Wednesday, 30 January 2013

Live Review: Brian Yoon (November 25th 2012)

Brian Yoon
Women's Musical Club of Winnipeg
Winnipeg Art Gallery
November 25th 2012

Reviewed by Paul R. McCulloch
On Sunday, Nov. 25th, the Women’s Musical Club of Winnipeg presented a recital by cellist Brian Yoon, winner of the 35th annual Eckhardt-Grammaté National Music Competition. Yoon, accompanied by Eliza Ching on piano, introduced the audience at the Muriel Richardson Auditorium to a dramatic collection of contemporary pieces as part of a 2012 E-Gré sponsored national tour.

The afternoon began with String Theory by John Burge, the work specially composed for this year’s Competition. From its hypnotic initial notes onwards, the piece demonstrated Yoon’s outstanding musical skills. The long, sustained strokes of the opening bars gave way to the stirring tremolos and glissandos of the middle section, with Yoon and Ching both impressing the audience with their masterful finale. Ching in particular handled a demanding piano pizzicato interlude with aplomb, and the superb quality of the duo’s first selection set the tone for the rest of the afternoon.

Yoon introduced the next piece, Sonata for Cello and Piano, Op. 143 by Francis Poulenc, as particularly notable for its wide emotional and technical range. The work, comprised of four movements – “Tempo di Marcia,” “Cavatine,” “Ballabile,” and “Finale” – featured lively, playful and romantic tones coupled with a highly rhythmic and invigorating structure. Poulenc’s gorgeously shaded piece, highlighting Yoon and Ching’s perfect synchronicity, ended with a single lighthearted pluck of Yoon’s cello strings.

The following selection, Prayer and Dance of Praise by Elizabeth Raum – written for the 1997 E-Gré Music Competition – lent a satisfying sense of continuity to the concert’s program. The piece, imbued with a sense of longing and deep spirituality, drew its inspiration from Middle Eastern folk melodies that the composer heard as a child at her Syrian grandmother’s family gatherings. Prayer and Dance of Praise featured an impressive array of dynamics, allowing Yoon and Ching to shine as they both deftly navigated the piece’s rapid changes in tempo and tone.

The most anticipated work of the event was perhaps Stigmata by Vincent Ho, Composer-in-Residence to the Winnipeg Symphony Orchestra, who was also present at the concert. Commenting on the selection, Yoon noted that mastering the work, performed without accompaniment, has made him a more confident and mature player.
Charged with a sense of loneliness and anguish, the work was originally written for cellist Jakub Omsky after tragic events in the lives of both the dedicatee and the composer. Stigmata juxtaposed expressive strokes that sounded remarkably like a human voice with periods of frenetic, evocative fingerwork and concluded with a prayer-like section featuring gentle harmonic tremolos. The audience was spellbound.

The last piece of the program, “…and dark time flowed by her like a river…” by Gary Kulesha, inspired by a novel by Thomas Wolfe, featured the best piano work of the afternoon. Ching provided both a roiling undercurrent to Yoon’s darkly rhapsodic tones and exquisite solos of her own. Piano and cello seemed to race each other to the final exhilarating notes of the concert, earning a standing ovation from the enraptured audience.

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