Isang Yun: Sunrise Falling


PTC 5186-693

2018 marks the 100th birth anniversary of Korea’s best known composer, Isang Yun (1918-1995). His work has received many performances and recordings but he is not exactly a household name and live performances are still not very common.

Yun is well known for his having been kidnapped by the South Korean secret service from his home in Germany in 1967 due to alleged espionage. He remained a prisoner for two years and was subjected to torture and forced interrogations. It took intervention from the artistic community to secure his release and the petition included signatures of Igor Stravinsky, Herbert von Karajan, Luigi Dallapiccola, Hans Werner Henze, Heinz Holliger, Mauricio Kagel, Joseph Keilberth, Otto Klemperer, György Ligeti, Arne Mellnäs, Per Nørgård, Karlheinz Stockhausen, and Bernd Alois Zimmermann. He was held for the better part of two years and never again returned to South Korea.

This fine 2 CD set is the first release in what this writer hopes will be a series of recordings of Yun’s major works. Dennis Russell Davies has demonstrated both knowledge and mastery of new and unusual repertoire as well as that of established works of the western canon. Despite many recordings of his work in the past those recordings were (and still are) notoriously difficult to find so this set is especially welcome.

Here Davies joins forces with the Bruckner Orchestra Linz and the talents of soloists Matt Haimovitz, Yumi Hwang-Williams, and Maki Namekawa to record a sampling of Yun’s works. In addition to the first (of three) Violin concerto (1981), the Cello concerto (1976), and a sampling of chamber works including Interludium in A (1982) for piano, Glisees (1970) for solo cello, Kontraste (1987) for solo violin, Gasa (1965) for violin and piano (probably the composer’s best known piece), and a short orchestral piece, Fanfare and Memorial (1979).

If you don’t know Yun’s work this is a fine place to start. If you already know his work you will want to hear these performances.  These are definitive and will set the standard for all that follows.

The concertos are somewhat thorny and dissonant but deeply substantive affairs that challenge both orchestra and soloist. Yun’s style draws more from modernist (think Darmstadt) than romanticism but he is capable of great beauty within that context.  In both concertos the soloists must deal with virtuosic challenges but each concerto provides a marvelous showcase for their skills.  Hearing them played by musicians of this caliber they are shown to be masterpieces of the genre.

The chamber music is similarly thorny at times but always interesting. This composer deserves to be better known and recordings like this with quality performances and recordings makes a great step in that direction. Yun was a prolific composer of pretty consistent quality so even a two disc retrospective such as this can only be a brief sampling.  The choices of what to record can’t avoid taking on a personal dimension. Intelligent choices of repertoire combined with defining performances such as these will send the listener on a quest to explore more of his work.

Osmo Vänskä’s Mahler 6th on BIS


mahler6vanska

I have heard varying opinions on the conducting skills of Osmo Vänskä.  He is the music director of the Minnesota Orchestra since 2003 and, prior to that, a conductor of the wonderful Lahti Symphony Orchestra.  I very favorably reviewed his Kullervo disc from last year.

The Mahler 6th and, I suppose, with pretty much any Mahler there are many critiques of the music and the performances.  So many complexities with tempo, handling the massive orchestra to bring out one nuance or another, order of movements, etc.  One thing is for certain, no Mahler aficionado will be satisfied with only one recording of each of his works.  There appear to be no definitive recordings agreed upon by all.  By contrast most people seem satisfied with perhaps Herbert von Karajan’s interpretation of the Beethoven Symphonies as being at least a good starting point.

One must recall that Mahler’s music was not well appreciated for a number of years.  Though he gave performances of all his major works interest in them faded rather quickly after his death in 1911.  Performances did occur but critics generally regarded Mahler’s music as dismissable efforts calling it “conductor’s music”.  It wasn’t until Leonard Bernstein began earnestly performing these works that the current cult of Mahler actually took root.

I preface my review with these comments to say that I enjoyed this disc immensely with its gorgeous sonics (as always with BIS).  Vänskä produces a lucid performance which differs from many in tempo choices and such but seems, to this reviewer’s ears, to do justice to this large and masterful work.  In the end the experience is one of a valid performance (he places the slow movement as second) which provides another view of this complex work.  And part of the cult of Mahler, it seems, is the need to own multiple performances.

This may not be the only Mahler Sixth you will want to own but it is definitely worth hearing, preferably on a good sound system.

Music Apps for the Educated Consumer


Image representing iPad as depicted in CrunchBase

Image via CrunchBase

While I sometimes write music I spend far more time listening to and writing, or at least thinking, about music. And my performing chops need not even be discussed. But my compelling interest in music has been aided by my continuing efforts to improve my ability to read music.

I recall as a teenager the geeky thrill I got out of receiving an omnibus volume of orchestral scores which included Berlioz’ ‘Symphonie Fantastique’, Dvorak’s 9th and Rachmaninoff’s 2nd among others. The scores were compactly produced so as to fit a lot of music on not a lot of pages but they were readable. I spent hours learning to follow along as best I could learning along the way many of the subtleties of the music and enhancing my appreciation.

Now the digital age has at least a couple of apps for that. I recently downloaded the ‘Open Goldberg Variations‘ and the Beethoven Ninth apps from, of course, the Apple store to my iPad.

Open Goldberg Variations on iPad

Open Goldberg Variations on iPad (Photo credit: musescore)

The ‘Open Goldberg Variations’ is a free app that includes a complete performance of Bach’s ‘Goldberg Variations‘ on the piano by Kimiko Ishizaka as well as a complete score with a cursor that handily shows you your place in the score as it is played.  This is a useful learning tool on many levels.

It is a creative commons zero license which is basically public domain and is available for free.  You can download an mp3 file or a wave file and you can download the iPad app which contains the recording and a score which is executed on the open access Muse Score composition program.

I have also downloaded the Muse Score program (available at musescore.org) and find it to be an extremely flexible and constantly developing platform that provides many compositional and analytical tools for a budding composer or a professional one included nested tuplets, harmonic analysis, provision for alternate tuning systems and a host of user created options as well.  I intend to write more about this as I negotiate the learning curve.

Another iPad app which I recently downloaded is called, “Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony“.  It features 4 different recordings of the symphony (Ferenc Friscay and the Berlin Philharmonic from 1958, Herbert von Karajan and Berlin Philharmonic from 1962, Leonard Bernstein and the Vienna Philharmonic from 1963 and John Eliot Gardiner with the Orchestre Revolutionnaire et Romantique from 1992).  With each recording you can follow the score in contemporary notation fonts, the original manuscript in reproduction or a graphical representation of the orchestra highlighting which instruments are playing at a given time.  In addition you can view what they call a “curated score” in which only the score parts for  the instruments which are playing are shown.

Page 12 (right) of Ludwig van Beethoven's orig...

Page 12 (right) of Ludwig van Beethoven’s original Ninth Symphony manuscript. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

There are indicators of the key in which the orchestra is playing to aid in understanding harmonic modulations as well as a running commentary on what is happening in the music in a sort of poetic description written by David Owen Norris.  The app, which retails for $13.99 USD seems to me to be a bargain for the interested listener or the student.

Learning to read music has greatly enhanced my ability to appreciate music and I think these apps are delightful and easy to use learning tools.  I look forward to more of these in the future.

I wonder too if we will begin to see audience members following scores on their iPads in concerts.  Interesting development.  Perhaps this will motivate composers to do some creative interactive things with iPad apps in the concert forum.