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Review: A Teenage Pianist Takes on the Canon at Carnegie Hall

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 rendition of a piece he has already played.

Bowing modestly after making his Carnegie debut with a confident, supple, eventually dazzling performance of Chopin’s 27 études, the teenage pianist Yunchan Lim had given three eloquent encores of other Chopin works. But the ovation continued. So he returned to the stage and started the gentle undulations of the A-flat major étude he had played some 40 minutes earlier — now with even more flowing naturalness.

Lim was courting comparison with himself after a concert spent courting comparison with the canon. Chopin’s complete études are only an hour of music, but that hour is one of the most difficult and storied in the piano repertoire, a daunting yet irresistible gantlet for musicians who model themselves after the old school.

Even precociously old school. At 19, the same age as Chopin when the earliest of these pieces was written, Lim has already shown boldness in taking on standards. When, in June 2022, he became the Van Cliburn International Piano Competition’s youngest winner, his victory was secured with a wholly unafraid version of Rachmaninoff’s Third Piano Concerto. The Cliburn and Steinway have since released a live recording of his electrifying semifinal round, playing Liszt’s “Transcendental Études.”

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