Tag Archives: Yeol Eum Son

EIF: Dunedin | Yeol Eum Son

Queen’s Hall, Edinburgh

Fresh from their success with Mozart’s Mass in C at the London Proms, John Butt’s Dunedin Consort turned their attention to J S Bach for an Edinburgh Festival Queen’s Hall performance of all four Orchestral Suites. They are fascinating works, the composer drawing together prevailing features of the 18th century Italian and French styles to create a high Baroque sound that, if arguably German in character, is unarguably Bach.

Few understand that better than the excellent Dunedin players, responding to Butt’s innate knowledge of the composer and his refreshing and personable insight into Baroque performance style with complete assurance, mixed with an almost self-governing freedom and bountiful spontaneity. There wasn’t a moment in this concert where the music spoke without natural sparkle and captivating expressiveness.

What gave it all a pleasing aesthetic balance was the inherent diversity of the various suites themselves: two opulent D major ones, Nos 3 and 4 respectively, topped by glorious phalanxes of oboes and trumpets and which Butt, directing form the harpsichord, sensibly placed as the opening and closing works; the more delicately-scored C Major (No 1) and flute-dominated B minor (No 2) providing a softer, creamier centre. 

Stars emerged, but never out of context. Katy Bircher’s flute playing in the concerto-like B minor Suite was subtly prominent, the tenor of her performance proudly virtuosic yet generously integrated, tempered naturally by the delicacy of her period instrument. Minimum strings made for a sinewy, compact unit, fired by Bach’s dazzling writing and their own swashbuckling counter-play. In the larger-scaled suites, it was the martial thrill of the trumpets and timpani that blew us away. Bach as it should be, stimulating and sublime.

Tuesday’s Queen’s Hall recital by South Korean pianist Yeol Eum Son came from a later time zone, the heady Romanticism of the 19th century in the wake of Beethoven. That composer’s presence was both the climax of the programme and its fundamental starting point. Son’s second half featured a single work, Beethoven’s late Sonata, the ‘Hammerklavier’, and one that must have startled its original audiences.

For this pianist it seemed to represent a logical product of the composer’s earlier, though in many cases equally provocative, sonatas. She immediately embraced the irascibility of the opening, its splintered rhetoric and impatient questioning, a beast that is never fully tamed in the volatile first movement. Her Scherzo evoked, as it should, a more even temperament, crisp and lithesome, yet still with darker shadows hovering. There was tenderness and thoughtfulness in her Adagio, more cool than ethereal, tossed brutally aside by the sheer bullishness of the closing fugue.

Leading up to all this, Son chose a series of mainly variation-type concert pieces that traced a notional lineage from Beethoven’s pupil Czerny, through his own pupil Liszt to Bizet and the troubled French piano virtuoso Alkan. It was a colourful journey, beginning with Bizet’s kaleidoscopic Variations Chromatiques, a flowering of imaginative diversions germinating from the most perfunctory of themes. 

In Czerny’s Variations on a Theme by Rode (’La Ricordanza’), Son flouted her immaculate finger precision and effortless facility, not least in a final variation sounding like stride piano before its time, but not before stilling the atmosphere with the work’s simplistic theme. Liszt’s Trancendental Study No 9, also subtitled ‘Ricordanza’, emerged almost like a postscript, yet characterised by its own expansive eloquence.

Finally, Alkan’s Variations on a Theme of Steibelt took us to the interval, its childish theme mischievously deceptive, given the ensuing maelstrom of notes that increased exponentially as Alkan’s characteristic virtuoso demands breached the near impossible. Never a problem, though, for this engaging pianist. 

Ken Walton

East Neuk Festival 1

Kilkenny Church / Crail Church

Maybe it was too much to ask of the Scottish weather that the scorcher we’d enjoyed throughout June remain firmly  in place for the 2023 East Neuk Festival. In the event, the close of the month, coinciding with the first two days of the Festival, offered more typical climatic variables – a sizzling Thursday followed by a cool, showery Friday – and so did the music.

Thursday’s performances felt like a congenial warm-up: two really interesting programmes delivered with just a suspicion of settling in – not exactly unexpected after the impact and hangover of Covid. 

First up was a return ENF visit by French-Canadian cellist Jean-Guihen Queyras, a solo recital in the amiable ambience of Kilrenny Church that began in the 20th century – a selection of Geörgy Kurtág’s étude-like aphorisms – and ended with the sanguine Bach Cello Suite in C minor. It was in the former – incendiary miniatures scattered among the progressive Hungarian composer’s output like personal journal entries – that Queyras realised the most positive impact, incisive and colourful interpretations that nailed the ballistic concentration of the music.

Beyond that, Queyras’ playing was probing and eloquent, emotive in its realisation of the inner musings expressed by Turkish composer Ahmet Annan Saygun in his Bach-like Partita for Cello, yet as a consequence, too free in its rhythmic definition, which tended to rob the ensuing Bach Suite, and two other short Baroque pieces, of their natural energy.

There was no lack of oomph in that evening’s Crail Church programme by the Belcea Quartet and Friends, which saw the familiar core ensemble augmented with Queyras and feisty Berlin Philharmonic violist Diyang Mei for a gritty performance of Brahms’ String Sextet No 1 in B flat, prefaced by a bombastic solo performance of movements from Liszt’s Les Années de Pèlerinage Book II by pianist Bertrand Chamanyou.

Chamanyou’s Liszt was epic, power-driven at times to the point of near-destruction, yet shot through with plentiful moments of deep sensitivity and flowing virtuosity to counter its viciousness. The closing Dante-inspired work was a case in point, thrillingly apocalyptic, but edging towards tonal distortion. If the Brahms adopted something of that bravado mentality, it was to mostly positive ends and a performance attuned fittingly to both the music’s homogenous richness and internal strife.

Friday held its own fascination, a thrilling late morning Kilrenny programme by the Castalian Quartet, followed late afternoon by an individualistic solo recital from South Korean pianist Yeol Eum Son

Previous visits by the Castalian Quartet have been notable for the naturalness with which they strike a classy balance between the individual and the body corporate. Such was the magical essence of a Mozart Quartet in D minor that divulged, through a combination of smiling interaction and devious self opinion, its awakening drama and characterful grace. Fuller passions emerged in the Dvorak, yet enlivened by that same flexible discipline and measured effusion.

Like the Castalians, Yeol Eum Son will be back in Scotland later this summer for the Edinburgh International Festival, which on this evidence will be a starry twin attraction. Son, whose recent recordings of the complete Mozart piano sonatas were singularly impressive, played two of these works in her Crail programme. In the C Minor Fantasy her total immersion in the music was fascinating, at the same time unnerving. She seemed to agonise over the opining of the Fantasy, as if deliberately deconstructing its flow. One the other hand, the C minor Sonata took its natural course, a little short on lyrical inevitability perhaps, but genuinely spirited.

Impetuousness had its place in Janacek’s Sonata No 1 (From the Street), with its disturbing transformations – quite Jekyll and Hyde in character and style – and wild excursions between achingly suspended time and crashing climaxes. Son signed off with exuberant flair in the Sonata No 2 by Ukrainian composer Nikolay Kapustin. It is unadulterated jazz, frenzied improvisation writ large, played here with breathtaking virtuosity and physical abandon. It had its tender moments – a bluesy Largo with super-heated harmonies – but the emphasis was on showmanship, which Son applied full on. She leapt from her stool in the final flurry of madcap glissandi; we all but jumped from our own seats in instant response.

Ken Walton 

SCO / Manze

City Halls, Glasgow

Throughout the Scottish Chamber Orchestra’s near half-century existence, one of the greatest joys has been the orchestra’s intimate connection with Mozart. It was present once again in this final 2022 programme, which featured the classy South Korean pianist Yeol Eum Son in Mozart’s Piano Concerto No 27 in B flat, and flashed up pleasurable memories of the complete Mozart concerto series performed with the same magnetic poise by pianist Mitsuko Uchida with the SCO way back in the 1980s.

Eum Son’s delivery had the same honesty and purity about it, lightning finger work precisely placed, an evenness of tone informing crystalline phrase, and a composure that allowed the music to express its intentions with natural elan. That conductor Andrew Manze – whose violin-playing days were once equally notable for their clean-cut Mozart – was of the same mind, brought a satisfying unity of purpose to the performance.

It was clear from the unending applause that Eum Son had no option but to deliver an encore, and boy did she oblige with the chattering brilliance of Moritz Moskowski’s Etincelles (Sparks) Op 36 No 6, like Scarlatti on steroids and offering a pyrotechnic glimpse of the pianist’s showier persona.

All this came immediately after the Concerto for String Orchestra by another amazing woman, Grazyna Bacewicz. As a pioneering female Polish composer in mid-20th-century male-dominated Europe, who had previously established herself as a celebrated violinist, it’s clear from this gutsy work (and others that have increasingly crept into concert programmes in recent years) that she was a voice to to be reckoned with.

Bullish, ultra-confident and instantly arresting, the opening movement was one unstoppable adrenalin rush, Manze drawing visceral heat from his eager, belligerent players. The wrestling complexity of the Allegro, a sizzling cauldron of thematic conflict, gave way to the more restful, rich-textured Andante, before the hi-octane finale, with its rhythmic twists and turns, produced a relentless, resolute dash to the finishing line. 

Manze completed his programme with music more often reserved for larger entities than the SCO, Dvorak’s Symphony No 7 – some may recall a BBC SSO performance a couple of weeks ago under Portuguese conductor Nuno Coelho. What transpired, though, was a refreshing reconsideration of its expressive potential. Where the string numbers were limited, the quality of sound was so alive and intense it captured details in the textural world of this heated symphony that are rarely heard.

As is standard with Manze, this was a programme brimming with refreshing thoughts, studiously intelligent on the one hand, passionately revealing on the other.

Ken Walton

Photo credit: Marco Borggreve

BBC SSO / Carneiro

City Halls, Glasgow

Stravinsky’s Petrushka seemed the inevitable endpoint to a BBC SSO afternoon concert that had explored, en route, the defiant energy of Anna Clyne’s pulverising «rewind« and the iridescent intensity of Esa-Pekka Salonen’s Piano Concerto.

It was a journey that sizzled under the charismatic, needle-sharp direction of Portuguese conductor Joana Carneiro. From her initial ebullient stage entrance, and a first downbeat fearsome enough to set the audience, never mind the players, on the edge of their seats, she had us completely under her spell.

Clyne’s opening work – a reworking of her original 2005 orchestra and tape version for Kitty McNamee’s Hysterica Dance Company – pulled no punches. Vigorous, uncompromisingly repetitive, and with glittering, intoxicating textures to offset the dry brutality of its punctuating chords, it was met with a blistering performance equal to its intent. The SSO was on red hot form.

They were joined by the South Korean pianist, Yeol Eum Son, for Salonen’s 2007 three-movement Concerto. Written originally for the Israeli-American pianist Yefim Bronfman, it is consequently robust, physically intense and fiercely virtuosic. Eum Son had no problems making it her own, matching its muscular demands with a gracefulness that was mostly effective in the numerous conversations the soloist engages in with single instruments.

Salonen, best known as a leading conductor, is no slouch when it comes to composition. Within a personal stye that is as soulful as it is viciously dissonant, he seamlessly ingests influences as varied as Bartok, Adams, Gershwin and Stravinsky in this work, which itself lends to an elusive circumspection – the constant flow of new ideas seemingly arising out of fresh air – that this performance highlighted.

Stravinsky’s Petrushka (1947 version) came as an inevitable resolution to these two foregoing works. And once again, Carneiro’s electric presence inspired a top-notch response. Incisive and impulsive from the outset, it was a performance heightened by kaleidoscopic sensitivities, rhythmic precision and an unrelenting sense of unanimity from an orchestra wholly reactive to this highly impressive conductor.

Ken Walton