HJ Lim: Ravel / Scriabin
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Charismatic, engaging and adventurous, 25-year-old pianist HJ Lim has captivated audiences worldwide. Her debut album of the Complete Beethoven Sonatas debuted at #1 on the Billboard Classical and the iTunes Classical charts; her YouTube videos have gained her well over half a million views to date. Her ambitious new album, a varied collection of waltzes and sonatas by Scriabin and Ravel, showcase her extraordinary virtuosity.
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Next up we find several brief piano sonatas (Nos. 4 and 5), a couple of poems (Nos. 1 and 2), and a waltz (Op. 38), all by Alexander Scriabin (1872-1915). Under Lim, No. 4 comes off with a gentle touch, No. 5 with a more fiery yet vaguely erotic tone, the poems properly contrasting, and the waltz "smooth and easy" as Scriabin himself described it. Each of them comes wrapped in Scriabin's usual Romantic mysticism, although Ms. Lim is careful to include his more fiery side as well.
The program concludes with one of Ravel's most-famous pieces on the disc, La Valse. Ravel had intended it in its orchestral form as the basis for a ballet, which the impresario Sergei Diaghilev rejected, calling it "a portrait of a ballet...a picture of a ballet," but not a ballet. In any case, audiences have loved immensely both the orchestral version of La Valse and the piano version we get here. More important to this review, Ms. Lim addresses the piece with intensity, power, and sensitivity. Ravel's ironic representation of the traditional waltz appears not lost on Lim, who well captures the work's intricacies.
Some listeners may find Ms. Lim's playing a bit too analytical for them. Still, one can hardly doubt her personal commitment in these performances and the care with which handles every note and phrase.
The recording does a good job capturing the sound of Ms. Lim’s Yamaha SFX 6295700 piano; I’m just not sure it’s the best-sounding piano in the world. While very clear, the Yamaha doesn’t seem to have the rich, mellifluous tones of a Steinway, instead producing what seems to me a slightly more strident sound. In any case, the sound of the recording is very clean, with excellent transparency and a quick transient response, matching the type of performances Ms. Lim provides.
John J. Puccio