Bomsori Kim & Thomas Hoppe
Beethoven / Szymanowski / Fauré / Wieniawski

Tonhalle am See, Zurich, 2022-03-04

0.5-star rating

2022-03-08 — Original posting
2022-09-17 — Amendment about Bomsori’s instrument



Table of Contents


Introduction

Venue, Date & TimeTonhalle am See, Zurich, 2022-03-04 19:30h
Series / TitleNeue Konzertreihe Zürich — Extrakonzert
OrganizerHochuli Konzert AG
Reviews from related eventsEarlier concert with Bomsori Kim
Concerts organized by Hochuli Konzert AG

The Artists

Bomsori Kim, Violin

This was my second concert encounter with the Korean violinist Bomsori Kim (*1989, see also Wikipedia). The previous instance was her debut concert in Lucerne, on 2019-09-10, with the pianist Michail Lifits (*1982). For details on her biography and career see the artist’s Website and Wikipedia entry, and my earlier review.

Social media, CD covers, ads, etc. just use the artist’s given name, Bomsori (which apparently means “Sound of the Spring”). So, we are following this, calling the artist by her first name.

[ According to her Website, Bomsori currently plays on a 1774 violin by Joannes Baptista (Giovanni Battista) Guadagnini (1711 – 1786). ] Correction: as Bomsori later (2022-09-17) announced on social media, she was not performing on the Guadagnini violin (the loan of which ended prior to this concert). Rather, she was performing with her “new partner”, a violin by Giuseppe Guarneri del Gesù (1698 – 1744), also from Cremona: the instrument named “Moller” from around 1725.

Thomas Hoppe, Piano

The German pianist Thomas Hoppe (*1971) got his education from Lee Luvisi (*1937) in the United States. He concluded it at Juillard School in New York City. He has since focused his career on chamber music with various ensembles. For many years, he has been the studio pianist for Itzhak Perlman (*1945) and Dorothy DeLay (1917 – 2002).


Program


Setting, etc.

For a pure chamber music event, the big hall of Zurich’s Tonhalle am See was well-occupied. Especially of course the front part of the stall seating, as well as the lateral galleries. My seat was #5 in row 11 of the left-side, forward block of the parquet seating. That position offered excellent acoustics. Moreover, it was was much, much closer to the musicians than that in Bomsori’s Lucerne debut recital.

The piano was a Steinway D-274 concert grand, with fully open lid.


Concert & Review

Ludwig van Beethoven
Ludwig van Beethoven, by Schimon, Ferdinand, 1797-1852

Beethoven: Violin Sonata No.5 in F major, op.24 “Spring Sonata”

Composer & Work

Ludwig van Beethoven (1770 – 1827) composed his Violin Sonata No.5 in F major, op.24 “Spring Sonata” in 1801. The same year also saw the creation of the Violin Sonata No.4 in A minor, op.23. The “Spring Sonata” has its surname (almost certainly not Beethoven’s) from the serene character of the composition. Beethoven originally meant to publish it together with op.23, its more earnest sister sonata.

The “Spring Sonata” comes with four movements, with the following annotations:

  1. Allegro
  2. Adagio molto espressivo
  3. Scherzo: Allegro molto — Trio
  4. Rondo: Allegro ma non troppo

Some years back, I have posted a detailed comparison of 9 recordings of this composition.

The Performance

It was refreshing to watch Bomsori Kim enter (and leave) the stage in her long, olive-gray brocade dress. Despite her high heels, she moved in energetic, youthful-boyish steps. She looked self-assured, without signs of stage fright, vibrant, swaying her long ponytail!

Bomsori Kim & Thomas Hoppe @ Tonhalle Zürich, 2022-03-04
Bomsori Kim & Thomas Hoppe @ Tonhalle Zürich, 2022-03-04
(© Jannis Keiser / Hochuli Konzert AG)
I. Allegro

Right from the first tones, I noted not only Bomsori’s gentle, mellow articulation and sonority. That was matched up by Thomas Hoppe’s gentle, soft touch. His playing was well-adapted, such that it didn’t cover the violin. After a while, though, I felt that the piano part was a little too legato. Maybe slightly over-pedaled, a little too powerful. In the course of the movement, there were other points that I noted. For example, a slight tempo change at the transition to the second theme, which didn’t feel entirely harmonious. There were also occasional, little discrepancies in the agogics, such as little hold-ups at the peak of a phrase. Or one of the musicians subtly moving ahead of the other, sometimes an excess in pushing forward.

Overall, the performance certainly expressed and reflected the movement’s serene, peaceful and relaxed atmosphere. Yet, I could not avoid some questions / thoughts. Was the pianist’s mellow legato articulation (and perhaps slight excess in sustain pedal) an attempt to avoid exposing little divergences in the interpretation (agogics, transitions)? Or was this just my imagination? I may intuitively have compared this to the lighter, fragile, clearer tone of the instruments that Beethoven had in mind?

Also in Bomsori’s playing, I initially asked myself whether this wasn’t a little too cautious and careful? Even though the beginning is p, I was expecting slightly more percussive articulation. That said: in the staccato passages of the development part, Bomsori sure demonstrated that she can also play with vehement expression and a bigger, more percussive tone.
★★★

II. Adagio molto espressivo

The second movement instantly felt “more at ease”: serene, indeed, relaxed, very subtle, delicate, especially on the violin. The one, remaining quibble was the piano’s excessively big tone. I don’t mean to blame the pianist. I just feel that the concert grand was too big an instrument for the intimacy in this movement. And occasionally, I was hoping for a little more agogics, such as little broadening around the climax of a phrase.

Bomsori’s vibrato was relatively fast, yet controlled and almost inconspicuous. And in the solemn, calm ending it was absent altogether: excellent!
★★★½

Bomsori Kim & Thomas Hoppe @ Tonhalle Zürich, 2022-03-04
Bomsori Kim & Thomas Hoppe @ Tonhalle Zürich, 2022-03-04
(© Jannis Keiser / Hochuli Konzert AG)
III. Scherzo: Allegro molto — Trio

The Scherzo was playful, light in the articulation. It felt maybe a little on the fast side, making the semiquaver figures (and the quaver runs in the Trio) a tad superficial?
★★★½

IV. Rondo: Allegro ma non troppo

Here again, I felt that the musicians sacrificed agogics and clarity in favor of a (frequent) push forward. And Bomsori could easily have played with more tone. I also note the occasional tendency towards belly notes where I was hoping for a (slightly) more percussive articulation. Alternatively (or in addition), the pianist should have played with lighter / clearer articulation (less pedal?).
★★★

Overall Rating: ★★★

Was the Beethoven sonata the ideal start for Bomsori’s recital? Her tour schedule for 2022 does not show any other recitals with Thomas Hoppe, and so, it is likely that for this single instance, the rehearsal time was limited. However, Beethoven’s op.24 may not yet be a firm part of Bomsori’s repertoire (she was performing with sheet music). Yet, in the preparation, the artists may have focused on the virtuosic / late-romantic parts of the recital.

Did the musicians maybe underestimate the challenges? Next to the virtuosic parts of the program, it could be tempting to regard Beethoven’s op.24 as being “easy”, relatively speaking. However, musically, this is of course much more than a warm-up piece. Moreover, it’s choice is critical in the sense that most people in the audience must be familiar with the music.


Karol Szymanowski
Karol Szymanowski

Szymanowski: Nocturne and Tarantella, op.28

Composer & Work

The Polish composer Karol Szymanowski (1882 – 1937) wrote his Nocturne and Tarantella, op.28 in spring and summer 1915. The movements have the following, main tempo annotations:

  1. Nocturne: Lento assai — Ancora meno mosso — Allegro scherzando — Largo — Tempo I — Vivace scherzando — Tempo I — Largo assai
  2. Tarantella: Presto appassionato — Più mosso — Subito Tempo I (Presto agitato) — Tempo I

The Performance

I. Nocturne

A highly atmospheric piece! And an excellent interpretation! There was the dark, somber bass in the piano. And the continuous sequence of parallel fifths on the violin’s muted g and d’ strings. Into this, the pianist’s right hand casually inserted brief arpeggi in the highest descant. These sounded like little chimes. The murmuring of a nightly summer wind in nature? Then, the violin started whispering in the highest positions: suspense, distant singing of birds? Atmosphere and pure sound painting!

With the Allegro scherzando, the music momentarily broke out into an enthralling, highly expressive folk dance with pizzicato chords on the violin. An interesting mix of Hungarian, Latin, and Slavonic influences? Here now, the coordination between the artists was really excellent, across the many tempo changes, the rubato. Also, Bomsori was excellent in mastering the movement’s intonation challenges: congrats! In the end, the piece returns to the initial, “hollow” and mysterious sonority.

Bomsori Kim & Thomas Hoppe @ Tonhalle Zürich, 2022-03-04
Bomsori Kim & Thomas Hoppe @ Tonhalle Zürich, 2022-03-04
(© Jannis Keiser / Hochuli Konzert AG)
II. Tarantella

An enthralling, wild and whirling dance, virtuosic piece! Lots of colorful double-stop playing on the violin, expressive and often vehement. Up to the limit of what the violin can do in dynamics and ferocity. It ended in veritable sound explosions: brilliant, very effective, technically excellent. And Bomsori performed this by heart: obviously a piece that suits her talent!

In the wild outbursts of this movement, the violinist’s ponytail was swinging all around. Contrasting to her lively body gestures, the artist claims that she is not a “loud” person…

Rating: ★★★★½

Gabriel Fauré, 1875
Gabriel Fauré, 1875

Fauré: Violin Sonata No.1 in A major, op.13

Composer & Work

Gabriel Fauré (1845 – 1924) wrote his Violin Sonata No.1 in A major, op.13 in 1875/1876. It is considered an early masterpiece by the French composer, organist, pianist and teacher. It also was a turning point in Fauré’s career as composer. The movement annotations in the sonata are as follows:

  1. Allegro molto
  2. Andante
  3. Scherzo: Allegro vivo
  4. Finale: Allegro quasi presto

The Performance

For the Fauré sonata, Bomsori returned to having the sheet music on a stand. However, she obviously was really familiar with the piece. More so than with the Beethoven sonata. She often performed by heart, facing the audience. Every so often, she was also turning towards Thomas Hoppe, for best coordination in transitions in tempo and character.

I. Allegro molto

The piano part in this movement features a continuous line of quavers in the middle voice. With brief exceptions, when the quavers move into the violin voice. This makes up for a very busy piano part, especially in Thomas Hoppe’s interpretation. He made the bass line and the melody in the top voice (often integrated into the quaver figures) sometimes feel like secondary features. Putting more emphasis on the melody would have benefitted the movement. It would also have given the occasional dialogs between the piano melody and the violin more exposure. Too bad the artists did not repeat the exposition.

Bomsori’s playing was highly emphatic, expressive, engaged. One could tell this not just by ear, but also from her lively body language (which, by the way, was anything but mere show). The violinist didn’t let rests in the melody line disrupt the musical flow. Rather (and this is not meant to be criticism), her constant engagement often seemed to “swallow” such “breathing rests”. The music builds up in waves, and at the climaxes, the two musicians teamed up for breathtakingly intense moments. Ravishingly beautiful music!
★★★½

Bomsori Kim @ Tonhalle Zürich, 2022-03-04
Bomsori Kim @ Tonhalle Zürich, 2022-03-04 (© Jannis Keiser / Hochuli Konzert AG)
II. Andante

A highly atmospheric performance! Carried mostly by the piano part, commented, illustrated by the violin. Bomsori’s responses formed an intense dialog with the pianist’s right hand. Intense, expressive playing, perfectly attuned in the dynamics. It formed long, harmonious phrases. Music with a long, broad breath! In the center it felt like a lullaby, followed by intense dreams…
★★★★½

III. Scherzo: Allegro vivo

Virtuosic, rapid, and despite a busy piano part, Bomsori’s Guadagnini projected well, did not get overwhelmed by the concert grand. My only, minor reservation: the score has p e legierissimo with both parts. I could certainly agree with this for the violin. On the piano, however, the score to me suggests more of a filigree sonority for the semiquaver motifs. I found the sound rather dark and a little too full for this annotation. That sonority persisted through the more reflective middle part. However, Fauré diligently kept the violin part “out of that of the piano”, hence the overall transparency did not suffer.
★★★★

IV. Finale: Allegro quasi presto

In the final movement, the composer wanted extensive pedaling, hence the “veiled” sonority was fully intended. And indeed, the performance was very atmospheric. At the same, it felt enthralling, up to the brilliant and effective Coda. Coordination and musical partnership were excellent throughout the movement. Thomas Hoppe kept the volume under control and well-adjusted to the violin part, effortlessly mastering the virtuosic piano score.
★★★★

Overall Rating: ★★★★
Bomsori Kim & Thomas Hoppe @ Tonhalle Zürich, 2022-03-04
Bomsori Kim & Thomas Hoppe @ Tonhalle Zürich, 2022-03-04
(© Jannis Keiser / Hochuli Konzert AG)

Henryk Wieniawski
Henryk Wieniawski

Wieniawski: Fantaisie brillante sur des motifs de l’opéra «Faust» de Gounod, op.20

Here now, Bomsori returned to playing without sheet music. This piece clearly is in her firm repertoire. I’m sure she also performed this at the 15th Henryk Wieniawski Competition in Poznan, in 2016.

Composer & Work

Audiences, as well as several composers were fascinated by the highly successful Opera “Faust (1859) by Charles Gounod (1818 – 1893). The great Polish violinist, composer, and pedagogue Henryk Wieniawski (1835 – 1880) was one of several who wrote paraphrases on themes from that opera. His
Fantaisie brillante sur des motifs de l’opéra «Faust» de Gounod, op.20 appeared 1865. In the years that followed, composers who paraphrased the same opera included Jean-Delphin Alard (1815 – 1888), Henri Vieuxtemps (1820 – 1881), and Pablo de Sarasate (1844 – 1908).

“Brilliant Fantasy on…”

The title “Brilliant Fantasy on motifs from…” doesn’t describe very well the listener’s experience. There are several components here. For one, the music and dramaturgy in Gounod’s opera. Then, what Wieniawski made from Gounod’s music (and what he selected). And finally, of course (and most importantly in this context), what the artists make out of this music!

It didn’t take long for the listener to realize that Wieniawski didn’t just “pick the raisins out of the cake”. Rather, he gives a tour d’horizon of the opera. He lets the audience experience not just melodic highlights. Rather, he reproduces the dramaturgy of Gounod’s work in very condensed form. At the same time, the op.20 of course serves to demonstrate technique, virtuosity and musicality. All at the same time. A virtuosic showpiece, in other words. It’s no surprise that this is one of the central repertoire pieces at violin competitions. The structure (main tempo annotations):

Allegro moderato — Andante ma non troppo — Allegro Agitato non troppo — Poco più lento — Andante non troppo — Tempo di Valse, Allegro non troppo — Tempo I — Moderato

Bomsori Kim & Thomas Hoppe @ Tonhalle Zürich, 2022-03-04
Bomsori Kim & Thomas Hoppe @ Tonhalle Zürich, 2022-03-04
(© Jannis Keiser / Hochuli Konzert AG)

The Performance

Introduction

An opera in short form, indeed! The overture, starting with menacing bass beats, fearful motifs and melody fragments in the descant. A short, descending violin cadenza, followed by a recitative-like ascent into highest, whistling tones. A short scene has multiple voices interacting on the violin. There is an expressive eruption, cascading down, and back up again, followed by short, dramatic violin parades. The piano isn’t much more than an observer, forming transitions between the dramatic blocks. At the end of the introduction (Allegro moderato) it already felt as if one was witnessing the action on stage!

Stage Action!

What followed were excerpts from beautiful arias, dialogs, recitatives. In all of these, Bomsori was carrying the “action”, while the piano was laying out the orchestral soundscape. The violin score explores a broad range of techniques. There are excursions into highest positions, double-stop playing, octave parallels high up on the fingerboard. And rapid scales, as well as broken chords over a large range. Bowing techniques include flageolet, rapid staccato, spiccato, sautillé, and so on. At dramatic climaxes, the turmoil also moved into the orchestra, i.e., the piano. And besides dramatic scenes, there were touching, often heart-warming, emotional passages…

The challenges in this Fantaisie weren’t just of technical nature (particularly on the violin, of course). They were just as much in the abundant number of changes in tempo, character, expression, intensity, textures. With all this, the musicians managed to maintain a coherent, dramatic narrative and musical flow. They laid out an interesting dramatic kaleidoscope. Excellent entertainment in the best sense of the word.

The placement of this Fantasy at the end of the program was of course no coincidence. The strong applause in the end told it all. The performance was brilliant, touching, enthralling, fascinating, and highly effective, as intended! Congrats!

Rating: ★★★★½

Grażyna Bacewicz
Grażyna Bacewicz

Encore #1 — Bacewicz: Oberek No.2

A friendly smile went through the audience when Bomsori started her encore announcement (without microphone) with “Guten Abend!“. It was no surprise that she thanked for the applause with another virtuoso piece:

Composer & Work

Grażyna Bacewicz (1909 – 1969) as a Polish violinist, and the second female Polish composer to reach international recognition. She composed a broad range of works, from solo pieces to chamber music, to orchestral, choral and stage works. Less than a year ago, I have reviewed an orchestral concert on 2021-06-07 featuring an overture by Grażyna Bacewicz.

Bacewicz’ Oberek No.2 for violin and piano is a composition from 1951. According to Wikipedia, Oberek is the fastest of the Five National Dances of Poland. It features quick steps and constant turns.

The Performance

A whirling dance, indeed, full of quick motion, sudden changes, special effects, such as banjo-like, dissonant pizzicatos, short, ascending whistles. Very short, but real fun, fascinating also this!
★★★★½


Myroslav Skoryk
Myroslav Skoryk

Encore #2 — Skoryk: Melody in A minor (1982)

Bomsori’s tone changed when she announced her second encore. She thanked the audience again. Her voice almost broke when she referred to the ongoing war & humanitarian catastrophe in Ukraine as the reason for her choice:

Composer & Work

The Ukrainian composer, pianist and conductor Myroslav Mihaylovich Skoryk (1938 – 2020) produced works for piano, chamber music, choral and orchestral works, as well as film music. His Melody in A minor (1982) originally is a composition for piano solo. It also exists in versions for violin and orchestra, as well as for solo instrument and piano.

The Performance

A simple, melancholic, reflective tune, with elegiac moments of sadness, if not despair and hopelessness. There is a brief, expressive climax—signs of hope?—before the piece again retracts into sadness and silence. And the audience remained silent for several seconds of reflection. Only then, the applause set in again, culminating in a standing ovation.
★★★★


Conclusions

Throughout the recital, Thomas Hoppe proved an excellent, diligent partner to Bomsori. Despite the open lid, he ensured that the piano never overpowered the violin. This was particularly critical with the Beethoven sonata. There, the composer had instruments with much smaller, lighter (and more colorful) sonorities in mind. Only too often, I have experienced pianists who failed to control their volume in such music.

In the romantic & virtuosic repertoire, Bomsori Kim proved that she deserves the excellent reputation that she earned over the recent years. She demonstrated excellent technique, a beautiful tone, virtuosity, firmness in intonation, sparkling musicality. And she exposed her youthful, vibrant personality that opens her playing a path right into the hearts of the audience.


Acknowledgement

The author would like to express his gratitude to the organizer, Hochuli Konzert AG, for the press ticket to this concert, for the information about Bomsori’s encores, and for the photos from the concert.


A Joint Debut CD: Bomsori Kim and Rafał Błechacz

Bomsori Kim, Rafał Błechacz — Fauré, Debussy, Szymanowski, Chopin (CD cover)

Fauré: Violin Sonata No.1 in A major, op.13; Debussy: Violin Sonata in G minor, L.148; Szymanowski: Violin Sonata in D minor, op.9; Chopin: Nocturne No.20 in C♯ minor, op.posth. (arr. Nathan Milstein)

Bomsori Kim, violin
Rafał Błechacz, piano

DG / Universal Music 289 483 644 (CD stereo, ℗ / © 2019)

Bomsori Kim, Rafał Błechacz — Fauré, Debussy, Szymanowski, Chopin (CD, UPC-A barcode)
amazon media link


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