Isang Yun (1917-1995)
Silla – Legend for Orchestra (1992)
Violin Concerto III (1992)
Chamber Symphony I (1987)
Sueye Park (violin), Seoul Philharmonic Orchestra/Osmo Vänskä
rec. 2021, Lotte Concert Hall, Seoul, South Korea
BIS BIS-2642 SACD 
The very title of Silla completed in 1992 refers to the period of Korean history when the foundation stone was laid for the geographical area of the Korean kingdoms, whose borders remained the same until the end of World War II; at the same time, the United Silla experienced great cultural flourishing. Walter-Wolfgang Sparrer, the author of the booklet notes from which I have just quoted, also mentions that “while composing Silla Yun was thinking in particular of the tradition of the Hwarang academies, the educational institutions for an elite that not only taught the martial arts but also cultivated music and poetry”. This defines the foundation upon which the piece is built and the music reflects many moods, from the peaceful nocturne that opens the piece through more martial and combative episodes. From the musical point of view, one may say that this powerful and, at times, imposing piece of music is characteristic of Yun's late music in that it manages to hark back to some Korean tradition while eschewing any all-too-easy postcard picturesqueness. Silla is a formidable, atmospheric orchestral piece that shows the composer at the heights of his creative power.
Yun's three violin concertos span some ten years of his mature years. They were composed in 1981, 1983/6 and 1992 respectively. The First Violin Concerto is available on a presumably hard to find CD issued on the Camerata label whereas the Second is still unrecorded at the best of my knowledge. The most readily striking feature heard in the Third Violin Concerto is the singing quality of much of the thematic material at work throughout the piece which, however, does not completely obliterate some more animated episodes of a more virtuoso nature, including a full-size cadenza. The Violin Concerto III is laid-out in three movements played without a break along the fairly traditional pattern fast-slow-fast and the musical material displays a remarkable wealth of invention. Yun's Violin Concerto III is its composer at his most lyrical and it receives here a wonderfully committed and admirably played reading. This marvellous piece might well be the place to begin with if you are still undecided about Yun's music.
Chamber Symphony I was completed in 1987 and, like the Violin Concerto III, it is laid-out as a single movement falling into three contrasted sections along the traditional pattern. It is scored for two oboes, two horns and strings but the composer's instrumental mastery is such that the music often sounds much bigger, in this performance at least. The joyfully nervous first section moves into the slower central section in which the section leaders of the string orchestra are entrusted with soloist passages. Later, they are joined by the winds, thus creating a wonderfully dreamy episode, to be abruptly dispelled by the rumbustious final section. This beautifully wrought piece is again a most telling example of Yun's mature music making. Chamber Symphony I has been recorded before on Naxos (8.557938), performed by the Korean Chamber Ensemble conducted by Piotr Borkowski. There is not much to choose between that recorded performance and the one under review. Both are remarkably assured and played by musicians for whom this music means much. Osmo Vänskä's reading of Chamber Symphony I may be somewhat harder driven, especially in the third closing section. The release under review brings two substantial works hitherto absent from the catalogue, which alone is enough to decide Isang Yun's admirers, whereas others may find much to enjoy in these superbly played readings of reasonably accessible pieces from Yun's last decade. I must again mention Walter-Wolfgang Sparrer's informative booklet notes from which I have generously quoted.
In short, this is a most desirable disc by any count.
Published: October 17, 2022