Ian Yungwook Yoo

Beethoven: Eroica Variations

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With the exception of the Six variations for piano in D major, Op. 76, all the music here comes from early in Beethoven's career, and all of it is, sure enough for piano and in the variation form. Yet in some respects the pieces are an odd grouping, consisting of one large, ambitious piece and five rather lightweight ones. Of the latter, Beethoven declined to assign opus numbers to four of them, and even the Six variations, which share a theme with the flamboyant theater music for The Ruins of Athens, contrast in their idiom with the intricate and personal piano sonatas and quartets of the period. There's some second-drawer Beethoven here, and the young Korean pianist Ian Yungwook Yoo seems to recognize this, bifurcating his style sharply between the Eroica Variations and Fugue on an original theme in E flat major, Op. 35, and the rest of the music. In the smaller pieces he is technically clean and circumspect, but in the Eroica variations he offers a daring reading. This variation set shares a theme with not one but two other pieces, the ballet The Creatures of Prometheus and the finale of the Symphony No. 3 in E flat major, Op. 55, "Eroica," and Yoo seems to want to delve into why Beethoven was fascinated by it. He offers a dramatic version that emphasizes the theme's odd shape and full stop on the high dominant B flat, repeated three times in a manner reminiscent of music for the stage. Yoo's muscular reading is backed up by full technical facility and definitely holds the listener's attention. Perhaps it fails to fully support its own weight in the end; the final fugue doesn't seem to follow on the music up to that point. But the recording stands out from the crowd and can start interesting debates among people who know the piece well. Strong sound from the CBC's Glenn Gould Studio in Toronto is a plus. Booklet notes are in English only.

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