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. However, the Podlasie Opera and Philharmonic Orchestra under Piotr Borkowski turn in a diffuse, weakly coordinated ripieno that tends to get in her way rather than to offer support, a pity, as one wants to hear more of Kim.
The Sinfonia da Requiem's stylistic derivations might render hearers with more patrician tastes in regard to the Western classics a little fidgety, and there are a couple of plain, tonal cadences in both works that are used as a sort of stylistic device, but they are weak and don't really fit. But 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. While that might not quite constitute the "magisterial assurance" alluded to in the back panel blurb of the CD, the Sinfonia da Requiem is nevertheless a compelling and dramatic experience and should please a wide range of classical listeners.