archaic dance gesture rife with ornaments set within the stile brise or “broken style” of melodic progression. The affect seems to foreshadow Poe’s unnerving sentiment about those who “laugh but smile no more.”
A music-box sonority opens 1783 Mozart’s B-flat Sonata, here wrought in the spirit of the entire disc, a homage to the Aesthetic Movement. The naturalness of expression dominates Kim’s performance, the seamless movement to the D Major chord that announces a sectional transition with its accompanying triplets. The long trills flow effortlessly, the affect bright and entirely secure, with only an occasional hint of Mozart’s innate sense of tragedy. The Andante cantabile Kim approaches as a elongated bel canto aria, a precursor of the Bellini style. The repetitive four-note motif presages Beethoven’s own Appassionata Sonata with which the recital concludes. For the last movement, Kim expands upon the cadenza Mozart provided with Wanda Landowska’s improvisational response, so the whole movement assumes the character of a brilliant concerto in bravura style. Galant and spirited, this realization quite faithfully intones the spirit of Mozart.
Kim displays a naturally fervent sympathy for the 1806 Appassionata Sonata, whose titanic alternations of lyricism and demonic drama never cease to enthrall the listener. The pregnant pauses of the opening Allegro assai receive their due space, the trills and ostinati balances against a stormy sea of emotion that expresses itself in erupting, Neapolitan harmonies. Beethoven adopts a Scottish ballad in ¾ into a personal lyric in 12/8 with his usual fiery aplomb. The four-note motif, originally an afterthought, explodes with fateful fury in obsessive cadences which Kim highlights with deft pedaling. Piano sound, courtesy of Sergei Kvitko, remains alert and pungent, especially in the keyboard’s high registers. A vicious explosion to the coda has us reeling in a series of Dionysiac arpeggios which only the Andante’s sanity can cure.
These variations on a D-flat series of common chords retain a mystical simplicity, Beethoven’s refined capacity for song. Kim makes the second variation an intimate study in 16ths, while the third in 32nds retains a gossamer patina, a tracery of heightened logic. As the last variant concludes the progression in diverse registers, the urge to change occurs in that soft diminished chord that prepares us for another Beethoven whirlwind. Kim’s approach, pearly rather than percussive and heaven-storming, to the moto perpetuo Allegro ma non troppo gains in momentum perhaps precisely from Kim’s relative restraint, especially for those of use who received this titan of sonatas via Arrau, Serkin, and Fischer. As persuasive as it is dramatically commanding, the Kim interpretation presents a Beethoven interpreter of taste and imaginative fancy, one whose poetry remains just as capable of colossal but humane ferocity.
—Gary Lemco

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