Cliburn winner Yekwon Sunwoo provides subtle surprises in a daring performance


Van Cliburn International Piano Competition winner Yekwon Sunwoo performs at the Bass Performance Hall in Fort Worth Tuesday, Oct. 3, 2017.

Yekwon Sunwoo clearly had decided to defy expectations.

The stereotypical piano competition winner has expertly machined technique and enjoys showing it off, but without overly rocking interpretive boats. Sunwoo's recital Tuesday night, though, was conspicuously short on showpieces

Indeed, not until the final dozen minutes of the 28-year-old South Korean's recital, his first in the area since winning the Van Cliburn International Piano Competition in June, did he release the fireworks. 

It was a daring gesture, in the first program of the 2017-18 Cliburn Concerts, at Bass Performance Hall, to make so much of so many small-scale pieces. The first half was all Mozart, and in the Romance in A-flat major (K. Anh. 205), Rondo in A minor (K. 511) and Sonata in C major (K. 330), only rarely did the playing suggest so much as a forte. The bulk of the recital's second half was devoted to six Schubert pieces composed for amateur pianists, the Moments musicaux.

From the very beginning of the Romance (which may not even be by Mozart), though, it was clear that something special was happening. There was the loveliest soft focus, the most gracious turn of phrases, the keenest sensitivity to harmonic nuance, but never with the slightest fussiness. There was dancing jollity in the outer movements of the sonata, but in an 18th-century silks-and-satins sense.