Kun-Woo Paik’s Schumann

Review by: Jed Distler

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Artistic Quality: 7

Sound Quality: 8

It’s been a while since South Korean pianist Kun-Woo Paik’s Decca and Deutsche Grammophon releases have been significantly marketed outside of his native country. In fact, DG’s generously programmed two-and-a-half-hour Schumann offering seems available only via digital platforms (I’m reviewing it via high-definition files).

The ardent, impetuous pianism of Paik’s youth has largely settled, and occasionally stiffened. Most of Waldszenen falls flat under Paik’s leisurely hands, although he livens up (relatively speaking) for Jadglied. In the Abegg Variations Paik’s right-hand triplets may not scintillate to dazzling effect in Variation III, yet he pays important heed to the left hand’s thematic interest and varied articulations. Kinderszenen’s first six movements alternate between square and heavy; once past Traümerei, Paik’s timbral and expressive palettes considerably open up, and remain poetically communicative in Bunte Blatter’s slower Albumblatt selections.

Although Paik captures the bleak undertone of both the “Ghost” Variations and the late Gesänge der Frühe, I prefer suppler and clearer renditions: Eric Lu in the former, Dina Ugorskaja in the latter, to give two examples. I anticipated a draggy and tired Arabeske when I saw the eight-minute timing indication, but Paik’s spacious, beautifully proportioned rubatos happily proved me wrong. Paik also sustains his swirling deliberation in the Op. 111 by shaping the figurations from the bottom up, with a strong bass emphasis.

Many of Op. 2’s louder passages convey a ponderous patina that transforms Schumann’s Papillons into iron butterflies. Yet Paik makes an impassioned and dynamic case for the four Op. 23 Nachstücke, even if he does take the first piece nearly twice as slow as everyone else. All told, Paik still can be a persuasive (if not consistently pleasing) artist.



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Recording Details:

Reference Recording: Kinderszenen Op. 15: Ivan Moravec (Supraphon), Papillons Op. 2: Sviatoslav Richter (Warner Classics), Waldszenen Op. 82: Wilhelm Kempff (DG)

  • SCHUMANN, ROBERT:
    Abegg Variations Op. 1; Waldszenen Op. 82; Kinderszenen Op. 15; Bunte Blatter Op. 99 (excerpts); Theme and Variations in E-flat major; Fantasiestücke Op. 111; Arabeske Op. 18; Papillons Op. 2; Gesänge der Frühe Op. 133; Nachtstücke Op. 23
  • Kun-Woo Paik (piano)

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