Dreaming with Chloe Mun

Published 15 July 2017  Review

‘The Keyboard Trust’s 2016/17 season at Steinway Hall, London ended on 21 June in a blaze of applause and recognition for the outstanding performance by the 22-year old South Korean pianist Chloe Mun. The concert gave effect to the Keyboard Trust’s Career Development Prize awarded her at the 2015 Ferruccio Busoni Competition in Bolzano with which – like Martha Argerich in 1957 – she had crowned her previous victory at the Geneva Competition.

The programme offered a full palette for a display of her remarkable gifts, embracing Galuppi’s Sonata for Harpsichord No.5 in C Major T.27, Debussy’s Images – Première Série, and the Schumann’s Fantasie in C Major Op.17. The concert was linked with an appearance at St Mary’s Perivale, attended by Christopher Axworthy, the Trust’s Joint Artistic Director, who wrote the following full and enthusiastic report.’

Dreaming with Chloe Mun

Chloe Mun, Gold medal winner of Geneva and Busoni International Piano competitions at St Mary`s Perivale in the remarkable series of great young pianists of Dr Hugh Mather.

It was last October that I heard Chloe Mun play at Rome University as part of her prize for winning the Gold Medal at the 2015 Busoni Competition in Bolzano. Part of that prize was also a concert in London for the Keyboard Charitable Trust whose founders Noretta Conci-Leech and John Leech have long been associated with the Busoni Competition. They listen to all the competitors and offer encouragement and help to many great talents that do not necessarily have all the requisites to carry off a Gold Medal, though with the right sort of help such as the Trust offers, can gain the necessary experience and time to allow their talent to mature and grow. Romanovsky, Lifits, Leone, Cao, Rimoldi are only a few of the many that have been helped and have since made their way successfully in what can be a very precarious career.

Only recently Rodolfo Leone and Bolai Cao, noted in the Busoni Competition, have won first and third prizes in the Beethoven International Piano Competition in Vienna. Jiyeong Mun – known to the musical world as Chloe Mun – had all the requisites at the age of only 19 to carry home the Gold Medals of the Geneva and Busoni International Piano Competitions – a feat only once repeated and that was by a 16 year old girl by the name of Martha Argerich! Chloe is not the typical child prodigy for she came from a very disadvantaged family in South Korea . Both parents are disabled and receive only a state subsidy; and she began studying the piano at her own initiative. Despite her family’s economic hardships she soon decided that she wanted to take her piano career seriously,refusing to be discouraged. Because she did not have a piano at home she practised either at school or in a neighbourhood Church. She even discontinued traditional schooling in order to spend more time at the piano – and subsequently graduated on her own well ahead of her peers. It was in 2009 at the age of 14 that she won First prize at the Art Dream Competition organized by the Korean Business Council,which allows people in the poorer echelons of society access to higher artistic education. It was on this occasion that she met Daejin Kim, winner of the Cleveland Casadesus International Competition in 1985. Since 1994 he has moved back to Korea with his family and teaches at the Korean National University. He has been on the jury of many prestigious competitions and his students have gone on to win many international prizes, among them Sunwook Kim, winner of the Haskil ( 2005 ) and Leeds International Competitions (2006), and now Chloe Mun, winner of the Geneva (2014 ) and Busoni (2015). Since that fateful day in 2009 Daejin Kim has been her teacher and mentor and she is currently studying with him at The Korean National University.

Thanks to the great generosity and knowledgeable enthusiasm of Hugh Mather who, having listened to her remarkable performances on YouTube and knowing that Chloe had been invited to play for the Keyboard Trust at Steinway Hall, immediately offered her another engagement in his piano recital series in Perivale, changing his holiday plans and offering hospitality to this 21-year-old young lady in order to make her 6000-mile trip from Korea more worthwhile.

We say in Italy it is the facts that count, and time and time again Dr Mather has proved himself to be a real benefactor of these remarkable talents that are emerging as never before. He was not disappointed, as were none of those present in the charming little wooden church in the middle of Ealing Golf Course on what must be the hottest day of the year. I congratulated Dr Mather on his new piano.  ‘New?’ he exclaimed, ‘but it’s the same one that everyone plays.’ Just that in her hands it became a real magic box. A box full of the most wondrous dreams because that is what we were treated to from the first to the last note. I had heard her in October and noted her pianistic and musical perfection but felt it lacked an experience of life. But now, less that a year later, here was all the same perfection but allied to a sense of wonder and beauty without any rhetoric or histrionics. I would say it was one of the most sublime recitals that I have heard in recent years. A sense of balance that allowed the piano to sing without any forcing. A sheen and sumptuous quality to the sound that one would only think possible on the very finest German pianos. I am reminded of Richter who had no preference for a piano, for he wanted to dive down deep into the instrument to discover its hidden secrets and then seduce and engulf the instrument, holding us in a trance as only great artists can do. It takes total dedication and, as we can see from Chloe’s difficult past, it is this total determination together with expert guidance at the right time that has brought her to the pinnacle of pianistic perfection.

Her opening Galuppi Sonata T.27 in C major had the same crystaline purity that Michelangeli revealed to us in this very sonata. It takes great control of balance to allow the melody to sing in such a pure way, seemingly without pedal because so subtle. So few notes but so pregnant with meaning. Truly art that conceals art. This little three movement Sonata became a jewel in her hands. Ornaments so unobtrusively executed that one was not aware of the transcendental difficulty of allowing them to be part of the overall musical line. What a wonder these sonatas and those of Scarlatti can be on the piano when played in such a simple refined aritocratic manner.

Amazing control of sound in the Images Book one by Debussy. The washes of sound in Reflets dans l’eau were quite miraculous in their unobtrusiveness just as they are – or at least should be – in Ravel’s Ondine. This is water cascading, never overpowering as so often is heard in this piece. The stillness she brought to the ending was quite magical and on this piano a major miracle.

Hommage a Rameau I have heard many times from Rubinstein and it has always remained with me for the subtle colouring and aristocratic, very French sound that could be so telling here as in Poulenc. Full of pathos and robustness but never romantic or sentimental. The wondrous coda and complete change of colour – as though on another planet. One of those magical moments that are so rare, when you feel the interpreter is in awe of the sounds that are being conjured out of this box of tricks.

All this I was reminded of in the performance by Chloe – total magic, head down in total concentration.

The transcendental pianism in the Mouvement was only to be marvelled at – where the clarity of the continuous Mouvement was so quiet that the melodic line was allowed to speak as very rarely it is heard. Starting from nothing and disappearing to nothing, a real feat that only a great musical mind with a wonderful ear could have achieved. If this was remarkable, little did we expect to be transported into the world of dreams in the second half. For that is what is what it was …

‘The Poet Speaks’, so apt a title for the last piece in Schumann’s Scenes of Childhood . The dual personalities of Florestan and Eusebius through whom the poet Schumann could speak. But Schumann’s music needs a special sound: it is neither Beethoven,Schubert or Chopin.It is a quite unique sound world that Guimar Novaes and Clara Haskil understood so well. There has to be a special sheen to the sound that can be both sumptuous and voluptuous as it can be rhythmic and passionate. But it is above all lyrical and it was this aspect that Chloe understood so well, from the opening notes of the Arabeske opus 18 that can sound so mundane and ordinary, the same theme repeated endlessly in between contrasting episodes. Here today we were treated to an Arabeske that seemed to come out of thin air, with the contrasting episodes so enveloped in the overall line that each appearance of the theme was transformed and seemingly ever more beautiful. Disolving into a coda of such magic that it can only be likened to Schumann’s own Liederkreis.

What to say of the Schumann Fantasie? An outpouring of love for Clara. Dedicated to Franz Liszt who famously sight read the Fantasie infront of the composer. Liszt dedicated his B minor Sonata in return. Both works are pinnacles of the Romatic era.

Having heard a near perfect performance from Chloe in Rome – but one in which I had been strangely untouched by her pianistic and musical perfection – I was not expecting the overwhelming musical experience that she offered today.

Here was all the passion that had been missing, but allied to an intelligence that allowed her to control the sound with such architectural prudence that, when the great climax at the end of the middle section Im Legenden-Ton emerged, it was the same overwhelming experience that I remember from Clifford Curzon, that true master of the great Romantic tradition. The dotted rhythms that can be so irritating in the second movement were played here with such a sense of line and a quite unique sound that allowed the music to sing in a single breath. All leading to the last statement of the march – Mässig indeed- and an overwhelming coda played as a real musician but with a truly virtuoso technique . Bringing the second movement to a tumultuous close.

Such was the concentration of the audience that where there would normally be unwanted applause, here there was total silence. A silence pregnant with meaning that after an almost unbearable few moments the magical Langsam getragen entered as if by magic. A magic kaleidoscope of colours but always with that sheen (so reminiscent of Novaes) that carried us along in the dream – her dream, Schumann’s dream. Leading to the sublime, almost unbearable beauty of the final two pages. Gradually unfolding to the  climax and gentle dropping off to the final chords that were played with an ever more magical diminuendo.

It made one realise what a love Schumann had for Clara, reawakened by Chloe’s hands today.

Then Triana from Iberia by Albeniz played with all the sunshine and charm that this piece can contain in the right hands. Never just note spinning but bands of colours that she seemed to conjure out of thin air. What could she play after such a feast as that?

Widmung, the song by Schumann transcribed by Liszt.

One of the finest I have ever heard, because it was a song with all the passion and heartfelt confessions allied to such sumptuous, subtle sound that this truly was the highlight for me of a remarkable recital.

Having received her accolades from a truly grateful audience, Chloe sat down and played Träumerei – dreaming by Schuman

We left in tears.



Christopher Axworthy


Jiyeong (Chloe) Mun South Korea