Pianist Irene Kim, the 2010 CMS Piano Competition Winner

Irene Kim, a top prize winner in the 2010 Carmel Music Society’s Piano Competition and a real audience favorite last year, returned to Sunset Center last night and once again made a powerful impression.

It was her blockbuster performance of Prokofiev’s Sonata No. 6 in A Major in the second half of the recital that was the great hit of the evening. This sonata is a kaleidoscopic tapestry of changing colors and moods that contains long, aggressive “in-your-face” harshly dissonant passages contrasted with sublime moments of tenderness and retrospection. Irene Kim proved herself to be a supreme master of Prokofiev’s style, for the harsh dissonances were strong (although never uglier than they needed to be), and the tender moments were full of suppressed emotion. Kim’s playing of the first movement had an authoritative inevitability about it, so much so that it was difficult to imagine a better performance. The Allegretto second movement was a fine example of Prokofiev at his most charming and witty, with Kim’s extraordinary clarity and rhythmic precision raising it to even greater heights. The final two movements, a sad and moving waltz and a frenetic finale with a return to the first movement’s aggressive dissonances helped make this work a powerful experience whose conclusion brought the crowd to its feet for a thundering ovation and a shower of bravos.

The first half of Ms. Kim’s recital was decidedly more low key. Her opening selection was the enigmatic and subtle Rondo in A Minor, K. 511 by Mozart. This Rondo always comes across to audiences as a melancholy gentle waltz. Its haunting theme is constantly subjected to variations and is contrasted with two episodes, one laced with counter melodies and the other in A Major that proved once again how Mozart could be sad and poignant, even in a major key. The lovely extended coda to this Rondo is one of its most impressive features, and Ms. Kim gave us some tender expression in its gentle unwinding.

Following the Mozart Rondo came another enigmatic work, and the other blockbuster piece on this program — Schumann’s Kreisleriana, Op. 16. During its 30-minute duration it tends to ramble from one state of emotion to another as it represents Schumann’s expressive reaction to the charismatic writings of E.T.A. Hoffman. Perhaps a work more popular with pianists than audiences (it is less accessible to listeners than Carnival or Davidbündlertänze), however Ms. Kim injected it with considerable vitality and charm.

Filling out the program was a lovely performance of Schubert’s Impromptu in B-flat Major, Op. 142, No. 2. This piece begins with its familiar theme from the Rosamunde ballet, and Kim chose to underplay the cantabile element of the theme while saving all of her charm and razzle dazzle for the variations that followed. The result of this was her performance created a considerable cumulative effect. Her glittering passages were superb and the slower variations suitably meaningful.

At the end of the evening she gave us one encore, a rousing performance of the piano arrangement of the March from Prokofiev’s “The Love for Three Oranges.” Thereby hangs an interesting tale. This March was used as the theme song for a 30-minute radio series “The FBI in Peace and War” which ran from 1944-1955. In 1950, with the “Cold War” underway and McCarthy’s pursuit of alleged Communists on everybody’s mind, the producers of the show suddenly realized that this theme, which for six years had been so identified with the FBI was written by a “Commie” and needed to be replaced. It was.


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