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  Founder: Len Mullenger
Classical Editor: Rob Barnett

BARGAIN OF THE MONTH

 

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Isang YUN (1917-1995)
Chamber Symphony I (1987) [26:53]
Tapis (1987) [8:23]
Gong-Hu (1984)a [25:47]
Rana Park (harp)a;
Korean Chamber Ensemble/Piotr Borkowski
rec. Seoul National University Concert Hall, Seoul, August 2005
NAXOS 8.557938 [61:03]

 

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.

Hubert Culot

see also Review by Glyn Pursglove

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