Myung Whun Chung’s First Solo Piano Disc

Review by: Jed Distler

Artistic Quality: 6

Sound Quality: 9

Although Myung Whun Chung first gained international attention as a pianist when he jointly shared Second Prize in the 1974 International Tchaikovsky Competition, most of his career has been focused on the podium. This is his first solo piano CD.

The opening selection, Claire de lune, is languid and drawn out at the start, with the animated middle section played well enough but lacking suppleness. The Chopin D-flat Nocturne fares better in its sensitively shaped tracery, although soft phrase ends tend to be underprojected. Für Elise is all over the place rhythmically, in the manner of a salon pianist rather than a Beethoven stylist: compare the more disciplined and proportioned Schnabel and Brendel recordings to Chung and you’ll readily understand what I mean.

In Tchaikovsky’s “Autumn Song” from The Seasons, Chung is intelligent enough to bring out the left-hand lines, but his generally flat and characterless reading cannot match Pletnev’s suave elegance and effortless control. The rapid right-hand scales throughout Schubert’s E-flat Impromptu prove that Chung has retained his basic facility, but the left-hand underpinning is not consistently distinct and there are instances of overpedaling, both in the fleet outer sections and in the minor-key Trio’s less-than-perfectly-articulated leaps. Chung plays Träumerei competently but casually, unwittingly accelerating in a few spots.

The Arabeske’s main C major section has welcome lightness and bass-line presence, although the first interlude’s elongations of pulse and dynamic surges are heavy-handedly effected, not to mention the clipped and crudely phrased march interlude. An enervated and shapeless Schubert G-flat Impromptu follows. The C-sharp minor posthumous Nocturne’s placidly pleasant outer sections don’t relate to Chung’s overly detached presentation of the central mazurka-like episode. In Mozart’s “Ah vous dirai-je, Maman” variations Chung observes the “A” section repeats but not those of the “B” sections, and takes particular care over ornaments and articulations, despite mannered point-making here and there (Variation 5’s picky tenutos, for example). The pianist manages to conjure his erstwhile bravura and speed in Variation 8’s fast right-hand runs. Chung’s booklet notes explain how his performances are akin to family gifts and tributes, and that he does not consider himself a “real pianist” anymore. Excuses, excuses!



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Recording Details:

Works by Debussy, Chopin, Tchaikovsky, Beethoven, Schubert, Schumann, & Mozart

  • Myung Whun Chung (piano)

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