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.
. . . ["Su" for Sheng & Orchestra]: [Unsuk Chin explores the sheng's] sonorities with a keen dramatic purpose, and challenging the orchestra in its responses. Wu Wei secures a remarkably clear sound from the sheng, with a wide range of tones and effects. The instrument's longer notes have a plaintive quality, but when short, staccato chords are used through the second half of the piece a powerful rhythmic momentum is generated. The composer writes with flair for the solo instrument, the orchestra replicating the dazzling light of the sheng's upper register. The music often shimmers on the surface as if emitting a bright, flickering light . . . [Piano Concerto]: The piano is a free spirit throughout the piece. In the atmospheric slow movement fluent chord progressions add perfume to the atmosphere, gurgling woodwinds creating the impression of rippling water. The fourth and final section leads off with a lean single note from the left-hand, brilliantly played -- as it is throughout -- by Sunwook Kim . . . [Cello Concerto]: Gerhardt makes light of the high-register writing on which the composer concentrates at the start of the third movement, and the cellist's legato phrases are strikingly beautiful, often tailing away on an upward curve. This is at odds with the hurried statements of the finale, which alternates explosive chords with frenzied bursts of athleticism, as though cello and orchestra are sparring. This dialogue slows to an ultimately peaceful but powerful conclusion, the purity of Gerhardt's tone compromised by shrill clusters from the orchestra, not least rumblings from the double basses. This release serves as an excellent showcase for the Seoul Philharmonic Orchestra, its composer and its conductor. The presentation and annotation is excellent, so too the recorded sound, and the fusion of East and West in "Su" is an impressive achievement.
This release represents something of a milestone: a performance of major, public Korean compositions by mostly Korean musicians . . . [the concerto form allows an ideal introduction to what Unsuk Chin] does, and the three works here are attractive examples . . . The Piano Concerto of 1996-1997 is an extreme virtuoso work easily handled by soloist Sun-wook Kim . . . conductor Myung-Whun Chung draws out the works' often exacting textures to their full extent. Recommended even beyond circles interested in contemporary Asian developments.
Flirrend, blitzend, blinkend und zuckend klingt die erregt pulsierende, fesselnde und inspirierende Musik der Südkoreanerin Unsuk Chin . . . [Piano Concerto, Cello Concerto]: beides höchst attraktiv-virtuose Abenteuer für Spieler und Zuhörer. Das dritte Konzert "Su" orientiert sich an der chinesischen Mundorgel Sheng. Die drei brillanten Stücke sind nun erstmals eingespielt worden . . . Während das viersätzige Klavierkonzert von 1996/97 im langen zweiten Satz eine Expedition vom Zart-Ruhigen ins Grell-Exaltierte unternimmt, vom Pianisten Sunwook Kim intensiv realisiert, beginnt das Cellokonzert . . . , dem großartigen Alban Gerhardt gewidmet und bravurös von ihm verwirklicht, mit einem so elegischen wie ekstatisch tobenden Kopfsatz. Das Finale endet in sanftem Verklingen. Beim Sheng-Konzert, das der Widmungsträger Wu Wei souverän gestaltet, nutzt Unsuk Chin das Orchester als Vergrößerungsspiegel für die Akkordik des einzigartigen Blasinstruments.