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Isang YUN (1917 – 1995)
Novelette (1980)a [18:26]
Trio (1972/5)b [13:20]
Duo (1984)c [14:12]
Sonata (1991)d [20:59]
Kolja Lessing (violin)abd; Walter Grimmer (cello)abc; Holger Groschopp (piano)bd; Maria Graf (harp)ac; Roswitha Staege (flute)a
Recorded: Studio 10, DeutschlandRadio, Berlin, November 2000
CAPRICCIO 67116 [67:36]

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Isang Yun is undoubtedly the most important composer to have emerged from Korea during the second half of the 20th Century. He studied with Boris Blacher who made him aware of modern techniques, such as twelve-tone and serial writing; these Yun adopted without ever strictly adhering to them. His music is rooted in classical Korean music, of which we know very little, whereas its formal framework is often found in 20th century music. Although some of his earlier pieces are more experimental or more overtly "modern", Yun steered clear of strict serial practice, and allowed his deeply rooted lyricism to flower freely. Besides five symphonies and several substantial concertos that – to my mind – are the real backbone of his large output, Yun composed a huge amount of chamber music. This is for varied instrumental forces, as the works recorded here and spanning almost twenty years amply demonstrate.

The earliest work here Trio for violin, cello and piano is in two ternary sections, of which the first was composed as part of a collective tribute to Boris Blacher on his seventieth birthday. The second section was added in 1975 a few months after Blacher’s death. The first section has two slow outer sections framing a more animated central one, whereas the pattern is reversed in the second section. In the opening and closing episodes of the first section, the strings imitate the sound of a mouth organ with telling results. The outer parts of the second section are animated, with incisive snap pizzicatos à la Bartók, and frame a more contemplative central episode. The Trio is a quite beautiful work from Yun’s mature years; much more than the occasional work that one might have expected.

Novelette is for flute (also alto flute) and harp with ad libitum parts for violin and cello (or viola). The flute is the main protagonist, whereas the harp supplies some rhythmic support, the ad lib strings filling-in harmonic gaps. I cannot imagine the piece being played without the ad lib string parts. This is a predominantly lyrical work of great beauty in much the same vein as the earlier Images for oboe, harp, violin and cello from 1968. It deserves to be heard more often; for this music is subtle, refined and very accessible.

The Duo for cello and harp is yet another convincing example of Yun’s late lyricism. As much of Yun’s late music, it is accessible and mellow-toned; but it is still quite intricately worked-out. The main expressive weight lies in the outer movements - the third movement is particularly beautiful - and the mood relaxes in the dance-like middle movement. It is also one of Yun’s happiest works, probably because it was composed on the occasion of his son’s wedding.

The Violin Sonata is a later work composed in 1991. It is in a single movement, albeit in two clearly delineated sections: a troubled and tense first section and a long slower section of great expressive beauty. The Violin Sonata may be one of Yun’s most personal works, one in which he seems to recollect his earlier hardships (remember that he was once imprisoned) and meditate on the hard-won peace he achieved. The music is again primarily lyrical, even in the first section in which tense harmonic gestures are preferred to aggressive instrumental writing; one is never in doubt about the emotions behind the music.

All these musicians obviously love the music; and their performances are committed and serve the music well. Recording and production are very good too. This cross-section of Yun’s chamber music may be safely recommended.

Hubert Culot

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