With the plethora of pianists around today it’s unlikely that
Sung-Suk Kang will be a name on the tip of the tongue, especially
as an exponent of an all-Mozart programme.
The comprehensive biography informs the listener that Kang was born
in Seoul, South Korea, and began her formal training at the age of
five. After a further period of study in Singapore as a teenager,
she came to the UK to continue her musical education at Manchester’s
Royal Northern College of Music. Winning first prize in the Schumann
competition in Italy, she completed her studies in Paris, before moving
to Vienna. Kang has already recorded for Meridian, where her discs
of Chopin and Schumann have been well received.
Kang’s biography rather gives a clue as to what you might expect
to hear on the present CD.
In terms of repertoire she has chosen two of Mozart’s ‘performer’
Sonatas - in A minor, and D major, respectively. These always figured
on piano-diploma repertoire lists, given that they probably make greater
technical demands on the player than some of the others. Furthermore
the A minor, and the frequently-encountered Fantasia in D minor do
provide opportunities for a more ‘Romantic’ treatment,
something with which a player of Chopin and Schumann may well empathise.
The remaining Sonata in B flat, K570 is a popular work, and helps
contribute to a varied selection.
Kang’s playing is most articulate. Dynamic shadings are well
observed, tempi are appropriate and, most importantly, while the interpretation
is never devoid of a sense of individualism, it never oversteps that
boundary which is so crucial in the works of Mozart - not earth-shattering,
but equally not mundane either.
Meridian designates the CD ‘A Natural Sound Recording’.
While this is comforting to read, one would hope that all recordings
had this objective in mind. The piano is not identified and with judiciously-placed
microphones, it would be difficult to decide whether this is a full-length
concert grand, and not ideally suited to the material, or, perhaps,
an instrument of boudoir size. From the sonority of the
bass notes alone, the latter would seem to be more likely.
But what can seem a tad intrusive at times is just an occasional
slight whoosh, as the sustaining pedal is released, and
the dampers fall back in place against the strings. Meridian does
not use any post-production processing in its appropriately-named
Natural Sound recordings, such as the present CD, a practice
employed for well over thirty years now.
In the opening Sonata, the trills tend to start on the note itself,
rather than on the note above, which was contemporary practice. This
does somewhat scale-down the harmonic tension particularly at cadences,
or ‘ending points’. In the work’s Presto
Finale, however, Kang finely manages the key change to the major,
with a slight degree of ‘liberty-taking’, but one which
comes off, and is not felt as self-conscious.
Kang successfully resists the urge to over-cook the Fantasia, and
makes the best of Mozart’s rather banal closing bars - which
history now ascribes almost certainly to some lesser mortal.
The Sonata in B flat is distinguished by a well-pointed Finale, where
Kang’s ability to balance the hands appropriately is very much
to the fore, and is used to good effect.
This is also especially well-managed in the final work, where the
contrapuntal writing in the opening Allegro is especially effective,
and also in the Rondo Finale. This is taken quite briskly for its
Allegretto marking, but definitely comes off in performance,
contrasting nicely with the movement’s decidedly understated
Sleeve-notes are comprehensive, even if the amount of information
provided does make for the use of quite a small font and no paragraphs.
The emboldened of titles for each piece does offer some assistance,
at least in quickly homing in on each item.
Perhaps a slightly more thorough spot of proof-checking, though, might
have corrected the title Fantasie D minor - a mix of German
and English - and the absent ‘K’ in the final work’s
Köchel catalogue number.
All in all, then, a satisfying CD which does what it says on the tin,
but which artistically sits between two stools. There are equally
good recordings of these works available, by similarly little-known
artists, and which are somewhat cheaper. Alternatively pay more and
get trusted interpretations from respected and perhaps more eminent
Philip R Buttall