Saturday, 23 February 2013

Soyoung Yoon

The “right speed” for a piece of music is a complex matter. Comparative tempi come into it, as do a composer's markings. The right speed also depends on overall context. I remarked recently (Adrian Boult in Brahms) that over the 16 movements of the four symphonies, I never once found an instance where I was unhappy with his tempi. In the end, if it sounds too slow, it is too slow. And if it sounds too fast, it is too fast.

This complex question re-surfaced listening to the remarkable young violinist Soyoung Yoon in Sibelius's violin concerto. The second and third movements sounded fine, to me. But the first movement was a bit of a disaster, with Yoon seemingly seeking to convert Sibelius's allegro moderato into andante tranquillo; at times, it sounds as if everyone is falling asleep. Timings are indicative (though not, of course, the final verdict). In the first movement of the Sibelius, the classic Heifetz-Beecham recording comes in at 14.26. Miss Yoon and her team come in at 17:35 for the same piece of music, the difference being not so much the basic tempo, but the new recording's willingness to dally by the wayside the moment the music becomes tender and lyrical. As an unfortunate result, in the hands of Miss Yoon and her conductor (Piotr Borkowski) the first movement degenerates into a series of episodes that go on too long.

For the rest of the work, and for the following Tchaikovsky violin concerto, things go less controversially, though the artists still show longings to linger whenever the music suggests it could be possible. The violin playing of Soyoung Yoon reminds me of Nathan Milstein: fluent and flawless, and as a master class on how to play the violin, the current CD is excellent. Miss Yoon has won every major competition anyone could possibly want to win. What I miss is the kind of personal involvement and passionate commitment one gets with violinists such as Janine Jansen, Patricia Kopatchinskaja or Leila Josefowicz – to mention just three younger female violinists around at the moment. And I love performances of the hackneyed classics that I have heard too often, that make me sit up and enjoy an over-familiar work all over again, as a couple of years ago I enjoyed Christian Tetzlaff in the Sibelius violin concerto.

The orchestra here, the Gorzow Philharmonic in Poland, confirms my impression that young artists are often better off with enthusiastic players in less well known bands than they are with the big name orchestras where enthusiasm is often lacking, and where a band heavily laced with substitutes goes through the motions on a Wednesday morning to earn a few more euros or dollars. I enjoyed much of the playing by the Gorzow orchestra. I was recently highly impressed with the début CD of the Korean Soo-Hyun Park. Her fellow Korean, Soyoung Yoon, is no less talented as a violinist, but perhaps to make an impression one needs to choose concertos other than the hackneyed dozen where competition and comparisons are so fierce.

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