Isang Yun’s music is now fairly well represented
in commercial recordings, although some important aspects of
his vast output are still conspicuously absent, most importantly
his operas. The backbone of his output lies in his five symphonies
- all available from CPO either separately or in a boxed set
- and his many concertos - most of them available in commercial
recordings, though from different sources - as well as in his
numerous miscellaneous orchestral works; neither should his
chamber output be neglected.
This disc offers three pieces dating from
Yun’s maturity and written in 1984 and 1987, when he was full
master of his aims and means, and could compose in complete
freedom; I mean, stylistically speaking. His mature music often
draws on old Korean or eastern music while avoiding any all-too-easy
exotic picturesqueness. The elements drawn from eastern sources,
such as quarter-tones and ornamentation, are quite often used
to add instrumental colour into the tightly knit argument. In
his own way, Yun managed to achieve a most satisfying synthesis
of eastern and western musical traditions, which makes his music
instantly recognisable. This is particularly remarkable in his
marvellous writing for strings, a sort of Yun trade mark, and
that is fully displayed in the three pieces here. Moreover,
his mature music has gained much in expression and accessibility,
though it is always tightly organised. The three works here
bear eloquent testimony to Yun’s full mastery during the last
decade of his creative life.
The harp concerto
Gong-Hu was dedicated to Ursula Holliger and was
first performed by her with the Camerata Bern conducted by Heinz
Holliger, a long-time champion of Yun’s music and the dedicatee
of his very last work, the Quartet for Oboe and String
Trio (on ECM 1848/9 see review).
The title refers to the konghu - the Chinese harp introduced
in China from Persia. It is cast in a single movement scored
for strings. As in the other pieces recorded here, the music
is characterised by strongly articulated counterpoint. It alternates
moods and dynamics in an almost effortless manner, providing
the soloist with many passages calling for considerable virtuosity.
There is a sizeable cadenza near the end, although the harp
writing is completely free from eccentric playing technique.
Yun also managed to free the instrument from its many impressionistic
associations, although this very beautiful score is not lacking
in instrumental colour. This is a splendid work and a most welcome
addition to the repertoire. It makes a change from the better-known
war-horses by Debussy, Ravel or Pierné and definitely deserves
to be part of the repertoire.
The string quintet
Tapis also exists in a version for full string
ensemble heard here. Appropriately enough, the music weaves
contrapuntal lines into a subtly shaded web of sounds, not without
telling contrasts though. In its short duration, it is a supreme
example of Yun’s marvellous string writing. Of course, some
may find that the chamber version - available on CPO 999 075-2
- is generally subtler than the weightier version heard here.
Both versions work well.
Unlike the Chamber
Symphony II (1989) scored for small orchestra, the Chamber
Symphony I is scored for strings and pairs
of oboes and horns. This makes it the perfect companion to the
other works here, although oboes and horns are busy throughout.
Globally, it has much in common with Tapis and
Gong-Hu. It obviously comes from the same pen,
and is again a splendid example of Yun’s masterly string writing.
It is in a long single movement with contrasting sections developing
a tightly knit symphonic argument. It is a real, substantial
symphony albeit scored for small orchestral forces. It is not
all that different from Yun’s orchestral symphonies, the Fifth
excepted being for baritone and orchestra.
Yun’s strongly expressive
music is simply too good to be ignored, and the three works
here provide an excellent and attractive introduction to his
personal sound-world. These readings by the Korean Chamber Ensemble
are fully convincing, with some very fine playing from all concerned
- listen to the horns in the Chamber Symphony I
and to the strings in all three pieces. I hope that Naxos will
soon follow this with a much needed recording of the Chamber
Symphony II and of the other shorter orchestral works.
In short, if you
know Yun’s music, you will need no further recommendation to
get this disc for Gong-Hu and Chamber Symphony
I. If you have never heard it and are willing to give
it a try, you will not be disappointed either by the pieces
or the fine performances heard here. My Bargain of the Month.
see also Review
by Glyn Pursglove