The South Korean pianist - youngest ever winner of the Leeds – on his inspirations, from Abbado to Unsuk Chin, and Bach to Burgundy
What’s been your most memorable live music experience as an audience member?
There have been two unforgettable concerts for me. The first was at Carnegie Hall in New York in 2006. Alfred Brendel gave a recital whose programme included Schubert’s piano sonata D894. I was not a big fan of Brendel at the time but when he played this sonata, it sounded so miraculous and it just blew my mind. It was a very special experience and since then I have been an enthusiastic follower of his interpretations. The second concert was in Paris where Claudio Abbado and the Lucerne Festival Orchestra played Mahler’s 9th Symphony. I was absolutely speechless from the beginning to the very end.
Snape Maltings, AldeburghMarin Alsop inspired individuality and panache, and led a zinging European premiere of a special John Adams work
Lola Montez’s extraordinary story has been told in films, and could in itself be a whole opera, with characters including her lovers Alexandre Dumas, père, Liszt and Ludwig I of Bavaria. But American theatregoers feted her as a cabaret hoofer, and that’s the cameo John Adams gives her in his Girls of the Golden West, which will premiere at San Francisco Opera in November.
As a dance-alone taster, Lola Montez Does the Spider Dance is tantalising, and this was a zinging European premiere by the Britten-Pears Orchestra under Marin Alsop, to whom it is dedicated. It is not quite a tarantella, but its rhythms and zany, brassy feel, together with the exhibitionist clarinet, created a vivid picture of Montez (who did eventually go a bit mad, not from a tarantula bite but probably tertiary syphilis). Paired with the Adams was Anna Clyne’s Masquerade, premiered by Alsop at the 2013 Proms, its polished surface shining bright here.
Barbican, LondonMark Padmore resurrected the role of Evangelist in an experimental staging of Bach’s choral masterpiece that included compelling readings by Simon Russell Beale
Bach performed his St John Passion four times between 1724 and 1749, and on each occasion it was somewhat different, with sections included or left out. Nowadays, as with his other major choral works, interpretations come in all shapes and sizes. Large-scale performances with big choirs and orchestras, though, are a good deal rarer than they once were, while the once-preposterous idea – first floated in 1981 by the Bach scholar Joshua Rifkin – that the composer intended only one singer to undertake each of the individual vocal lines has been widely taken up.
Related: A Passion for Bach: why the St John belongs on the live stage at Easter
Saffron Hall, Saffron Walden; Kings Place; St John’s Smith Square, LondonThe Gabrieli Consort and Players excel in Bach’s often overlooked Easter Oratorio. And Rheinberger rocks…
Early in 1725 Bach wrote a cantata about nymphs and shepherds for the birthday of a local duke for performance in his court or royal hunting lodge. Some five weeks later, those pastoral archetypes – Doris, Sylvia and their swains – had become the disciples, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary, “mother of James”, John and Peter, mourners at Christ’s tomb. Never averse to recycling when a deadline loomed, Bach fitted a new text to the music, rejigging it hastily as a new composition for the high point of the liturgical year.
That work, later revised, became the Easter Oratorio. Paul McCreesh and the Gabrieli Consort and Players chose it, together with other Bach from the same period, for their debut concert at Saffron Hall. It was a rewarding programme. Compared to the St John and St Matthew Passions, the B minor Mass or the Christmas Oratorio, the Easter Oratorio is little known, a forgotten sibling. Yet this exuberant piece dances its exultation from the opening chorus – “Come, hurry and run” – to the exuberant finale.
Yo-Yo Ma, Chris Thile, Edgar Meyer (Nonesuch)
The virtuoso mandolinist and guitarist Chris Thile is that rare being: an all-round musician who can settle into any style, from bluegrass to classical. Here he has collaborated with two other consummate multitaskers, and friends, the cellist Yo-Yo Ma and bass player Edgar Meyer. It took a few tracks to get used to the clipped, precise sound of the mandolin, at times evoking lute or harpsichord, but by the time these three fine musicians tackled the Fugue No 20 in A minor from The Well-Tempered Clavier Book 2, I was convinced. The illuminating booklet essay by pianist/composer Timo Andres is a bonus.
Les Arts Florissants/Christie(Harmonia Mundi)
As we begin 450th anniversary celebrations for Monteverdi, what better way to encounter the range of his astonishing genius than in this four-CD overview of his madrigal and small-scale dramatic output by William Christie and Les Arts Florissants. Recorded over several decades from 1980, the fresh voice of Guillemette Laurens (so moving in Lamento della Ninfa) has given way to younger singers in the Selva morale, recorded in 1986, and then the mini opera Il Combattimento di Tancredi e Clorinda in 1992, dominated by Nicolas Rivenq’s stirring baritone. This is a fascinating history of recent performance as well as a celebration of eternally powerful music.
John Joubert, 90 last month, was steeped in the rich musical tradition of the Anglican church when at school in his native Cape Town. This release celebrates some fine examples of his contribution to that tradition, appropriately recorded on the impressive Harrison and Harrison organ at St Alban’s cathedral, site of the execution of St Alban, the subject of a 1969 cantata which in turn provided material for his dark yet consolatory Reflections on a Martyrdom from 1997, brilliantly played here by Tom Winpenny. Attractive preludes on English hymn tunes and a thundering Passacaglia and Fugue make this a must for any aficionado.
Cellist Matt Haimovitz and clarinettist David Krakauer met at a klezmer gathering in Canada and discovered a shared interest in Henri Akoka, the Algerian-born Sephardic Jewish clarinettist who premiered Messiaen’s Quartet for the End of Time in a prison camp during the second world war. In a tribute project called Akoka, they frame Messiaen’s masterpiece with improvisations and a woeful electronic remix (bits of the quartet chopped up with archive radio broadcasts, hip-hop rhythms and Sephardic cantorial singing) by Montreal “beat architect” Socalled.
The multi-faith angle could be interesting – Messiaen’s Technicolor Catholicism dominates most readings of the quartet, so a klezmer-style vibrato in the solo clarinet movement, for example, is a valid perspective. And the performance is generally classy, especially the immensely expressive and gentle playing of violinist Jonathan Crow. But the add-ons are dire, and doubly so given that they segue straight in and out of the Messiaen, leaving no room for escape.
What does New York sound like? This double-disc collection charts the city’s past century of modern classical music, taking in composers born there (Elliott Carter, Morton Feldman, Steve Reich) and composers who made it their home (Edgard Varèse, John Cage) plus recent works by David Fulmer and Sean Shepherd.
Matthias Pintsher is a German composer/conductor who lives in New York and flits across the Atlantic to direct the illustrious Paris-based Ensemble Intercontemporain: the performances he gets from them here are virtuosic, rich, detailed and fairly sober. I yearned for a bit more romp in the shrieks and rituals of Varèse’s Integrales from 1925; more ensemble clatter in Carter’s Clarinet Concerto (the solo part is tackled superbly by Jérôme Comte). Inevitably a seven-piece survey will have big repertoire gaps – conspicuously missing is the cheery and too-popular-for-Pintscher brand of post-minimalism championed by the Bang on a Can collective. It’s depressing, too, to see yet another music history told without a single woman’s voice in the mix.
Andrew Manze adds the composer’s Fifth and Sixth Symphonies to his series, while the celebrated violinist offers up two Mozart concertos
John Adams’s latest orchestral piece is the novelty in Marin Alsop’s concerts with the Britten-Pears Orchestra, alongside Masquerade by Anna Clyne, Britten’s Young Person’s Guide to the Orchestra and (14 April only) Bartók’s Concerto for Orchestra.Snape Maltings, Aldeburgh, 14-15 April
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