The romantically named Severin von Eckardstein was the pianist who, in many people's opinion, should have been given first prize at the Leeds Piano Competition in 2000. Last summer, he won the prestigious Queen Elisabeth Competition in Brussels. In the same competition a 19-year-old Korean, Dong-Hyek Lim, created a stir by rejecting the third prize and the concert engagements that came with it because he thought he should have been placed second, pointing out that the second prizewinner's teacher was on the jury. Kicking up this controversy was a gamble, and it's too early to tell whether it paid off. Apparently, Lim is already pretty big in Japan as well as his own South Korea.
By chance, Eckardstein and Lim appeared at the Wigmore Hall within a week of each other. One of many young talents endorsed by Martha Argerich, Lim is not yet 20 but has already made two discs for EMI. Yet his recital made one wonder what all the fuss was about.
Chopin's Mazurkas are the most private of all his dance-based pieces, and notoriously elusive. By choosing the three of the Op 59 set to open his programme, Lim seemed to suggest he had a particular rapport with them, but his languor in the first and his automatic sense of ebb and flow in the second struck me as only vaguely appropriate. He went on to play Chopin's B minor Sonata without any eccentricities but also without any particular insights.
Then he chose Schubert's first set of Impromptus, and again, he played them well but without revealing them afresh. Ravel's "La valse" - a lot of splashing about in the shallow end - suited Lim much better. I couldn't help reflecting on what sort of experience of life he could have had. Taken from his own country aged 10 to be "trained" at the Central Music School and then the Moscow Conservatory, is it any wonder something seemed lacking?
Von Eckardstein began his recital with Beethoven's relatively modest Sonata in E minor, Op 90. Immediately, in the first movement, he established himself as a thoughtful musician with a refined and subtly varied touch. He took the gentle second movement very steadily and quietly, so it seemed extremely intimate. But this began to pall and to feel rather like a lack of emotional energy.
Precisely that lack made Schumann's Fantasy seem extra long, too, for all Eckardstein's refined detail. The triumphant middle movement certainly needed more oomph.
One of Messiaen's most haunting pieces from Catalogue d'oiseaux, "Le courlis cendré" ("The curlew"), opened the second half, and was beautifully played: full of atmosphere. But Prokofiev's Eighth Sonata seemed an odd choice for a pianist whose strengths appear to lie in evoking moods that are introspective and gentle. It lacked tension and that steely precision that sustains its epic scale.Reuse content