Unsuk CHIN (b. 1961)
Rocaná (2008) [20:57]
Violin Concerto (2001) [26:58]
Viviane Hagner (violin)
Orchestre Symphonique de Montréal/Kent Nagano
rec. live, Salle Wilfrid-Pelletier, Montréal, 15-16 January 2008 (Violin Concerto) and 3-4 March 2008 (Rocaná)
ANALEKTA AN 2 9944 [48:09]

Born in Seoul and resident in Berlin Unsuk Chin has already made quite a name for herself thanks to a number of works that have regularly featured in many festivals throughout the world. Her Cello Concerto has been premiered during the 2009 BBC Proms. A fairly recent DG release that I have still to hear has brought her music to a wider audience, and this disc from the Canadian label Analekta will undoubtedly enrich one’s appreciation of her often subtle and beautiful music.

The Violin Concerto is a substantial work in four movements consisting of an overture, a slow movement, a Scherzo and a Finale recalling earlier material. The soloist’s part is far from easy but, as in a number of recent and not-so-recent concertos - the soloist is much more a primus inter pares than a competing outsider. The solo part is thus clearly part of the whole fabric in which the orchestra often functions as a multi-voiced resonating box. The first movement opens rather hesitantly with the violin’s repeated gestures. The music opens out and becomes considerably more animated and capricious, particularly so in the last stages of the movement. The second movement opens with a beautiful song-like theme played by the soloist accompanied by percussion and plucked strings. This leads into a more dramatic section recalling parts of the opening movement. A varied restatement of the opening brings the movement to its ethereal close. There follows a short, capricious Scherzo. The music opening the Finale seems to resume where the Scherzo left off; but it soon changes course before restating parts of the earlier material to bring the work full circle on a final unresolved musing by the soloist.

Chin’s Violin Concerto is a beautiful work with a refined poetic feel and with often subtly shaded scoring that repays repeated hearings. Viviane Hagner possesses both the technique and the musicality to render Chin’s poetic vision to the best possible advantage.

Appropriately enough the music of the orchestral work Rocaná (a Sanskrit word meaning “room of light”) suggests the continuous interplay of light and shade on which the entire work is based. The orchestral textures, too, constantly alternate density and lightness as well as stasis and activity. In the latter instance static sections are underpinned by much more lightly scored activity, so that the music never really pauses but flows along seamlessly. The overall impression left by Rocaná is that of a colourful, often refined and subtly scored kaleidoscope. This is a work that definitely deserves to be heard more often for this is contemporary music with a nice poetic feel that I find endearing and attractive.

These performances are very fine indeed and totally committed. Kent Nagano is the dedicatee of Rocaná and he gets wonderful support from the orchestra. These are live recordings but the sound is quite good with very little audience noise. My only regret about this otherwise desirable disc is its shamefully short playing time. There was room for another work by Chin.

Hubert Culot