mon 24/06/2024

Esther Yoo, Yekwon Sunwoo, Wigmore Hall review - Korean duo needs time to develop | reviews, news & interviews

Esther Yoo, Yekwon Sunwoo, Wigmore Hall review - Korean duo needs time to develop

Esther Yoo, Yekwon Sunwoo, Wigmore Hall review - Korean duo needs time to develop

A mixed bag in this new violin-and-piano duo's recital

Esther YooJe Won Kim / Harrison and Parrott

The duo partnership between violinist Esther Yoo and pianist Yekwon Sunwoo is still at a very early stage.

The announcements which both musicians made to the audience from the Wigmore Hall platform were almost completely inaudible, but it did sound as though this recital could actually have been their first public performance together. Both have Korean heritage, both have had major successes in international competitions, and during the pandemic they have spent time back with their respective families in Seoul. There is clearly an affinity between them which will, if circumstances allow, hopefully develop further.

Esther Yoo left a very strong impression when I heard her at the 75th Anniversary Gala of the Chapelle Musicale Reine Elisabeth in Brussels in 2014. What has stayed in the mind ever since that memorable concert is the insouciant ease and almost mischievous joy with which she dealt with the virtuosic demands of the Waxman Carmen Fantasy. Last night she chose Henri Vieuxtemps’ Souvenir d'Amerique (Variations Burlesques on "Yankee Doodle") as the show-stopping encore, a reminder that achieving wonderful feats of bravura with a smile is home territory for her. Going rather deeper, Kreisler’s Recitativo and Scherzo-Caprice for solo violin from 1911, possibly the highlight of the evening, brought out a wonderful instinct for pacing, and a deep sense of the freedom, invention and glorious sound she can muster.

Yekwon SunwooYekwon Sunwoo (pictured right by Jeremy Enlow / Cliburn Competition) also played a pair of solo items, arrangements of songs by Richard Strauss. In “Morgen”, arranged by Max Reger, he worked with the curious temptation to stretch out the length of phrases way beyond anything that would be possible or conceivable for a human voice, and in “Ständchen” Op. 17 the lightness and glimmer of his playing were affecting, but the climax of the song needed a lot more passion and a clearer sense of having arrived at a peak.

The Strauss song arrangements were an appetiser for the big-boned Richard Strauss E flat Sonata from 1887, a piece which Heifetz made his own and recorded three times. Yoo and Sunwoo were at their most persuasive and at home with the gentleness and lyricism of the andante cantabile second movement. By contrast, they could have made more of the more extrovert sections of the outer movements. Yoo too often made a strong impression but then allowed her sound to fade and retreat. In general the balance between the violin and the Steinway was well achieved throughout this recital, but in a Strauss Sonata the odds are clearly stacked in favour of the piano.

The pair also played sonatas by Beethoven and Debussy. Yoo is indeed, as her publicity material states, an “articulate and gifted communicator” and advocate for classical music, but these performances were a reminder that musicians really do need time and space to work and develop interpretations. External circumstances are not in their favour; young musicians surely need to build the habits of being on stage together, of trying things out in live performance. 

Nonetheless, this concert was a further reminder of the success of the Wigmore’s two-pronged policy of free streaming with the invitation to donate, paired with discounted tickets for Under-35s. It is worth going just to experience the unexpected, the intangible yet clearly palpable: there is a new youthful buzz in this Hall which is so full of history and memories.



Reviews are in their nature subjective, so I will only say that the views expressed do not sit comfortably with the rapturous audience response on the night. What I will say was that I was sitting near the back of the hall and heard the “inaudible” announcements perfectly clearly. Perhaps before his or her next concert the reviewer might benefit from an ear check-up.

Thanks for taking the trouble to write, and for your advice which I am sure is well-intentioned. You do make one good point which I hadn't thought of: yes, the acoustics of Rows U-X of the Wigmore where you were sitting are indeed pristine, sublime, absolutely the best! 

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