As an introduction to the stunningly talented Sunwook Kim, this performance of Beethoven’s Fourth Piano Concerto could hardly be bettered. As I was listening to his fine interpretation, I couldn’t help thinking that, as an amateur pianist myself, this was how I could only dream of playing Beethoven. From this evidence, Kim possesses the ability to be strong and delicate in the same breath and to be both spontaneous and deeply considered; every note he played seemed to occupy its own space, but also be part of a whole.

Sunwook Kim and the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra
© Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra

Beethoven’s most original concerto is a challenge for all pianists, particularly in its very long and constantly evolving first movement. This is one of Beethoven’s most humane musical statements, achieving its greatness through gentleness of spirit and beauty of sound. The piano part is dominated by the decorative filigree of the right hand, conversing intimately with the orchestra, particularly the woodwind. Kim’s concentration was exceptional throughout this movement, embracing every subtlety in this civilised debate. In the recitative-like slow movement the flowing decoration is replaced by serious chordal writing alternating between the soloist and orchestra. Kim achieved outstanding intensity here. In the lively finale, technical fireworks are on display for the first time and Kim showed us he was equal to everything that Beethoven could throw at him. Sir Mark Elder and the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra were sensitive equal musical partners in this most integrated of concertos.

Sir Mark Elder, Sunwook Kim and the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra
© Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra

Dvořák’s “New World” Symphony can be underestimated because of its abiding popularity. This fame must be attributed to the brilliance and directness of its thematic material. However, when it is heard in an enthusiastic and musically considered performance such as this, it is more than a crowd pleaser and one is totally convinced of its symphonic credentials.

Sir Mark Elder rehearses
© Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra

Elder has a feel for Dvořák which goes back a long way. I recall with affection his illuminating conducting of David Poutney’s production of Rusalka at ENO decades ago. He certainly succeeded in judging the tempi and structure of each of the movements of the symphony to perfection. The tragic nature of the Adagio–Allegro molto was brought to the surface and the beautiful slow themes were appropriately balanced within the architecture. The famous Largo had all the wistful, nostalgic charm required, with the ravishing central section featuring particularly fine woodwind playing. The Scherzo was again a showpiece for the excellent BSO woodwind. The Finale exploits the cyclical technique pioneered by Liszt to the full, with themes from all the previous movement woven in. The music adopts an unusually tragi-heroic tone, unusual for Dvořák, who would normally opt for folk dance inspired themes at this point in his scores. Elder controlled the structure excellently, not overplaying the drama until the final climax. The dying chord which ends the symphony, did not seem like an anticlimax as it can do sometimes, but a stroke of rare and touching poetry.

This performance was reviewed from the BSO's live video stream