There are debuts and debuts: the blood bank of human endeavor is forever bringing new musical talent to the fore. But I daresay, the recital of a 19-year-old cellist at Weill Hall on February 3rd was more than merely excellent, it was an historical coming of a fully honed master virtuoso; one is compelled to formulate new standards for the golden instrument!
Young Mr. Kim came to us with formidable credentials. The young artist was born in Seoul, Korea in 1993 and began his studies with Susan Moses, with whom he worked for five years at the University of Indiana in Bloomington. During this time he also received tutelage from Janos Starker, and later from Laurence Lesser at the New England Conservatory. He also enrolled at the Walnut Hill School for the Arts, and is currently studying at Yale with Aldo Parisot. It goes without saying that during his apprenticeship to some of the most illustrious and revered pedagogues of his instrument, Mr. Kim has garnered competition prizes and performance laurels (e.g. The Boston Symphony Orchestra at Symphony Hall; the NEC Youth Orchestra at Jordan Hall; the Korean Broadcasting Symphony Orchestra in his native South Korea– just to cite a few of his accomplishments–before making his official debut at Weill Hall).
But all of this foregoing is commonplace: after a few astonishing and beautifully tapered, long spun phrases of Schubert’s “Arpeggione” Sonata, D.821, this astonished and experienced connoisseur realized that James Kim is a miracle. Never mind my hyperbole; the absolute perfection of his playing, technically, musically and communicatively, had me recalling Casals, Fournier, Rostropovich and Tortelier (of a very different school) but likewise, Feuermann, Yo-Yo-Ma, Miklós Perényi, Heifetz (of a closely analogous virtuoso persuasion), and of course Kim’s mentors, Starker and Parisot. Never before, have I encountered such winged ease, such airborne joy, such silken smooth bowing and tone production. All of these facets were present at the service of stylistic knowledge, bracing rhythmic thrust and most importantly, an inviting warmth and modest honesty.
The Schubert Sonata was played with the first movement repeat, forward momentum and necessary flexibility. Kim’s assisting pianist, Larry Weng, a pupil of Boris Berman at Yale, supplied spot-on ensemble and concentration. He also won a “Brownie Point” by using the Barenreiter Edition, with its corrected harmonies in the central Adagio.
The Debussy D Minor Sonata that followed also had the requisite impetuosity and unpredictability. Altogether, a volatile, wonderfully shaded and exquisitely timed rendition from both protagonists.
Isang Yun’s short unaccompanied piece, “Glissees pour violoncello seul”, especially written for a competition in 1970, makes, as intended, fiendishly difficult demands on the player, but Kim mastered these hurdles as if they were child’s play.
The Mendelssohn D Major Sonata, Op. 58 (more frequently played than its predecessor, No. 1 in B-Flat) took off in a shower of gravel, a galloping interpretation (with pianist Weng as an ideal co-jockey).
There was an encore, too: Rostropovich’s Humoreske, which resembled David Popper’s “Elfentanz”, albeit with an unfamiliar, sinister spice.