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ClassicsOnline Home » Piano Recital: Min, Klara - YUN, Isang / KANG, Sukhi / CHOE, Uzong / KIM, Chung-gil / PAGH-PAAN, Younghi (Ripples on Water - Piano Music from Korea)
Award-winning pianist Klara Min has been recognized for her “excellent technique, exuberance and vitality” (New York Concert review). Here she brings the unique synthesis of traditional sources and contemporary compositional techniques of five leading Korean composers. Their works range from descriptive serenity in Younghi Pagh-Paan’s Pa-mun, childhood simplicity in Chung Gil Kim’s Go Poong (‘Memory of Childhood’) and rhythmic and dynamic extremes in Sukhi Kang’s Piano Sketches. Pioneering figurehead Isang Yun is represented by his early expressionist Fünf Stücke and the much later improvisatory Interludium.
Klara Min / Piano Music from Korea / Naxos
Reviewers want to write good reviews, really. In this CD of South Korea piano music from the late 20th Century, the pianist Klara Min makes a valiant effort and she is definitely a gifted performer (she’s also very attractive which is prerequisite for all new classical artists). But I have two major complaints, which make me sound crankier than I really am. First of all, is this Korea music? Sounds more like a Second Viennese School epidemic swept over South Korean—-only the North Koreans would have the good sense and army to keep this music out of their country. Not only (in general), is the music completely lifted from 1920-30’s Germany, it is entirely derivative of that style, AND is also dated in that style being at least 20 years behind the proto-serialist curve. My second complaint is Klara Min is not the player for this music—-although some aspects she does very well. Her whole approach is too politely Mozartian, her playing lacking the exaggerated tempos, dynamics, and phrasing needed to bring this already dying music alive.
The first piece is by Pagh-Paan (1971 ) and I swear I’m listening to the Schoenberg Piano Concerto, 30 years earlier. The next piece is the famous Isang Yun (1958) with more Schoenberg/Webern barn-burning derivativeness.
Finally, in the next piece, "Interludium" by Isang Yun (1982) there’s more musical interest, as Korea no longer sounds like a satellite of Weimar Germany. There’s more Messiaenic/French pianism and a more post-serial/post modern approach. This style also includes a Stockhausen/Asian neo-simplicity and as well as 19th Century/French pianistic gestures. Formally it pits more reflective spacious sections with violent passionate ones. Her best playing throughout the CD is in the slow reflective stuff--just a simple repeated motive-–it’s very effective. She brings a kind of delicate, brittle vulnerability to her playing which is great for Mozart. But this music also needs extreme playing-–flawless transitions and violence where the piano timbre turns to white heat.
The next piece is Sukhi Kang (1966) and we’re back to very sparse Webernishness with slightly more tonalized rows. She does do the row melodies with exquisite shaping. Sadly this music is very much from the 1930’s sound world--other major composer in the 60’s were already stretching serialism to its death kneel conclusion.
The penultimate composer is Uzong Chae (2003 )and as Ms. Min has chosen 3 excerpts from a larger piece, it’s difficult to know the composer’s vision. It’s like still photographs of a feature length movie. This is regrettably the only 21st Century piece stylistically --Coplandesque motive (Billy the Kid) over multi-layered tonality.
Finally, the last piece by Chung Gill Kim (1982) is again excerpts so it’s difficult to know the context of the music—-least it’s not serial. There is some really interesting ‘stare music’ (best music on the CD and more of her best playing) that repeats the same patterns in the left and right hand. This kind of playing requires a dmore....
By Sang Woo Kang
Western and Eastern ideas of aesthetic beauty merge on this recently released Naxos compilation of piano pieces by Korean composers…the expositions presented here…retain stillness, clarity and purpose…The opening piece on the CD—Younghi Pagh-Paan’s ‘Pa-mun’ exemplifies the Koreans’ collective approach to composition, demonstrating a style that resonates thematically within the pastoral tradition of the West while retaining the nuance and sense of stark natural beauty that characterizes many Asian musical works. Allusions to the natural world are…evident in Isang Yun’s ‘Five Pieces for Piano’, as well as the lumbering opening movement of Chung Gil Kim’s abridged suite, ‘Memory of Childhood’…it is pianist Klara Min’s impeccable performance here—and throughout the recording—that subtly suggests to listeners nothing in nature ends without something else being born. Profoundly affecting. © 2012 Scene Magazine Read complete review
Piano Music by Korean Composers
Younghi Pagh-Paan was born in 1945 in Cheongju, South Korea, and studied at the Seoul National University, before moving to Germany to study at the Freiburg Musikhochschule on a DAAD scholarship. She won international attention through the performance of her orchestral work Sori at the Donaueschingen Festival in 1980. Her compositions, which seek to renew the nature of Korean musical culture by means of various Western compositional techniques, aroused increasing interest at the most important new music festivals, and in concert series throughout Europe. Younghi Pagh-Paan has won numerous awards for her output including first prize at the Fifth Composers Seminar in Boswil (Switzerland), the Rostrum of Composers (Unesco, Pads), the City of Stuttgart, the Na Pa Music Prize in Korea and the Heidelberg Artists Prize in Germany. She lives in Bremen and Panicale (Italy) and is currently a member of the Akademie der Künste in Berlin and a professor of composition at the Hochschule der Künste in Bremen, where she founded the Atelier Neue Musik which she has directed ever since. In 2006 Younghi Pagh-Paan was awarded the Lifetime Achievement Award of the Seoul National University and the Order of Civil Merit from South Korea.
The word pa-mun describes wave reflections on water. The composer wrote: ‘On the quiet lake, and when one throws small stones one after another, the surface makes circles and those circles create another pa-mun. After a while, the lake finds its peace.’ The work succeeds in bringing out the composer’s description of the scene. Notes are widely spread in a slow tempo and softer dynamics change gradually. There are fortissimos in the piece, but they are never too aggressive to break the serene mood of the piece. Occasional busy rhythms recall the moment when the stone touches the water’s surface and when one pa-mun meets another. The general tone of the piece is smooth and soothing. The work is dedicated to the composer’s close friend, Yoonjung Kim, who gave the première in 1971.
Fünf Stücke für Klavier (Five Pieces for Piano) • Interludium A
Isang Yun was born in Chungmu (now Tongyeong), South Korea, in 1917. He studied in Osaka and Tokyo in Japan, taught in South Korea, and continued his studies in Paris and West Berlin under Pierre Revel, Boris Blacher, Josef Rufer, and Reinhard Schwarz-Schilling. The première of his oratorio Om mani padme hum in 1965 and Reak in 1966 drew international attention. Politically involved as he was, he promoted the idea of a joint concert featuring musicians from both Koreas, which finally took place in 1990. He was condemned for espionage by the South Korean secret police for being involved in an East Berlin spy incident in 1967 and sentenced to life imprisonment. A worldwide petition led by Igor Stravinsky and Herbert von Karajan was presented to the South Korean government, signed by 200 artists, including György Ligeti, Heinz Holliger and Karlheinz Stockhausen, Yun was released and exiled in 1969 from South Korea and became a naturalised German citizen. He taught at the Hanover Academy of Music and the Hochschule der Künste in West Berlin. In 1995 he was awarded a Goethe medal and in 1988 the Grand Cross for Distinguished Service of the German Order of Merit from the Federal Republic of Germany. His life-long concern with his native country and culture was expressed in several of his compositions. The International Isang Yun Society was founded in Berlin in 1996. The Isang Yun International Music Festival (Tongyeong International Music Festival) stands as one of the leading festivals in South Korea.
Isang Yun wrote his Fünf Stücke für Klavier when he was still a student. Together with his Music for Seven Instruments, the première of this work launched the beginning of his career in Germany. The five pieces were written when he was studying contemporary music under Boris Blacher in West Berlin. Although his early studies are experiments in twelve-tone techniques, Fünf Stücke für Klavier shows strong aspects of late Expressionism. Yun’s own musical language is clearly shown here, with each piece in this six-minute work having its own character. Techniques associated with traditional Korean music such as pizzicato-like articulation and sliding notes are blended in dissonances and inversions of note groups.
Interludium A is one of Yun’s later works written in 1982. This primarily atonal piece demands a performer’s exceptional interpretational skills. It is divided into several sections, in which musical expression seems to be improvisatory and freer rather than adhering to any formal principle. In the slow section the note A becomes the centering tone in multi-layered dynamics.
Sukhi Kang was born in 1934 in Seoul, South Korea, and studied at the Seoul National University, the Hanover Musikhochschule and the Berlin Musikhochschule in Germany. In 1976 he was honoured with the Rostrum of composers (Paris-UNESCO). In 1966, for the first time in the history of South Korea, Kang composed and produced an electronic work, Wonsaekeui Hyangyeon. He has been a guest professor at the Shobi University in Japan, a professor at the Seoul National University, the vice president of the International Society for Contemporary Music and chairman of the Year of New Arts of the Ministry of Culture in South Korea. Currently he is a distinguished eminent professor of Keimyung University and an honorary member of the International Society for Contemporary Music.
Piano Sketches consists of three short pieces. It was the composer’s first work for piano solo, written in 1966 and first performed in 1968. The pieces are extremely challenging to a listener, with their rhythmic division between different voices, precision of rhythm, random leaps and sudden dynamic changes in short phrases. Nevertheless they remain pianistic. The first piece suggests stillness of motion and sound, but occasionally there are passages with complex rhythms. The second piece has varied embellishments without any particular centre, and the third piece offers a symmetrical pattern of chords, with clusters of notes in both hands in varied rhythms. Piano Sketches had its première at the Myungdong Theatre in South Korea.
Uzong Choe was born in 1968, studied composition and music theory at the Seoul National University, the Mozarteum in Salzburg and the Paris Conservatoire National Supérieur de Musique. His works have ranged over a wide variety of musical styles and aesthetic standpoints, from early music to his recent research into European polyphony and Korean traditional music and theatre music.
The ideas behind Preludes are taken from improvisatory sketches in composition. These works, considered also as compositional practice, show diversity of pianistic technique, but the composer chose to use a simple musical language. The style of each Prelude varies from sixteenth-century polyphony to contemporary popular music. Prelude No. 2 consists of three elements: perfect fifths, motives between the harmonies and an ostinato in the lower register. These three elements create a sound complex which demands the use of the pedal. The two-voice motet Oculus non vidit (That eye hath not seen) by Lassus has been used in Prelude No. 7. The rhythm in two voices becomes one, while a new note group appears, in antithesis, with canonic imitation creating a polyphonic texture. Prelude No. 8 is based on minimalism. The sixteenth notes (semiquavers) are symmetrically grouped as 6-8-6. Variation occurs by taking one note out of a group of notes or adding another group. The colour changes accordingly. Here pentachordal and diatonic elements are of major importance. The beauty of sound and the simplicity of musical expression are the core artistic elements for listeners.
Chung Gil Kim
Chung Gil Kim is a former professor at the Seoul National University, President of the Korean Composers’ Association and Vice-Chairman of the Korean Traditional Music Association. His awards include a composition prize from the I.S.C.M. Festival, the Korean Theatre/Movie Music Award, the Dong-A Theatre Music Award, the Ministry of Education Prize, the Musician of the Year prize from the Korean President and a Cultural Artistry Award.
Go Poong, subtitled Memory of Childhood, is a suite of four character pieces, of which the first three are included here. Korean folk-melodies and traditional tunes are used to shape the melodic contents. The rhythm of the second piece Namakshin (traditional Korean shoes) is derived from a lively and uplifting Gutgery rhythm. The idea of “soundless tone space” is an important element in Go Poong, reflecting the beauty of line and space in traditional oriental paintings. Such elements are clearly shown in the first piece Hyang-hap, with long held chords in a very slow dynamic arch from the beginning to the end. Tension and relaxation are expressed through the dynamics.
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Piano Recital: Min, Klara - YUN, Isang / KANG, Suk...