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YOUNG JO LEE (b. 1943) Korean Piano Music:
Dance Suite; Five Korean Legends;
Variations on a Theme of Schubert; Variations: "3B"
My Kim (piano)
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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 experience.

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 Korean song,

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


Ian Lace


Ian Lace

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