Pa-Mun - Ripples on Water (Piano Music from Korea)
Younghi PAGH-PAAN (b.1945)
Pa-Mun ('Ripples on Water') (1971) [5:46]
Isang YUN (1917-1995)
5 Stücke (1958) [6:25]
Interludium A (1982) [13:07]
Sukhi KANG (b.1934)
3 Piano Sketches (1966) [5:31]
Uzong CHAE (b.1968)
Prelude no.2 (2003) [3:57]
Prelude no.7 (2004) [3:28]
Prelude no.8 (2004) [3:28]
Chung Gil Kim (b.1934)
Go-Poong ('Memory of Childhood') (1982) (excerpts) [12:40]
Klara Min (piano)
rec. American Academy of Arts & Letters, New York, 2-4 November 2009. DDD
NAXOS 8.572406 [54:48]

According to the Naxos website this release is a "Klara Min Piano Recital". On the front cover of the CD itself, the title is "Pa-Mun: Ripples on Water (Korean Piano Music)", but on the back and spines it is "Piano Music from Korea". For extra spice, the CD is also on sale with an alternative cover, mainly available outside the UK, featuring simply a large photo of Min and the legend, "Klara Min: Piano Music by Korean Composers".

At any rate, 'Korean Piano Music' is something of a misnomer: there is very little ethnically Korean about the music in Min's programme. At least four of the Korean-born composers have had training in Germany, Austria or France, and it is this fact rather than any familiarity with the classical or folk Korean tradition that comes through in these piano works. The disc is best considered, then, as an introduction to the young pianist Klara Min, Korean herself, but now resident in New York.

Younghi Pagh-Paan's piece, Pa-mun, is a musical evocation of the ripple effect of stones thrown onto the smooth surface of a lake, and provides an apt title for the album as a whole: virtually all the music is reflective, nebulous and ostinato-based, with the emphasis on sonorities rather than narrative. Two of Uzong Chae's three Preludes are quite upfront about their minimalist credentials, no.8 being one of the few energetic pieces in the recital.

Klara Min's liner-notes credit Sukhi Kang with South Korea's first ever art music work in electronic media in 1966. In the Three Sketches, which date from the same time, Kang is scarcely in more compromising mood: these are three concise atonal pieces with big leaps, jerky rhythms and tone clusters that Anton Webern would recognise. Not widely appealing, for sure, but nothing that more traditional palates could not endure for its five minutes.

The same might be said of Isang Yun's Fünf Stücke, described as "student pieces", though Yun was in his forties when he wrote them - he had by this time moved to and settled in Germany and was studying under Boris Blacher. Though this expressionistic statement will not be to most tastes, Yun is still probably the only composer ever to have been sentenced by his state to life imprisonment for espionage, only to be freed and exiled after petitioning by Stravinsky, Karajan, Ligeti, Stockhausen and others! Though a later work, his atonal Interludium A still shows the influence of Blacher and German modernism. Hesitant, brittle quiet passages alternate with sudden but almost dispassionate outbursts. This disquieting, almost menacing work is the highlight of Min's programme: what a pity that she did not record other longer works that give her, and the listener, a chance to feel properly immersed in the music.

Given that the disc is a mere 55 minutes long, the omission of the final section of Chung Gil Kim's four-movement Go-Poong must amount to wilfulness on Naxos's part - or is it really more than 25 minutes long?! The subtitle, 'Memory of Childhood', is taken almost literally for the first part, which is little more than a slow, hypnotic repetition of block chords. In her notes Klara Min states that "Korean folk melodies and traditional tunes are used to shape the melodic content" - if that is true, those folk melodies have more than a passing resemblance to Western art music!

In sum, there is nothing must-have or even must-hear about this CD, but the music is absorbing in its way, and Klara Min's piano playing is demonstrably intelligent, technically assured and, where necessary, delicate or muscly.

Sound quality is invariably excellent at the American Academy of Arts and Letters, and this recording is no exception.

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Nothing must-have or even must-hear about this CD but the music is absorbing in its way.