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Fulgurances - Oeuvres Contemporaines Pour Piano
track listing below review
Yejin Gil (piano)
rec. 1-5 September 2013, La Chapelle du Domaine de Bayssan à Béziers
SOLSTICE SOCD 300 [71:14]

This is a very impressive CD of 20th/21st century piano music. Before talking about music, let’s just get one thing out of the way - the title of the CD. The meaning of the French word fulgurances may not be immediately obvious to English speakers as its English cognates are hardly well known except perhaps to medical practitioners. Translations include ‘lightning’, or ‘something that strikes with lightning speed’. Either of these is spot-on for the character of the music, especially the Études of Unsuk Chin.
As far as I can tell, this is only the second time the Études have been recorded, their première being on a very interesting Obradek CD of 2011 also containing Gubaidulina’s Musical Toys and Ligeti’s Musica Ricercata, where the performer was the Malaysian pianist Mei Yi Foo, now resident in London. On the present CD, the Korean pianist Yejin Gil receives a strong endorsement from the composer, her compatriot, whose diverse influences include Indonesian gamelan, Korean street theatre and her teacher, György Ligeti. Chin says: “First and foremost, my études are meant to be music, and my purpose was not the purpose of a pedagogue. However, at the same time in my études there are obviously things pianists can learn from them, such as training independency of fingers and mind through the challenges of polyrhythm and intricate polyphony, for instance.”
While clearly phenomenally difficult, the Études come across as very substantial music, engaging the ear and the mind equally and repaying many listenings. Many influences, among them Debussy, Ligeti, Bartók, Nancarrow and the gamelan can be detected but the music emerges with outstanding individual character. These studies are some of the finest of their genre since Ligeti’s. As Mei Yi Foo did before her, Yejin Gil has mastered the complexities and plays with sparkling clarity in spite of the immense technical challenges.
I don’t know whether Pierre Boulez allows his music to be fun but that is exactly how I find his Incises (revised version of 2001). It’s an entertaining work in which Yejin Gil makes the most of the playful use of rapid scales and repeated notes and the dark interpolations in the bass. Even with its advanced harmonies, it’s an easy piece to get used to.
The four studies in Ligeti’s third book seem rather pared-down compared with their predecessors, and none the worse for that. Except for the first, ‘White on White’ which appeared early enough to be included on Pierre-Laurent Aimard’s benchmark recording of the first two books, they have been very little recorded (by Aimard on his ‘African Rhythms’ (Sony) and Jenny Lin on her nominatively deterministic CD ‘The Eleventh Finger’ (Koch)). ‘A Bout de Souffle’, with its references to Jean-Luc Godard’s film, is especially fascinating and they are all well played by Yejin Gil.
The strength and clarity of Yejin Gil’s playing are again in evidence in Messiaen’s Quatre Études de rythme, whether dealing with the complicated permutations of pitches, durations, attacks and dynamics, or the percussive patterns which make these pieces less theoretical and more actually pianistic. It is there again for the percussive quality and ecstatic repetitions of Messiaen’s sixth of hisVingt Regards Sur L’Enfant Jésus

This is an outstanding recital of high-points of the late modern and contemporary piano repertoires. There is also the additional hope that it will bring more listeners to the music of Unsuk Chin.
Roger Blackburn 

Track listing
Unsuk CHIN (b.1961)

Six Études pour piano (1995):
No. I In C [3:19]
No. II Sequenzen [3:06]
No. III Scherzo ad libitum [3:22]
No. IV Scalen [2:45]
No. V Toccata [2:47]
No. VI Grains [3:40]
Pierre BOULEZ (b. 1925)
Incises (2001) [11:01]
György LIGETI (1923-2006)
Études pour piano - troisième livre (1995-2001):
No. 15 White on White [4:31]
No. 16 Pour Irina [4:26]
No. 17 A bout de souffle [2:22]
No. 18 Canon [1:39]
Olivier MESSIAEN (1908-1992)
Quatre Études de rythme (1950):
Île de feu I [2:09]
Mode de valeurs et d’intensités [3:06]
Neumes rythmiques [6:29]
Île de feu II [4:47]
Vingt Regards Sur L’Enfant Jésus (1944):
No. 6 Par Lui tout a été fait [11 :40]