On Record: Sueye Park, Seoul Philharmonic Orchestra / Osmo Vänskä – Isang Yun: Violin Concerto III, Chamber Symphony I & Silla

Isang Yun
Silla (1992)
Violin Concerto III (1992)
Chamber Symphony I (1987)

Sueye Park (violin), Seoul Philharmonic Orchestra / Osmo Vänskä

BIS 2642SACD [67’13″]

Producer Robert Stiff Engineer Jin Choi

Recorded 30 August-3 September 2021, Lotte Concert Hall, Seoul, South Korea

Reviewed by Richard Whitehouse

What’s the story?

BIS makes a notable contribution to the growing Isang Yun discography with a judiciously chosen collection of orchestral pieces from his last years, performed with commitment and insight by the Seoul Philharmonic Orchestra under its recently departed music director Osmo Vänskä.

What’s the music like?

Most famous for his fractious relationship with the then military dictatorship of South Korea, Yun (1917-95) resided mainly in West Berlin from 1964 and built a sizable catalogue which effected a far-reaching synthesis of European modernist techniques with traditional Korean elements. At the forefront of the Western avant-garde during the 1960s, he latterly embraced more traditional genres – composing numerous symphonies, concertos and ensemble works such as extend and enrich this synthesis with engaging while frequently provocative results.

The First Chamber Symphony premiered in Güttersloh by the Deutsche Kammerphilharmonie Bremen and scored for early-Classical forces with pairs of oboes and horns alongside strings. Its three continuous sections outline an expected fast-slow-fast format – offset by the interplay of string groupings in the first section, then the emphasis on solo or chamber formations and contrasts of motion in those that follow. The final section moves towards a sustained passage of exquisite poise, before a sudden upsurge concludes the whole piece with terse decisiveness.

Premiered in Amsterdam by Vera Beths, the Third Violin Concerto follows a similar formal trajectory whose continuity is largely determined by greater or lesser contrasts in motion and emotion between its constituent episodes. Those of the opening section build to an intensive central climax, subsiding into a restive calm which takes on greater serenity in its successor; before the final section unfolds impulsively and with martial undertones towards the closing series of exchanges between violin and orchestra: the soloist has the conciliatory last word.

Subtitled ‘Legend for Orchestra’, Silla was Yun’s final such piece and premiered in Hanover by the Niedersächsisches Staatsorchester. Its title evokes connotations of home and origin – not least Korean court music from the earlier Medieval era, here alluded to within a context of nocturnal celebration. There are again three sections, though here the follow-through feels all but seamless while the orchestration enables a wide range of timbral and textural nuances – not least in a peroration as suggests an affirmation (understandably) rare in this composer.

Does it all work?

It does. Many of Yun’s latter works evince sufficient connections with the Western classical music of earlier eras to be accessible for mainstream audiences, with the pieces here being no exception. Sueye Park is assured and insightful in the concerto, while Vänskä secures playing that emphasizes the allure and iridescence of Yun’s orchestral writing. Over a quarter-century after the composer’s death and his music remains on the periphery of the modern repertoire, but releases such as this will secure it greater advocacy from younger musicians and listeners.

Is it recommended?

Very much so. The recording is as commendable in its clarity and definition as expected from BIS, as are Walter-Wolfgang Sparrer’s notes. One can only hope a follow-up release, perhaps featuring Konturen, the Oboe Concerto and the Second Chamber Symphony, is forthcoming.

Listen & Buy

For buying options, and to listen to clips from the album, visit the BIS website. For more information on Isang Yun, visit the Isang Yun International Society, and for more on the artists click on the names Sueye Park, Osmo Vänskä and the Seoul Philharmonic Orchestra.

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