Arts: Classical: A tale of two prodigies

Click to follow
The Independent Culture
IT'S OFTEN hard to attach value to artists' biographies. Have you ever read one that didn't make you feel you were going to hear something special? The Korean pianist Hae-Jung Kim gave her Lincoln Center debut at 14, studied at the Juilliard School in New York, and won first prizes in two international competitions.

Her Wigmore Hall recital on Tuesday begged the question: what does all this mean? True, she was technically secure and played confidently in some demanding works, including Alberto Ginastera's Sonata of 1952 and Rachmaninov's Corelli Variations. Yet she conveyed little specific character, nor did she seem to listen to the quality of the sound she was making. The violently rhythmic, dissonant outer movements of the Sonata became turbid, not just through too much pedal, but because her attack was blunt. The climactic moments of the Variations, too, were like dense and choking clouds of sound.

Freddy Kempf is in a different class altogether. With his third encore at the Wigmore on Sunday evening, he seemed set on breaking the speed record in Schumann's Toccata, and not all the notes were quite there. Yet Kempf did communicate a poetic vision of the piece as a flickering, multi-coloured fantasy. Before it, he played Schumann's Arabeske tenderly, at times impulsively, and with the most delicate shading. He also disarmed criticism with a witty blues-inflected number.

Born in 1977, Kempf is clearly an astonishing talent, but he was ill- advised to start the evening with Beethoven's Opus 111 Sonata - the audience needs to be led up to such an intense and serious work - and he didn't fulfil the promise he showed in his noble, wisely controlled playing of the introduction. His balancing of harmonies in the Arietta was also a bit uneven.

He was fearless and capricious in Schumann's Carnaval - ardent in "Florestan", gaily flirtatious in "Coquette", and pleading in "Aveu". But adding extra notes to thicken the bass in the final March is a bad old habit, and even less forgivable in view of some of Kempf's sketchy chording.

The original version of Rachmaninov's Second Sonata hardly leaves room for editorial additions, and if Kempf didn't always give the most powerful passages their ideal brilliance and richness, his nonchalant melancholy in the quieter moments was seductive. Yet he didn't wallow in the slow movement and he made the whole work cohere as only a pianist with a big technique and real temperament can.