Chin's "Piano Concerto" opens with sparkling showers of piano, flute and high strings, developing a gently implacable tread of piano as orchestral colours grow more intense . . . it's the "Su for Sheng and Orchestra" that stands out: a bamboo mouth-organ capable, under virtuoso Wu Wei, of sounds evanescent and emotive, the sheng resembles organ, synthesizer and accordion in a flowing dialogue with strings and percussion, dictating the orchestral response.
The Cello Concerto . . . is the biggest and most ambitious of the three, and arguably the most important concerto for that instrument to appear since Lutoslawski's in 1970. The solo writing pushes the cellist -- the superb Alban Gerhardt -- to the limits of the possible . . . [Piano Concerto]: as the soloist Sunwook Kim shows, the total effect is undeniably brilliant and effective . . . ["Su" for sheng and orchestra]: [it's Wu Wei's] extraordinary virtuosity that allows [Unsuk Chin] to create such original textures, with the sheng adding a reedy edge to the slowly shifting chords, or a shimmering haze to the more swiftly moving passages. The effects are beautifully judged and, as in all the works here, meticulously realised by the Seoul Philharmonic under Myung-Whun Chung.
. . . [Piano Concerto]: Throughout, soloist Sunwook Kim is admirable. His technical command of the difficult piano part is superb but he does not thrust himself into the spotlight, taking his place within Unsuk Chin's conception of the work's structure . . . [Cello Concerto]: Soloist Alban Gerhardt's performance is masterly, as he combines brilliant technical effects with a strong sense of the work's underlying dramatic thrust . . . Throughout this disc, the playing of the Seoul Philharmonic Orchestra is of a very high order. Unsuk Chin's writing is often technically challenging, and requires a great deal of control. Under Myung-Whun Chung's direction the orchestra clearly not only has the technical expertise but the sympathy with Unsuk Chin's writing to take us into the heart of her sound world . . . a sound world which though complex has its seductions.
. . . Unsuk Chin's brilliant "Su" for sheng and orchestra was composed for the virtuosic Wu Wei . . . hearing this recorded performance is an intoxicating [experience] . . . Chin's tutti writing is superb, notably when she gets the entire orchestra to rise and fall with the soloist, the entire ensemble breathing and exhaling as one . . . "Su" is so arresting . . . Chin's Cello Concerto is played here by its dedicatee, the wonderful Alban Gerhardt . . . the best moments come when Chin avoids hyperactive busyness -- the bleached, static opening of the third movement is a highlight. Gerhardt's playing is phenomenal, flipping between warmth and prickly brilliance . . . be grateful that major record labels are occasionally prepared to put out high-profile CDs of interesting contemporary music. Myung-Whun Chung's excellent Seoul Philharmonic Orchestra are unfazed by Chin's demands.
South Korean composer Unsuk Chin (b. 1961) is recognized as a powerful force in contemporary music, with her own style always trying to write music that tests the extremes of instruments. Winner of many prizes, her music has been commissioned and performed by leading orchestras and ensembles, and her violin concerto has been hailed as the most important concerto for the instrument in recent decades. Now we have this intriguing disk of three concertos . . . the performances are just what the composer intended.