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Unsuk Chin: 3 Concertos

Our rating 
5.0 out of 5 star rating 5.0

COMPOSERS: Unsuk Chin
LABELS: Deutsche Grammophon
ALBUM TITLE: Unsuk Chin: 3 Concertos
WORKS: Piano Concerto; Cello Concerto; Su for Sheng and Orchestra
PERFORMER: Alban Gerhardt (cello), Wu Wei (sheng), Sunwook Kim (piano); Seoul Philharmonic Orchestra/Myung-Whun Chung

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This disc confirms why Unsuk Chin is an essential voice in today’s music. Spanning more than a decade of creativity, these three concertos demonstrate her ability to work within yet transform existing norms through utterly convincing, thoroughly mesmerising music.

Though the four-movement Piano Concerto (1996-97) has resonances of Chin’s teacher, Ligeti, her voice is already clear. The opening moto perpetuo might reflect modern life, yet humanity reigns supreme in the final movement’s playfulness, and the beautiful sustained yet periodically scintillating textures of ‘Movement II’ are from another world.

With the Cello Concerto (2008-09) Chin creates a dialectic between the instrument and the orchestra, each feeding off and transforming the other, threatening confrontation only briefly. Both these works, wonderfully played by Sunwook Kim and Alban Gerhardt respectively in partnership with Seoul Philharmonic Orchestra under Myung-Whun Chung, and captured in superb sound, alone justify the price of the CD.

Yet the final Su for sheng (an extraordinary mouth organ) and orchestra steals this remarkable show. Soloist Wu Wei draws an amazing range of sounds from this ancient instrument, from the most delicate single line, via rich harmonies to biting rhythmic volleys.

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Chin’s achievement is ensuring this is no musical novelty, but a riveting and dramatic exploration of timbre. Indeed, it is hard to think of a concerto that better reconciles an orchestra with a non-standard solo instrument of any tradition from around the world and with such satisfying musical results. Christopher Dingle