YOUNG JO LEE (b. 1943) Korean Piano Music:
Dance Suite; Five Korean Legends; Variations on a Theme of
Schubert; Variations: "3B"
My Kim (piano)
ASV CD DCA
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I will readily admit that I would have overlooked this album if I had not
been commissioned to interview My Kim, the young Korean pianist, for Fanfare
magazine, but then I would have missed an unusual and entertaining musical
Young Jo Lee graduated from Yonsei University in Seoul to continue his musical
studies with Carl Orff in Munich. Later he went to Chicago's American
Conservatory of Music for further postgraduate study. After gaining his doctorate
he served as chairman of the Conservatory's Theory and Composition Department
from 1989 to 1994. Lee was a guest composer to three International Society
of Contemporary Music (ISCM) Festivals in Europe, and at an Asian Composers'
League symposium in Beijing. He has organised new music concerts and festivals
in both North and South America. His compositions include numerous choral
and chamber works and an opera Tschu-Yong. Since 1991, he has been
a professor of composition at the Korean National University of the Arts
where he is now Dean of the School of Music.
The influence of the French Impressionists - particularly Debussy - is very
apparent in Lee's music. Although that is not so very surprising when one
considers that Debussy borrowed from eastern music so it's a sort of
re-exporting. Other influences include Ravel, and Messiaen. These influences
overlay traditional Korean forms, of course.
Five Korean Legends is a set of five atmospheric miniatures that enshrine
memories of the composer's childhood. The influence of Debussy is strong
but one is also reminded of the piano music of John Ireland. 'Dreaming' is
just that -- floating, fragile and ethereal. 'Once Upon a Time' continues
the mood and is something of a lullaby. 'Children Playing' contrasts still,
reflective material with lively stuff of children rushing around, busy at
play. 'Memories' are lovely ripples of nostalgic insubstantiality. 'Hide
and Seek' is all rush and excitement then quiet as children try to keep still
in their hiding places.
The more substantial Dance Suite, incorporating several Korean dance
forms, begins with 'Heaven' that opens with deep left hand octaves as the
great Dragon Drum is summoned, followed by a calm, evoking the Royal Court's
tranquillity. Then come increasing wild and sometimes savagely dissonant
dances attributed to a sorceress and a troop of bucolic peasants - again
the influence of Debussy is apparent. Then, surprisingly, we hear the Keel
Row as the basis of 'Children'. Again, this music could have been penned
by John Ireland; the oriental influence is there, too, but very subtly. 'Lovers'
has greater drama - a kaleidoscope sequence of variations on a traditional
Pan Sori Chunhyang-ga, reflecting the joy and pain of the protagonists.
'Buddhists' is a remarkable portrait of the delicate hand movements and the
sinuous steps of dancing priestesses, very Ravelian. The concluding movement
'Peasants', is an exhilarating peasant dance.
My Kim, one of Korea's top pianists, empathises with this lovely evocative
music and brings it vividly to life with all the sensitivity and delicacy
it demands. Clearly a young lady to watch.
The concert of Lee's music concludes with exclusively "Western" music. His
Schubert Variations are based on 'Des Müller's Blumen'
(The Miller's Flowers) from Die schöne Müllerin. As the
variations progress, the affectingly simple music becomes increasingly disturbed
until the hard-driven rhythms become the very different Der
Erlkönig (The Erl-King). The quirky-titled Variations:
3B refer to the big three B's: Bach Beethoven and Brahms and listeners
may enjoy a game of guessing the title of the theme and all the pieces to
which references are made!
If you like the piano music of Debussy and John Ireland you will love this
- a delightful album