Korean-born violinist Inmo Yang won the first prize of the 2022 Jean Sibelius Violin Competition, and in 2015, took the top place in the 54th International Violin Competition Premio Paganini in Genoa, Italy. Currently based in Berlin, where he is pursuing a master’s degree under Antje Weithaas at the Hochschule für Musik Hanns Eisler, Yang studied with Miriam Fried at the New England Conservatory of Music for several years. At the conclusion, a very genial Yang warmly thanked Cathy Chan and the Foundation for Chinese Performing Arts for bringing him to Williams Hall at NEC last night in his first visit to the conservatory since the pandemic. He also graciously acknowledged his stage partner, the multiple prize-winning pianist Sahun Sam Hong, and invited us to return to hear him in recital the next night.
Jean Sibelius loved the violin―so much so that he had originally attempted a violinist career―but his performing interest peaked at the time (1903) when the then 39-year-old composer wrote his violin concerto. For monetary reward Sibelius composed many short pieces for the instrument during the First World War. His Five Pieces for Violin and Piano, Op 81 (1915-1918) do not reflect the tragedy of war, but rather display an abundance of charm and melodic invention reminiscent of Janacek. The two well-matched and totally simpatico long-time partners mastered the Mazurka, the most demanding technically, with much double stopping and other virtuoso effects for both instruments. They gave it an Eastern European flair, opening in a cadenza-like manner and continuing with huge leaps in the melody. In the Rondino, the musicians alternated in playing rhythm and melodies in a quasi-Rococo style. In the Valse they played soft melodies and a most inventive middle section, similar to Elgar’s Chanson du Matin. Aubade (Morning Song) begins with delicate pizzicatos in the violin followed by a lovely singing melody supported by the busy piano figuration. Menuetto closed the well characterized and differentiated set, its vigorous use of the trill providing yet another vibrant flavor.
The violinist started Brahms’s Violin Sonata No. 1 Regensonate (Rain Drop) softly with vivace ma non troppo and the pianist clearly intoned the rain drops underneath a passionate violin melody. Yang made the piece come alive by varying the colors on his soulful Guadagnini. Yang also demonstrated remarkable expressiveness and control of his bow made by Boston-area McArthur Genius Grant winner Benoit Roland. The musicians played the following Adagio – Più andante – Adagio in a warmly intimate style. In the third movement, Allegro molto moderato, they expressed the dotted rhythm in the rondo with clear articulation, followed by a more intense Brahmsian lyric force. The simple theme in the final Allegro ma non tanto blossomed and thrived through Yang’s impeccable command.
For the closer the duo chose Schumann’s Sonata for Violin and Piano No. 2 in D Minor, one of the most demanding examples in the violin-piano repertoire. Ziemlich langsam – lebhaft opens with a stately sequence of chords. In the subsequent theme, they brought out a distinctive syncopated rhythm that plays a role in the link to the second theme and is also used extensively in the development. The second movement Sehr lebhaft found them digging in with real vigor; its scherzo seems to have been influenced by Brahms’s F-A-E sonata and quotes the chorale melody “Gelobet seist du, Jesu Christ” triumphantly in major at the end. In the relatively serene Leise, einfach they brought out a set of variations, opening with a passage of violin pizzicato triple-stops (which Inmo Yang executed starting from the top (an interesting while unconventional technique), mirroring the chordal introduction of the first movement. The finale Bewegt returns to the mood of the beginning (and conjured up Schubert’s “Erlkönig”), with a long and dramatic trajectory toward an exuberant conclusion.
The acoustically rather dull, heavily draped Williams Hall imposed balance challenges; Yang’s instrument felt like it needed to work hard to bloom in the space. Therefore the standing ovation seemed all the more deserved! Encoring with Clara Schumann’s delectable Romance No. 1, Yang and Hong left us with a stage picture of handsomely distilled and gorgeous inflected romance.