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FRIENDS OF MUSIC: JI-HYUN PARK (article first published : 2007-03-1)

The Korean soprano Ji-Hyun Park is one of the best singers we have heard in Durban for a long time. She has a magnificent voice and, as important, the artistry and sensibility to make the most of it.

She is a coloratura soprano, displaying the full ensemble of vocal gymnastics with consummate ease. But a voice of this quality really defies close definition. She is also a lyric soprano and a dramatic soprano, depending on what she is singing.

Ji-Hyun Park, who is 34, comes from South Korea (she studied music in Seoul) and has sung extensively in Korea and Italy. In this recital at the Durban Jewish Centre she presented a programme ranging from Debussy to Korean songs and showed impeccable judgment and technique in widely different items.

The South African pianist Elna van der Merwe made a significant contribution to the success of this recital. I hesitate to call her an accompanist because in most of these songs the piano is a partner of the voice, not a mere background. Elna van der Merwe’s playing was excellent: discreet, sympathetic and assertive when necessary.

Four Songs of Youth by Debussy opened the programme, illustrating immediately the rich, powerful and true quality of the soprano’s voice, this allied to a controlled restraint in the quieter passages. Likewise a set of songs by Richard Strauss gave both performers ample opportunities to show their skills.

Rachmaninov’s many beautiful songs seem sadly neglected these days. On this occasion we were given three of them, including the well-known, wordless Vocalise, sung with great power and expression.

A curiosity, Adolphe Adam’s vocal variations on the nursery tune which we know as Twinkle, twinkle, little star (Adam was surely inspired by Mozart’s piano variations on the same theme), was followed by familiar arias by Verdi and Delibes.

For me, a high point of the recital was the performance of Three Korean Songs. I had thought that these might be inscrutably oriental. Instead they were decidedly Western European in melody and in piano accompaniment. Lovely, romantic, rhapsodic songs, sung with great affection and insight.

The prelude performer, funded by the National Lottery Distribution Fund, was Terrance Lin, an 11-year-old Durban schoolboy pianist whose family come from Taiwan.

Altogether a memorable evening, in which East met West with splendid results. – Michael Green




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