Wookyung Kim

Wookyung Kim: Korean Songs

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The various fusions of Asian and Western styles that populate concert programs in Asian countries include traditional and otherwise durable songs sung in Western style and joined to accompaniments reminscent of nineteenth century art song. In South Korea this style is apparently quite common, and it's valuable to have a recording with translations of texts into English, except for one that disclaims, "These lyrics contain archaic and regional onomatopoetic words which make it impossible to give an accurrate [sic] translation." The recording isn't exactly aimed at non-Korean listeners, for the main booklet notes are in Korean only. It is, however, enjoyable for all. Tenor Wookyung Kim and pianist Hee-Jin Lee were both trained partially in Germany, and the textures of their music-making, absent the distinctively Korean pitch content, might almost have come from a recital of German lieder of the middle nineteenth century. Kim is a strong, clear tenor somewhat reminiscent of Fritz Wunderlich, but with a more assertive sound. The texts are mostly nostalgic in tone, and he brings strong feeling rather than just wistfulness to that emotion. Several pieces do not fit the pattern; one, a setting of Psalm 23 (track 12), is especially interesting in view of the relative rarity, at least in the West, of recordings of Christian-oriented concert music indigenous to Asian countries. It is less lyrical in style than the other pieces, but not fundamentally built from different materials. After the listener settles into the Western orientation of the arrangements, it's a delight to hear the entrance of a traditional Korean drum that reorients one's perceptions of the music. Sample track 6 to begin with: it's a version of Arirang, possibly the most internationally familiar of all Korean songs. The melody is reworked somewhat (as is indicated by the New Arirang title), but is still recognizable.

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