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Art Lange
Fanfare, January 2010

…Ryu offers several distinctive touches of his own, such as the Requiem’s interlude for flutes and oboes, and the soprano’s melodic contour soaring above the chorus in the Dies irae. There’s plenty of fire and brimstone in Ryu’s music, which is more Requiem than Sinfonia, and his passion and sincerity are obvious…

Mark L Lehman
American Record Guide, November 2009

Jeanjoon Ryu was born in Korea in 1970 and studied with Penderecki in Poland. His music reflects both his homeland and his teacher: his 2007 First Violin Concerto and 2008 Sinfonia da Requiem share the late-Mahlerian aesthetic updated by more jagged themes and chromatic harmonies evident in Penderecki’s more recent music, and the Sinfonia da Requiem draws its inspiration from the sacrifices of those who fought in the Korean War.

Both works portray tormented struggles in search of consolation. The somewhat more pensive concerto does so in a single 20-minute span, while the more intense and dramatic 42-minute Sinfonia is cast in four sections, each a setting (for soprano, chorus, and orchestra) of part of the standard Latin text of the requiem mass.

The Sinfonia da Requiem…has appropriate grandeur and weight, with extended instrumental episodes (presumably the reason for the work’s title) offering effective contrast to the vocal sections, as in the dark, late-Busoni-like contrapuntal unwinding…in the opening movement. But the real power—at times awe-inspiring—of this music is in the heartfelt vocal utterances. There’s no doubt that Ryu’s threnody for the victims of war has more than enough universality and tragic structure to achieve an honored place in this ancient genre that never, alas, seems much closer to becoming obsolete.

Both works are well played and vividly recorded. The Sinfonia in particular is rendered with terrifying power and urgency. Anyone even remotely drawn to large-scale late-late-romantic (or early modern) choral-and-orchestral music should hear this…Ryu held me spell-bound, at once aghast and uplifted. Dear Lord, save us from ourselves.

Bob McQuiston
Classical Lost and Found, September 2009

The two works by South Korean composer Jeajoon Ryu (b. 1970) included here are exceptional! A student of Krzysztof Penderecki (b. 1933), he’s obviously learned his lessons well, producing music that’s extremely sincere and deeply moving. We’ll undoubtedly be hearing more from this promising young man.

Ryu wrote his Sinfonia da Requiem (no date given) as a tribute to the people who immediately following the Korean War (1950–53) worked so hard to rebuild his country. It’s in four movements and scored for soprano, chorus and a large orchestra with an imposing percussion section. Declared a masterpiece by Penderecki, it received a ten-minute standing ovation after its 2008 première in Warsaw. This is not surprising because just in forces and length alone it surpasses the gold standard of this genre, the 1940 one for orchestra by Benjamin Britten (1913–1976).

The opening “Requiem aeternam” is dark and foreboding except for a meditative central episode dominated by the woodwinds. Brilliantly orchestrated, the “Dies Irae” that follows is highly dramatic with stirring fatalistic choral passages and pounding percussion. The feeling of impending tragedy and despair generated extends to the first part of the next section, “Offertorio.” Then there’s an impassioned plea by the soprano for the deliverance of those in hell followed by a lovely concluding hymn in memory of the departed. The final “Sanctus” builds to a stormy climax involving all the assembled forces, but the skies gradually clear, and it ends with a radiant peroration in the major.

The program closes with Ryu’s first violin concerto, which dates from 2006 and is in one extended twenty-minute movement. It’s late romantic in spirit with passages that owe a debt to Mahler (1860–1911) while at the same time have an exoticism reminiscent of Karol Szymanowski’s (1882–1937) two efforts in this genre (1916 and 1933). It opens quietly in the lower strings, and then thematic ideas are introduced that gradually ascend. The violin makes a sudden dramatic appearance, and a beautifully written development section follows in which the composer scripts a fascinating dialogue between the soloist and orchestra.

Ryu’s ability to continually introduce pithy new material, while maintaining a sense of structural integrity throughout the work, is extraordinary. As the piece progresses the orchestration becomes increasingly chromogenic and virtuosic displays are frequent, but never dominate. The concerto suddenly ends with a couple of tinkles on the celesta, and some emphatic percussive outbursts from the soloist and tutti.

South Korean soprano In-Hye Kim, the Silesian Camerata Singers Ensemble, and the Polish Radio Choir and Symphony Orchestra, all under Lukasz Borowicz, give a superb performance of the Sinfonia da Requiem. Ms. Kim is to be commended for her impassioned singing in the “Dies Irae” and “Offertorio.”

Likewise a big round of applause should go to South Korean violinist So-Ock Kim for her outstanding playing of the concerto—on a 1666 Stradivarius no less! The Podlasie Opera and Philharmonic Orchestra and conductor Piotr Borkowski have a real feel for this music, and provide her exceptional support. If these pieces are to your liking and you’ve not already done so, make sure to investigate the music of Ryu’s countryman Isang Yun (1917–1995).

Although two years separate these recordings (2006 and 2008), they were both made in the same venue and are spread across a wide soundstage in a spacious acoustic. With a profusion of percussion the sound is arrestingly robust with spectacular bass transients. The soprano and violin soloists are perfectly highlighted, and an ideal balance is maintained between the chorus and orchestra in the first selection.

Nick Barnard
MusicWeb International, August 2009

Jeajoon Ryu is a name that will not be familiar to the majority of classical music enthusiasts. A South Korean composer not yet forty he studied with Krysztof Penderecki in Warsaw. Indeed all of the performers—with the exception of the featured soloists—are Polish. This is another excellent example of Naxos bringing us superbly engineered and performed recordings of major works that are by definition far from the mainstream.

The main piece here is the Sinfonia da Requiem and this recording dates from March 2008. I presume that it features the same forces as featured in the premiere as part of the 12th Ludwig van Beethoven Easter Festival in Warsaw. Certainly this sounds as if it must be the case; all the performers involved are thoroughly inside the music and play the ferociously hard parts with almost indecent ease. Likewise the choirs have all the weight and resonance that the music demands. At the premiere the piece received a 10 minute standing ovation and was deemed ‘a masterpiece’ by Penderecki. Masterly in its handling of large-scale forces I agree—but as for being a masterpiece I’m not nearly so sure. Even though Ryu names the Korean professor Sukhi Kang as a major influence it is palpably clear that his Polish studies have been of greatest influence. There is a very clear Central European sound-world at play here both in the use of large slabs of orchestral tone and the essential aesthetic driving the piece. This is unrelentingly serious music. I’m not sure I’ve listened to forty minutes of such stern music in some time. This is not meant to be a facetious comment. I have listened to this performance several times in different circumstances and while my admiration for it increases my liking for it decreases. It really is very well written. The very opening in particular is extremely effective. The sepulchral basses of the combined choirs hauling themselves up ‘from the depths’ over lamenting strings and funereal muffled drums is all very atmospheric and powerful. The engineering of the disc is first-rate too—good detail in all parts but in a warm acoustic and with an excellent dynamic range. Absolutely premium price production and performance values offered at bargain price. After this initial choral statement there builds an orchestral stretto which leads on to further choral interjections with the solo soprano’s first entrance over-flying the choral writing. The soloist here is soprano In-Hye Kim. She tackles the high lying and vertiginous solo part with total confidence. I wish I could be more enthusiastic about her actual sound—it is certainly dramatic in a way that clearly fits the music but it is rarely beautiful. Also, I have not been able to understand a single word of the text as pronounced by her. It could well be argued that this is not hugely necessary when the text is as familiar as here but I do find closed vowels and few consonants annoying. In the middle of the movement there is a brief pastoral interlude featuring quite stunningly beautiful flute playing but even here the underlying mood of the music does not relax.

As written the Requiem text is divided into three movements of very roughly the same length with a much shorter Sanctus acting as a Coda/Finale with a major key tonality appearing at the very last. I’m sure a detailed study of the score would reveal many subtleties and nuances that the ear alone cannot divine at early acquaintance. My abiding sense is the unrelentingly minor key sobriety of it all. I miss those glimpses of sunshine through the clouds that allow many of the greatest Requiems to offer solace and hope as well as loss and grief. In his three paragraph introduction to the piece Ryu says it was inspired by the suffering of his fellow South Koreans in the aftermath of the Korean War and is a tribute ‘to those who have devoted themselves to the development of Korea and who strove for the greater prosperity and international reputation of our country’. Given that Christianity is the main religion of Korea it would have been interesting to know whether it figures significantly in Ryu’s own life because I can’t quite equate the music that is here with the dedication quoted above.

So having been left rather battered by the Sinfonia da Requiem I moved on to the Violin Concerto No.1. This dates—in performance terms—from some sixteen months before the Requiem and again this recording seems to be by the same performers as those who gave the premiere. Again, the music is served by excellent engineering and by fine playing from soloist and orchestra alike. The solo part in particular is played with total security and tonal beauty by So-Ock Kim. At nineteen minutes long and in a single movement span it clearly has a more modest remit than the companion work here. Once again sobriety rules the day. The writing is complex and taxing but I long for even the slightest hint of a lightening of the spirit. The ending of the work is strangely perfunctory—an abrupt closure rather than a sense of arrival. Clearly this is a carefully considered musical choice but by then I’d rather lost interest in trying to follow Ryu’s musical rationale; my loss I am sure.

Powerfully performed premieres of oddly uninvolving music.

Joshua Meggitt
Cyclic Defrost, August 2009

South Korean composer Jeajoon Ryu is among today’s most exciting orchestral composers, as the works on this new disc on Naxos attest. Ryu studied under Krzystof Penderecki in Poland, a country renowned for the quality of its orchestral composers (Penderecki, Lutosławski, Gorecki). Penderecki declared Ryu’s Sinfonia da Requiem featured here ‘a masterpiece’, and it received a ten-minute standing ovation from its audience at its premiere in Warsaw last year. Who said contemporary audiences were jaded?

It’s easy to see what the fuss was about. Composed as a tribute to the survivors who helped rebuild Korea following the Second World War and dedicated to Juyung Chung, the founder of Hyundai, The Sinfonia is a stirring and powerful tribute that avoids all obvious stereotypes. From the opening bars Ryu sets forth thick streams of strings, letting them writhe around like forlorn pythons, before the chorus emerges with all the solemnity of a Russian Orthodox service. The Polish connection is evident, particularly Penderecki’s post-Threnody sacred works, and the control of Lutosławski, yet Ryu is also unafraid to let tonal beauty emerge too, with moments as rich as Tchaikovsky. His Violin Concerto shows equal promise, and while lacking the at times dizzying grandeur of the Sinfonia, shows that Ryu is particularly skilled in applying his voice to established forms.

Uncle Dave Lewis, August 2009

Although composer Jeajoon Ryu is Korean, he studied with Krzysztof Penderecki in Krakow, and Naxos’ Jeajoon Ryu: Sinfonia da Requiem appears to be the debut of his music on disc. It features Ryu’s ambitious choral-orchestral Sinfonia da Requiem, Op. 11 (2008), paired with his Violin Concerto No. 1, Op. 10 (2006); although soprano soloist In-Hye Kim in the Sinfonia da Requiem and violinist So-Ock Kim are both Korean, everyone else in this production—conductors, choruses, and orchestra—are Polish. Certainly the music sounds more Polish than Korean, but the situation to which the Sinfonia da Requiem is addressed altogether to Ryu’s mother country; it is written in honor of the generation of Koreans to whose lot befell the task of rebuilding Korea in the wake of the 1950–1952 war. The Sinfonia da Requiem is accomplished and impressive; Ryu has learnt well from Penderecki, although this is even more conservative overall than Penderecki generally is. At times, its harmonic palette is reminiscent of Franz Schreker and later Franz Schmidt, latter-day romantic composers with one foot placed in the modern. The Violin Concerto is a loosely focused, single-movement, 20-minute long work, here played by violinist So-ock Kim, a young violinist well known in Europe; this appears to be the first CD release to feature her. Kim has clearly studied her role and, when she is above the ensemble, makes a strong showing in the work…Sinfonia da Requiem is undeniably a very listenable piece, and contains—particularly during the “Dies irae”—some moments of genuinely novel and beautiful writing. And while some of the surface elements may seem derivative, Ryu’s thematic ideas, and his treatment of them, are not…the Sinfonia da Requiem is nevertheless a compelling and dramatic experience and should please a wide range of classical listeners.

Steven Whitehead
Cross Rhythms, August 2009

Your reviewer has listened to more than a few settings of the Requiem Mass since taking on this job but has never heard one quite like this. First let it be said that this is an excellent CD and any criticisms that follow are relatively trivial. One of the composer’s teachers, Krzysztof Penderecki, has described it as “a masterpiece” and who are we to argue? Jeajoon Ryu is a Korean composer, born in 1970, who has studied in both Seoul and Poland. The ‘Sinfonia da Requiem’ was composed as a tribute to those who have devoted themselves to rebuilding Korea after the war of 1950–53. The work is scored for soprano soloist, chorus and a large orchestra including triple woodwind and brass and an extensive percussion section. These requirements make it unlikely that this Requiem will become part of the cathedral repertoire but I hope and expect that it will become a standard concert work. The featured soprano on this super-budget CD is the Korean In-Hye Kim and she gives us a superlative performance. As I said above, I have not heard anything quite like this but if you want a comparison the name that came to mind was Leonard Bernstein. This Requiem is bright, brassy, theatrical and tuneful. If you have any interest in contemporary classical music this is a “must hear”. The piece lasts 42 minutes and those kind people at Naxos give us Ryu’s ‘Violin Concerto No 1’ played by So-Ock Kim on a 1666 Stradivarius. I do not do violin concertos so my only comment is that this was clearly composed by the same man who wrote the Requiem and that the Requiem on its own is well worth the cost of the CD.

David Denton
David's Review Corner, July 2009

Born in 1970, Jeajoon Ryu has become today’s outstanding Korean composer, though his music shows his deep debt to his mentor Krzysztof Penderecki and mainstream European music of the late-20th century. This recording comes from the world premiere of the Sinfonia da Requiem, and was composed by Ryu in memory of those who rebuilt Korea from the ruins left by the conflict of the 1950’s. It follows in the mould of the conventional Catholic Requiem, its four sections being scored for a dramatic solo role in the Dies irae and the participation of a very large orchestra. As a rough guide to content, think of Benjamin Britten and Penderecki combining in a new work, Ryu creating a score of tremendous impact, with the final Sanctus hardly releasing the tension. Two years earlier, in 2006, the First Violin Concerto is a work of many changing moods, contained within one continuous movement. Like the Requiem, it is conceived in a mood of highly charged emotions, the description at its premiere as of ‘truly Romantic provenance’ pointing to the probability that the engineers did not achieve ideal microphone placement, the superb young violinist, So-Ock Kim, often obliterated by the sheer weight of the orchestra. Yet there is sufficient to make one immensely interested in hearing the work in the concert hall. Did Ryu know of Szymanowski’s concertos, for here there are similar passages of erotic extravagance that reminds me of those earlier scores. The Korean soprano, In-Hye Kim, risks all in projecting her vocal line in the Requiem; the chorus sing with fervour, and the orchestras play magnificently. In sum, this is music of importance. The sound from the Polish Radio, apart from that questionable balance, is of hard-hitting immediacy.

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