“This was virtuosity as life force” – Yunchan Lim’s Dazzling Carnegie Hall Debut

23 Feb 2024

Yunchan Lim made his hotly anticipated Carnegie Hall debut on Wednesday, February 21, thrilling audience and critics. His virtuosic performance of Chopin’s 27 études, inspired a rapturous response, as The New York Times’ Zachary Woolfe reports:

“It was that rare occasion on Wednesday: There was an encore at Carnegie Hall. I mean a literal, French-for-“again” encore, when a musician, brought back at the end of a concert by applause and more applause, gives another renditionn of a piece he has already played…—now with even more flowing naturalness.”

Woolfe continues:

“Seven measures into the third étude, there is a passing phrase when the melody is ornamented twice, in quick succession, with little grace notes. Lim lingered ever so slightly over the first of these two, then did the second in time: a perfect, tiny evocation of memory giving way to reality. At the end of No. 8, he chose softness instead of the score’s indicated fortissimo, creating a smooth transition into the mysterious No. 9, rather than a stark contrast.

“The third étude galloped without being overstated; the fifth was sly; the ninth was raucous, stride-piano fun. Lim unleashed a rough but exciting touch in the 10th’s octaves, with a second section that built from hymnlike simplicity through increasing complexity to a devilish transition back to the octaves. The swirling drama of the 11th gave way, in the 12th, to a grandly molten legato under relentless arpeggios.

“As in the best performances of these pieces, there was not just music in the difficulty; there was also joy.”

Jay Nordlinger in The New Criterion writes,

“When Mr. Lim took the stage last night, he got right down to business: no fuss, no muss. He bowed, soberly, and sat down to play immediately. This would be his demeanor all night long. A sober formality, as the audience went nuts.

“Chopin’s études are virtuoso classical pieces. But they also incorporate folk elements—dances, songs. Lim is aware of this. He is also aware that, when you play the études complete, you have to feel the right timing between pieces. He certainly did last night. …

“By rights, Yunchan Lim should be wowing audiences into the 2080s.”