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Aged 28, South Korean pianist Yekwon Sunwoo won first prize at the 15th Cliburn Competition in 2017; here is a map of the journey to that crown. He is the first Korean to take Gold. Curtis and Juilliard- trained, Sunwoo has all the technique competition winners require; interpretatively he still has some way to go. He presents music that speaks of his strengths: the Ravel is a terrific performance, characterised not just by its abandon but also by its sheer clarity, although the recording could do with a touch more focus in the bass. However, the excitement is all there.

A pity there are no booklet notes on the music itself (the focus is understandably on the pianist), since the Strauss/Grainger is rare. This Ramble on the Last Love-Duet from ‘Der Rosenkavalier’ is very well done, if without the sheer charm of Grainger’s own Columbia version. The excellent Marc- André Hamelin test piece, Toccata on ‘L’Homme armé’ is brilliant. In itself it is the perfect competition piece, Sunwoo finding just the right staccato touch, while the music displays huge imagination in working with its famous theme.

Sunwoo’s performance of Haydn’s two-movement Sonata in C major Hob XVI:48 is interpretatively indebted to Brendel but without that master’s presence and maturity. He has a sparkling approach to the Rondo, a proper Presto delivered with sparkling articulation. If the Schubert/ Liszt Ständchen is on the bland side, the Rachmaninov Sonata No 2 (performed in the 1931 version) sometimes threatens to lose momentum, its bell references undervalued, and somewhat lacks harmonic sensibility in the central panel. A rather mixed debut, but a promising one without doubt. Watch this space.

COLIN CLARKE Read the full review on Agora Classica

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