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Earl KIM (1920-1998)
Violin Concerto (1979) [22:21]
Dialogues for piano and orchestra (1959) [9:12]
Cornet for narrator and orchestra (1984) [25:43]
Cecylia Arzewski (violin)
William Wolfram (piano)
Robert Kim (narrator)
RTE National SO/Scott Yoo
rec. National Concert Hall, Dublin, 31 May-1 June 2004. DDD
NAXOS 8.559226 [57:16]

 

Earl Kim was born in California and studied with the Pacific Coast elite: Schoenberg, Bloch and Sessions. Even so he emerged as a determined romanticist with a fastidious and craftsmanly way with the orchestra.

The concise Violin Concerto is in two parts of which the first is in five segments and the second in three. It has a sustained pianissimo introduction suggestive of some far distant benediction. This mood is picked up by the solo violin in a Chausson-meets-Berg Episode 1. This is followed by a wildly jagged dissonant section for the soloist. Much of the extensive peaceful material can be likened to an amalgam between Mahler's Adagietto, Holst's Neptune and Berg's Violin Concerto. Here is a composer clearly very much at home with beautiful tonal sounds that sometimes tip modestly into Bergian atonalism. At times the music is dependent for its effect on repetition. The work ends with well-judged dramatics. Arzewski gives an admirable performance and is unflinchingly recorded. The work was written for Perlman but I would be surprised if his performance was more impressive than this one.

The even shorter Dialogues for piano and orchestra are from two decades before the concerto. This work bears much more evidence of avant-garde rupture and discontinuity. The fragmentation and juxtaposition of gentle lyrical moments with so much gestural assault is not endearing; nor does it tempt a revisit.

The last work on the disc is a 25 minute piece for orator and orchestra setting Rainer Maria Rilke's narrative poem: Cornet. This is the same poem set, over a more epic span, by Frank Martin. While Martin's music is dour and granitic Kim's has a light and silvery quality that suggests a Russian miniature painting. Kim here projects a continuously illustrative feeling as if the notes are initiated and spurred at every instant by the poem rather than the music ever taking over an imperious role. With music as the handmaid this is a pleasing way to encounter Rilke's poem in English translation. Memorable is the evocation of the death of the Cornet in a whirlwind of scimitar blades. The overall effect is aided by the Eastern-American accent of Kim's nephew Robert, a one-time actor and now New York photographer of actors.

The informative notes are by Paul Salerni.

Kim’s Violin Concerto is the real draw here beside the sterile Dialogues and the passive but imaginatively illustrative Rilke melodrama.

Rob Barnett



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