A special eight-page section focusing on recent recordings from the US and Canada

JS Bach Two-Part Inventions, BWV772 786. Three-Part Inventions, ‘Sinfonias’, BWV787 801. Chromatic Fantasia and Fugue, BWV903 Paulina Zamora pf Delos F DE3568 (64’ • DDD)

Paulina Zamora certainly has Bach’s Inventions and Sinfonias under her

fingers, and she plays clearly and cleanly at all times. To be sure, she doesn’t convey character with the consistency of pianists as divergent as Peter Serkin, András Schiff, Glenn Gould, Angela Hewitt or even Simone Dinnerstein. As a result, Zamora comes off relatively prosaic in pieces such as the C major, D minor, E minor and C minor Inventions. Her tiny tenutos throughout the sublime F minor Sinfonia sound less genuinely expressive than generically predictable as the music proceeds, while the G minor Sinfonia is statically slow. On the other hand, certain Inventions catch you by surprise: Zamora’s brusque and businesslike B flat, a scampering F major or an emphatic, boisterous E flat.

Considering the breadth of individuality, drama and pianistic resourcefulness one finds in numerous recordings of the Chromatic Fantasia and Fugue, Zamora’s straightforward yet unremarkable interpretation ranks around 25th from the top on a scale of one to 100. Still, one must credit her for maintaining the fugue’s textural transparency and basic tempo throughout, whereas one particular Bachian ‘high priestess’ always got heavier and slower in live performance.

I once made fun of a colleague’s describing a recording of Tchaikovsky’s Sixth Symphony as ‘a Pathétique for everyday use’. But now I’m tempted to use that very line to sum up Zamora’s good, honest and workmanlike Bach pianism. Jed Distler

Huang Ruo A Dust in Time Del Sol Quartet Bright Shiny Things F BTSC0158 (62’ • DDD)

Kim . Yun Kim Twelve Caprices Yun Königliches Thema. Kontraste. Li-Na im Garten Chi Young Song vn Navona F NV6387 (74’ • DDD)

It begins with cello and viola answering one another in slow, sombre gestures.

Two violins join the conversation, which builds ever so gradually to impassioned heights before winding its way down to the original, spare setting. A listener can only marvel that an hour has passed as Huang Ruo’s A Dust in Time has made its inevitable journey in the form of a palindromic passacaglia. The Del Sol Quartet’s premiere recording of the work is one of what likely will be numerous artistic expressions of grief, desolation and hope triggered by the coronavirus pandemic.

The piece derives its structure not only from the Baroque passacaglia but also from the Tibetan sand mandala, the series of spiral-like symbols that leads to spiritual healing. Over the course of its 13 sections, A Dust in Time evokes imagery, as the composer states, ‘travelling from nothing (emptiness) to something (fullness) and then back to nothing (emptiness). A colourful perfect world created by sands, although beautiful, yet it will eventually return back to dust.’

As the voyage unfolds, listeners are encouraged to try their hands at the colouring book of mandalas by the illustrator Felicia Lee that accompanies the disc. That might not be easy. The music is so mesmerising in narrative beauty and power that one might be unable to focus on anything but the interplay of urgent lines Huang Ruo has woven together with seamless skill.

The score’s eloquence is conveyed to rich effect by the Del Sol players, who merge motifs and phrases with striking control and nuance. Recorded in May 2021, with the pandemic continuing, the performance is a time capsule of emotions felt by the entire world. Donald Rosenberg

This is not the first time that Earl Kim (1920-98) and Isang Yun (1917-95) have

appeared together on disc. Indeed, the first time I encountered the music of either composer was on a marvellous DG LP of cello works played by Siegfried Palm (accompanied by Aloys Kontarsky), later reissued on CD in the label’s 20/21 series (2/03).

Given their eminence (both of Korean origin, though Kim was born in California) and the length of their careers, it may come as a surprise to learn that this new release comprises their complete music for unaccompanied violin. The technical demands of Earl Kim’s Twelve Caprices (1980), dedicated to his daughter, Eva, would not be out of place in a set of studies but there is a wilfulness at work meriting the title ‘caprice’. This is most apparent in the Eighth, with its recurring patterns like high-pitched laughter – a depiction of Eva, perhaps? The effect is rather overdone (though the quiet close is wonderfully sensitive) and there is a detached quality in all 12. Chi Young Song undoubtedly knows the score – he authored a dissertation on them for his degree at the University of Kentucky – and presents them with unblinking intensity.

The three works by Isang Yun, who has the lion’s share of the album, are more varied and a little more direct in appeal to the general listener. Königliches Thema (1976) is the most perfectly formed, a marvellously executed set of variations on the rather severe sounding ‘royal’ theme from A Musical Offering. Song’s interpretation is, at 10'05", leisurely by comparison with rival accounts; Fullana and Park are the pick of these and are more compelling. Nonetheless, Song turns in very musical accounts of all three pieces,

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GRAMOPHONE DECEMBER 2021 I