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Ji is Ji-Yong Kim, something of a celebrity in his native South Korea, and not to be confused with his Chinese contemporary, Ji Liu. Warner Classics’ release of the Goldberg Variations is Ji’s first commercial recording, unlike his Chinese rival who has four solo discs to his credit. Nonetheless Ji, still in his mid-twenties, has acquired a degree of popularity – or notoriety depending on your view – through his video of the Moonlight Sonata’s finale on two pianos, one tuned with every key set to middle C.

There have been several formidable Goldberg recordings by young pianists, from Glenn Gould to Ji’s Warner stable-mate, Beatrice Rana. Sadly, Ji’s is not one of them. There are sections where he displays a fine command of the notes and a sense of the work’s larger flow. His phrasing of the opening Aria is nicely handled, the Quodlibet, too, if not attaining the catharsis achieved by Zuzana Růžičková (Erato – a Warner label) or Murray Perahia (Sony Classical), my top recommendations.

In other sections, however – in Variation No 4, for instance – he contrives an ungainliness that borders on the ugly. The gimmicky, pop album-style booklet tells us that ‘Ji’s rendition features nods to contemporary music, from pop rhythmic motifs to jazz improvisation and even some reverb’. Perhaps this accounts for the more wayward passages, which could then be dismissed as an excess of personality.

Purists may be alarmed by the sound of such contemporary pop or jazz aspects but need not worry as I do not hear them in Ji’s account; by the same token, progressives may well be disappointed. The booklet cover’s tacky tagline, ‘J(i) S Bach’, encapsulates this attempt at originality with a classic score. Aiming high, Ji simply misses the target.

GUY RICKARDS Read the full review on Agora Classica


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