Yunchan Lim made a magnificent debut at London’s Wigmore Hall on Wednesday, 18 January. The Cliburn International Piano Competition Gold Medallist earned thunderous applause lasting for more than 10 curtain calls for his exquisite performance. The Wigmore Live stream of the sold-out recital has already been viewed more than 100,000 times. The recital, featuring an inventive and challenging programme of works by Dowland (arranged by Byrd), Bach and Beethoven is available to view through 18 April on YouTube.

In his 5-star review for The Times, Richard Morrison writes:

“If ever a young pianist made his London debut trailing clouds of glory, it was this 18-year-old South Korean. Last year Yunchan Lim became the youngest winner in the history of the Van Cliburn competition. …

“He revealed what an extraordinary imagination and technique he has. Opening with William Byrd’s sublime arrangement of John Dowland’s Lachrymae Pavan and continuing with 15 of Bach’s keyboard sinfonias, Lim weighted the counterpoints so perfectly, and deployed such a subtle metrical flexibility, that every inner detail seemed to be imbued with a character of its own. …his playing seemed admirably free of sentimentality.

“It was in the all-Beethoven second half, however, that we heard the volcanic side of his music-making. In the more volatile of the 7 Bagatelles, Op 33, his touch suddenly became steely and spiky; all the better for bringing out Beethoven’s displaced accents and unexpected harmonic twists.

“Then followed a superbly cogent performance of the Eroica Variations, Op 35. …Lim revelled in their variety, in the opportunities to display so many aspects of his pianism. Not all piano competition winners fulfil their potential. I have a feeling he will.”

Jessica Duchen writes in her 5-star review for The I:

“His personal sound is beyond gorgeous; it’s pure, lyrical, almost vocal, while his control of clarity, texture and balance couldn’t be faulted even if one wished to try. And he is blessed with a musical intelligence and instinct that would be equally astonishing in someone twice his age. …

“In Dowland’s ‘Flow, my Tears’, transcribed for keyboard by William Byrd, Lim and his modern instrument evoked an austere atmosphere that felt almost like being inside a 16th century hall. The Bach Sinfonias, 15 short pieces inhabiting a galaxy of moods, were presented in a well-contrasted order of Lim’s own, ending with the darkest; they took wing with airborne grace and unmannered, crystalline beauty.

“His Beethoven choices were from the composer’s youngish years when his work was iconoclastic and infuriatingly brilliant. Again, Lim caught the essence of their character deep within his sound, coaxing the piano by turns into dragonesque growls, crackling sparklers and honeyed liquor while unerringly building the Variations’ structure into a satisfying arc.”

“Lim could well prove to be the Lang Lang of his generation,” extols Barry Millington in his 5-star review for The Evening Standard. He writes:

“Before playing a note, Lim demonstrated a streak of originality with his choice of programme. Nothing in the first half was actually written for the piano. The opening item was an arrangement by William Byrd (intended for the virginals) of John Dowland‘s celebrated song Flow my Teares, which began life anyway as a lute solo. The rest of the half was taken up with Bach’s set of three-part Sinfonias or Inventions, which would originally have been played on a harpsichord or clavichord.

“Lim nevertheless claimed these pieces for his instrument, delivering them with a good deal of interpretative freedom but always within an appropriate and mature sense of style. The sighing phrases of the Dowland were transmuted into subtly coloured, immaculately voiced arcs, while the Bach miniatures were imaginatively dispatched with a different mood or temperament for each – jaunty, good-humoured, pensive and so forth – ending with a poignant reading of the F minor, with its anguished chromaticisms.

[Beethoven’s op. 33 set of Bagatelles]’s anarchic offbeat accents, capricious pauses and the smile-inducing unpredictability of it all were relished by the player. So too was the range of moods explored in Beethoven’s Eroica Variations, where Lim’s virtuosity was at its most dazzling, yet as always deployed so as to highlight the idiosyncratic exuberance of the music.”

Watch Yunchan Lim’s Wigmore Hall Debut on YouTube through 18 April 2023

John Dowland, arr. William Byrd: Pavana Lachrymae
Johann Sebastian Bach: 15 Sinfonias BWV787-801
Ludwig van Beethoven: 7 Bagatelles Op. 33 15 Variations and a Fugue on an Original Theme in E flat ‘Eroica Variations’ Op. 35
Johan Sebastian Bach, arr. Myra Hess: Jesu, Joy of Man’s Desiring
Franz Liszt: Liebestraum No. 3

Photo credit: ⓒ Lisa-Marie Mazzucco
Headline quote from The I review by Jessica Duchen