KORNGOLD; NIELSEN Violin Concertos (Jiyoon Lee)
Jiyoon Lee won joint first prize at the 2016 Carl Nielsen Violin Competition, so it is unsurprising, perhaps, that she should opt to record the Danish composer’s Concerto for her debut album, a wonderfully accomplished disc that also reunites her with the Odense Symphony, the orchestra that plays for the competition itself. Her interpretation is consistently fascinating, reflective yet tense, and technically secure without ever becoming self-consciously showy.
Lee establishes the parameters at the outset, as the opening flourishes, fiercely articulated rather than grandly declamatory, subside into a ravishing statement of the Largo’s principal theme. The Allegro cavalleresco sets out assertively but becomes more introverted as its certainties are undermined. Maintaining the balance between momentum and emotional ambiguity is paramount here and conductor Kristiina Poska propels the music insistently onwards, all the time giving Lee the space to let the violin line sing and breathe. The ambiguities darken further in the Concerto’s second half. Lee is at her most beguiling in the bittersweet Poco adagio, before launching the closing Rondo with deceptive yet dexterous simplicity, while Poska carefully but tellingly underscores the constant shifts between major and minor tonalities that throw the listener off balance. It’s a superb performance.
The Korngold Concerto forms its companion piece. In his review of Caroline Goulding’s recording (7/18), Richard Bratby noted a tendency among recent interpreters to tone down the intimations of Hollywood glamour in favour of something more genuinely Viennese. Lee and Poska’s performance, however, inhabits territory somewhere between the two. It’s difficult to escape Hollywood in the finale here, when the Odense brass peal out the principal theme in grand augmentation at its climax. The first movement, on the other hand, where Poska searchingly probes every orchestral texture, sounds almost Mahlerian. The central Romance, meanwhile, is very slow: the orchestral sound is gorgeous but could be a fraction darker here, and you need to turn to Anne Sophie Mutter and André Previn (DG, 12/04), perhaps, for something closer to the Andante marking in the score. But you can’t help but be won over by the exquisite way Lee plays the entire work, with every phrase beautifully caressed and shaped in ways that sometimes send shivers down your spine. On this showing she is a remarkable artist; and this is, without question, an exceptional debut indeed.