Isang Yun (1917-1995)
Music for Cello and Piano
Cello Concerto (1976)
Fünf Stücke für Klavier (1958)
Nore for cello and piano (1964)
Interludium A for piano (1982)
Espace I for cello and piano (1992)
Luigi Piovano (cello)
Aldo Orvieto (piano)
Japan Philharmonic Orchestra/Tatsuya Shimono
rec. 2018-2021, Suntory Hall, Tokyo, Japan & Fondazione Spinola, Poirino, Italy
KAIROS 0015090KAI 
A victim of the Korean war and Japanese colonialism, few composers have suffered as much in the twentieth-century as Isang Yun. He studied the cello in Osaka in 1933 and later composition in Tokyo but after the outbreak of war in 1941, returned to fight in the resistance during Korea’s struggle for independence and was imprisoned under extremely harsh conditions. Following the war, he resumed his studies but the Korean war again interrupted his education. He eventually he moved to Paris and Berlin, studying with Boris Blacher and Josef Rufer, and was influenced by the Second Vienna School.
Luigi Piovano and Aldo Orvieto write: ‘When confronted with the exceptional musical depth and the dramatic power of Isang Yun’s music, words seem inappropriate as only music can simultaneously perform the miracle of reviving human tragedies and indicate solutions for humanity.’
His Fünf Stücke fur Klavier (1958) was the first work to emerge from this influence; however, he constantly sought his own identity: ‘The sound of the West is like lines drawn by pencil, while Asian sounds are like brushstrokes, thick, thin and not even straight, that carry within them the possibility of flexible creation.’ He moved to Freiburg in 1960 and quickly became an important figure in modern music, giving talks on New Music at Tanglewood, Aspen, Chicago and New York where his latest pieces were performed. A major success was at the Donaueschingen festival in 1966. during which several of his works were performed. This was turned upside down, however, by his arrest in Berlin a year later and his kidnapping by South Korean agents after which he was imprisoned and tortured in a Korean jail. He was eventually released after an international campaign.
Isang Yun’s creativity has a very special quality and he explains its essential uniqueness: ‘Sound is always present, fluid, in the cosmos. The whole of space is full of sound. While European theory and philosophy say that man creates sound… Asian musicians grasp it from space, each in their own way, thus giving shape to music. As if from an antenna, they receive the sounds of the cosmos and with their aptitudes and talents they transform them into music.’
The main piece on this disc is the Cello Concerto. It opens with a dark, menacing theme on the strings and percussion, followed by a traumatic burst from the orchestra against the agonising notes from the cello. This relaxes briefly into a lyrical mode before rising to a dramatic threnody and a quiet passage on the cello, while the stressed strings and wind of the orchestra portray a strident and hostile outer world against the plucking on the cello against frightening shrieks on the strings and percussion. In the second movement, the prolonged cadenza solo on cello is interrupted by the brass, xylophone and cymbals in an extended threnody. In the third movement, more fresh, enlightened ideas emerge which are unfulfilled; in the fourth movement, there is an intense struggle rising to a peak of agonised intensity at a high pitch on the strings and percussion which dissolves into nothingness.
The Fünf Stücke fur Klavier are as if from another world - alluding to Schoenberg - with two clashing ideas which are not resolved and finally, a long monologue ending suddenly on a single, loud chord.
The opening of Nore is beautiful, yet tentative and contemplative, as if in a deep, argumentative dialogue building to an intense passage before closing in peaceful reflection.
Interludium A for solo piano starts with forceful chords and tapping on the keyboard in which it seems as if the composer is experimenting. It is like a dream-like sequence with interruptions from repetitive notes and a crashing dissonance. The final work on this CD is for cello and piano - Espace I, which opens with a searching passage on the cello, yet develops into a bright and optimistic meditative sequence with glissandi, closing with prolonged cello phrases in a lonely, detached voice.
This selection of works for cello, piano and orchestra offers a fine representation of this great Korean composer, conveying his life’s struggles against oppression and his fight for peace and justice. The 2020 UNESCO Creative City of Music Award (Isang Yun Prize) was awarded to Luigi Piovano and Aldo Orvieto for their contribution to society and outstanding achievements in arts and education. Both musicians portray this powerful music sublimely. The recordings are clear and allow both instruments to be clearly heard, while the orchestral recording, made separately, is excellent. The booklet is in three languages, English, German and Italian with full notes on the composer and his traumatic life, and biographies of the artists and the orchestra.