Angela Chun and Jennifer Chun, the violin-playing Korean sisters, have made a symbiotic career together: they have a joint Web site and last fall were appointed together as string mentors at the Royal Academy of Music. They played under Leonard Slatkin with the NSO back in the late 1990s, but they have been off my radar at least for almost a decade. Now, for whatever reason, the Juilliard graduates are back, having signed with Harmonia Mundi, which led to this re-release of their 1999 recording ("Piece of Fantasy"), repackaged with a slightly different title and pictures. One wishes a little more work had gone into the Harmonia Mundi version: more attention to detail would have avoided some of the gaffes in the program notes by George Gelles ("Libel [sic] to get lost in the movement's bustle is the affinity between its lyrical theme" and "The players suggest nightingales on ecstasy, or perhaps ecstatic nightingales").
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Fantasy, Angela Chun, Jennifer Chun, Nelson Padgett (released January 8, 2008)
Harmonia Mundi HMU 907444
There is a repertoire ceiling to this sort of sibling career, which the Labèque sisters run into, too, and this hour-long recital program has its duds (specifically, the set of three Shostakovich duets, stage music arrangements by Lev Atovmyan). Definitely not in that category is the opening work, Bohuslav Martinů's 1930 sonatina for two violins and piano. The Czech composer is an Ionarts favorite, and this piece has been a delightful discovery, a 12-minute survey of some of the chameleon-like Martinů's stylistic flirtations (lush, folk-inflected Debussy, motoric Stravinsky). Mixed-repertoire CDs are officially discouraged at Ionarts -- where do you file them in your rigorously ordered collection? -- so I would much rather discover this worthy piece in the Dartington Ensemble's all-Martinů CD (from Hyperion and rather pricey -- I'll get around to ordering it eventually).
Martinů, La revue de cuisine, Sonatine for Two Violins, et al., Dartington Ensemble
Milhaud, Chamber Music, Eric Le Sage et al.
The same goes for Darius Milhaud's 1914 sonata for two violins, a piece well worth your time but also on an all-Milhaud disc recorded elsewhere by Eric Le Sage and friends. What is recorded on this disc and nowhere else are two substantial works by South Korean composer Isang Yun. His sonatina for two violins, from 1983, is a tense 13-minute, one-movement exploration of intervals and ranges for the two violins, without piano. Along with the severe, demanding Pezzo Fantasioso, from 1988, from which Fantasy apparently takes its name, Yun's music gets more than a fair shake from the Chuns, too, in this pleasing but non-essential disc. Still, for the Chun sisters to have made a real come-back, they will have to release a CD recorded more recently than 1998, and some previous press notices of their playing, like Bernard Holland's capsule review of their 1987 Carnegie Hall recital, have been less than favorable. What this recording shows is that their playing can make a case for less familiar repertoire, especially partnered with the sensitive and accomplished piano of Nelson Padgett.
An Alkan moment
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