Dong Hyek Lim has long wanted to devote an entire album to Schubert. 20 years ago, when he made his recording debut as a protégé of Martha Argerich, his programme comprised Schubert’s Impromptus D899 and pieces by Chopin and Ravel. Now he has recorded two of the three epic piano sonatas that Schubert produced in the final year of his short but prolific life: No 20 in A D959 and No 21 in B flat D960. Each of them lasts some 40 minutes.
“These sonatas are deep, dark, late Schubert,” says Dong Hyek Lim. “From the time I started learning them, I had it in mind to record them. They triggered my emotions so deeply. I feel privileged that I can now present my thoughts and ideas about Schubert.”
In the note that accompanies the recording, the distinguished writer David Murray points out that the composer’s final three sonatas (the other is D958 in C minor) “share much in common: long first movements, liturgical qualities to the first themes, … the harmonic stasis in the developments, and the quiet, inward-looking codas; deeply profound slow movements, filled with anguish, suffering and resignation; remarkably effervescent and playful scherzi, followed by last movements which gently round out the sonatas.”
Murray also cites “their timeless beauty, now universally recognised, despite taking nearly a century for them to become pillars of the repertoire.” The sonatas were not published until after Schubert’s death and only achieved wider currency in the 1920s when they were championed by the pianists Artur Schnabel and Eduard Erdmann.
For all the ‘family resemblance’ between the sonatas D959 and D960, Dong Hyek Lim feels that “they make a good pairing because they are highly contrasted … In D959 Schubert is more determined and clear about what he wants to do. It is perhaps a little brighter than D960 and more Classical in form. D960 is more Romantic and fragile, perhaps somehow vaguer. I wouldn’t say that Schubert knew he was going to die that year, but I can still feel the depth of this music … There are those growling trills in the second movement and motifs that might be portents of death …”
Dong Hyek Lim’s last solo album on Warner Classics was a programme of Chopin, centred on the 24 Préludes. BBC Music Magazine noted that he ran “the gamut between dark turbulence and pastoral tranquility with absolute assurance,” while Gramophone marvelled at “impeccable phrasing that lives and breathes”. How does Lim feel that Schubert and Chopin, born 13 years apart, compare? “They are Romantic and Classical at the same time – and both write music that is always singing. Just think of the number of songs that Schubert wrote!” (He composed more than 600 vocal works, most of them songs.)
“Schubert also occupies a place between late Beethoven and Romanticism,” continues Lim. “His music needs to be played in a disciplined way. That is a challenge for me – we are all born with a temperament, and I am a very romantic person … I try to give his music a controlled shape. I feel very comfortable playing Schubert – I feel I must play it in a Classical way, but I must also let it sing, and I think I succeed in doing that.”
Thank you for the great experience of making music together. It has been a privilege and a pleasure to play with you. Your great artistry was my 70th birthday present. But since now you are celebrating yours, may I wish you a very very happy and healthy birthday and many happy returns.
See you soon,
My dearest Martula,
Meeting you has had a huge impact in my life – a personal, emotional and musical impact.
I was so immensely lucky to meet you – this great, fiery pianist; this living legend, this goddess of music and above all this extraordinary woman – free-spirited, passionate, curious and sensitive.
I was so excited to play with you for the first time – the Mendelssohn Piano Trio – and yet at the same time blown away, even intimidated; this young cellist fresh out of the Conservatoire suddenly face to face with a classical music giant. I will never forget the kindness with which you looked at me, and the trust you placed in me. You led me by the hand on stage with infectious energy and tenderness.
Everything I’ve experienced on stage with you and in life is invaluable. The first wild years at Lugano, the frenzy around the Gulda homage in Japan, the Beethoven Triple Concerto...
Today I’d like to tell you, once again, MERCI.
Thank you for who you are.
Thank you for your sincerity and fidelity.
Thank you for all the love you give your fellow musicians and friends.
Martha Argerich has in many ways been my teacher because I have conducted my debuts with her of the Schumann Piano Concerto, the Liszt E-Flat, Prokofiev's Third Piano Concerto, Tchaikovsky No.1 and Beethoven No.1. Needless to say, once you have performed these concertos with her, it is almost impossible to imagine them played another way, such is her originality, fire, and sophistication.
May she continue to wow us all with her bewitching yet oh-so-natural way with music, and to continue offering her enormous wisdom to the younger generation of musicians...And to those of us who are not so young! -Sir Antonio Pappano
Since I listened to her playing for the very first time I immediately fell in love with her incomparable way of making music. The way she preformed evoked emotions in me that I had never felt before. I was so overwhelmed by her great naturalness, her unfailing musical instinct and her incredible virtuosity and strength that it became one of my biggest dreams to meet her in person some day and maybe even to be able to play for her.
After a couple of years, in 2010, this dream actually came true thanks to a great coincidence: at a small summer festival in Italy my great idol actually let me play for her in her practice room. Everything changed for me. From that day on Martha Argerich became my musical mentor, supported me generously and, above all, a close personal friendship started to grow between us.
Whenever she comes to visit me in Munich now and we sit together to talk and joke about music and life, these are the most inspiring and beautiful hours for me.
I am unbelievably thankful and happy to have her, for me she is the one and only; she is my 'piano mama'!
Thank you, Martula, for existing and for enriching our lives with your wonderful art. All the very best for your birthday from the bottom of my heart! Tantissimi auguroni!
Martha was always was my idol from childhood, and I still remember the moment I met her in Milan for the first time.
Since then I feel in love not only in her playing which is beyond any imagination, but also immense admiration for her warm, motherly and caring personality.
Sometimes I feel guilty that she does care for me so much and I have nothing to offer her...And I have to confess that getting to know her is the best thing ever happened in my life.
Happy birthday, Martha! I love you so much!
If I think to Martha Argerich one word comes immediately to my mind: immortality. Immortality because, with her overwhelming energy, she has been able to stop time and write incredible pages in the history of pianism. Best wishes, Martha! -Beatrice Rana
Seoul-born pianist Dong Hyek Lim has achieved Gold status in his native Korea just weeks after his new Chopin album hit the stands. Now based in Berlin, a student of Arie Vardi and Emmanuel Ax, the 31-year-old says that Chopin is "the closest composer to me, that I feel most comfortable to play".
Lim began a brilliant career at the age of ten, when he was the youngest-ever student admitted to the Moscow Conservatory. His debut recording on EMI Classics (now Warner Classics) appeared in 2002, when he was just 18 - he has been honing his craft ever since.
The music of Chopin, he says of this new album centred around the Preludes, has "so many different characters", and he it on as a personal challenge: "I wanted to test myself, where I am right now."
The Barcarolle, according to Lim, is "one of the most difficult pieces ever written by Chopin", while the Variations Brillantes has "so much charm, it's so interesting, so fresh and so young".
Lim has just embarked on a major tour of his native Korea, including a sold-out concert in his hometown. Chopin Preludes is out now.
Dong Hyek Lim, whose international career now extends to some 15 years, is a pianist whose understanding of the repertoire has been honed through studies in his native Korea, in Russia and in the USA. Originally a protégé of Martha Argerich, he returns to Warner Classics with a programme devoted to the music of Chopin.
His new recital of works by Chopin, centred on the set of 24 Preludes, continues a relationship with the label that goes back to 2002. Lim, then just 18 years old, was introduced to the world with a CD in the ‘Martha Argerich Presents’ series. Gramophone noted his arrival “in a blaze of pianistic glory”, while in France, the album was awarded the prestigious Diapason d’Or. It was followed in 2008 with an album of Bach’s Goldberg Variations coupled with the Bach-Busoni Chaconne.
The French magazine Le Monde de la Musique awarded it a ‘Choc’, while Gramophone wrote that: “There’s no question that he’s a very impressive pianist … [who gives] the sense of profound pleasure in the music … And he’s not afraid to experiment with what he can do in this music … An artist to watch.”
Dong Hyek Lim was born in Seoul in 1984 and began his musical training at the National Korean Conservatory. At the age of 10 he moved to Russia as the youngest-ever student to attend the Moscow Conservatory, where his teacher was Lev Naumov (a pupil of the legendary Heinrich Neuhaus). Lim later moved to Germany to study at Hannover’s Hochschule für Musik with Arie Vardi. In 2001, aged just 15, he became the youngest-ever winner of the Premier Grand Prix at the Concours Long-Thibaud-Crespin. He was also a prizewinner at the Concorso Busoni (2000), the Hamamatsu International Piano Competition (2001), Queen Elisabeth Competition (2003), International Chopin Competition (2005), and the International Tchaikovsky Competition (2007).
Since then, Lim has continued to study – notably with Emmanuel Ax at the Juilliard School in New York – and he himself recognises that he has reached new levels of maturity. Dong Hyek Lim has performed at many of the world’s great concert halls, including Lincoln Center in New York, Walt Disney Hall in Los Angeles, Wigmore Hall in London, the Salle Pleyel and Théâtre des Champs-Élysées in Paris, the Konzerthaus in Berlin, the Palais des Beaux-Arts in Brussels, the Tonhalle in Zurich, the Small and Great Halls of the Moscow State Conservatory, the Łazienki Palace in Warsaw, the Mann Auditorium in Tel Aviv, and, in Japan, Suntory Hall and the Osaka Philharmonic Hall. He has made festival appearances at Verbier, the Chopin Festival, the Ruhr Piano Festival, La Roque d'Anthéron, Montpellier Radio France, the Jacobins Festival (Toulouse) and at Martha Argerich’s festivals in Lugano and Beppu (Japan).
His collaborators amongst orchestras and conductors have included: the St Petersburg Philharmonic Orchestra and Yuri Temirkanov; the NHK Symphony Orchestra and Charles Dutoit; the Orchestre National de France and Kurt Masur; the Orchestre Philharmonique de Radio France and both Myung-Whun Chung and Lawrence Foster; the BBC Symphony Orchestra and Jiří Bělohlávek; the Orchestre National de Belgique and Alexander Dmitriev, and the Warsaw Philharmonic Symphony Orchestra and Antoni Wit.
Dong Hyek Lim's Chopin Preludes album is out now.
Sign up to our newsletter and receive updates and marketing messages from Warner Classics about artists, products and offers.