Víjon Duo in Review
Joong Han Jung, piano
Victor Chávez Jr., clarinet
Weill Recital Hall at Carnegie Hall, New York, NY
June 22, 2017
On June 22, 2017 at Weill Recital Hall, the Víjon Duo presented a concert of clarinet-piano duos and solo piano works. The duo’s musicians are pianist Joong Han (Jonathan) Jung and clarinetist Victor Chávez Jr. Both performers have impressive credentials and extensive performing appearances in venues throughout the globe. One can learn more about the artists by clicking on the following links: Joong Han Jung and Victor Chávez Jr. As an additional point of interest, Mr. Chávez is a Buffet Crampon Artist and exclusively plays on Buffet Crampon clarinets, which are considered by many to be the finest in the world.
There were brief programs notes for all the works in both English and Korean, no doubt due to the large following of Korean-speaking fans of the duo.
The duo opened with Prokofiev’s Sonata for Flute and Piano in D major, Op. 94, as transcribed for clarinet by Kent Kennan. It is well-known that Prokofiev himself made a transcription for violin, at the request of his friend, the legendary violinist David Oistrakh (Op. 94a). There seems to be no reason why the clarinet, an instrument with versatile and agile qualities similar to the flute, cannot “be part of the fun” that this popular work gives performer and audience alike. Make no mistake, the end result is something rather dissimilar, due to the differences in timbre between the flute and clarinet, especially in the extreme register. This listener did not find those sections to be effective, but that in no way is a criticism of Mr. Chávez. His technical prowess was more than able to deal with the challenges, and his tone in the middle and lower registers was warm, full-bodied, and enchanting. There were some “squeaks” in the extreme register, which are among those occupational hazards that clarinetists have to deal with. In the end, it was an excellent reading that showed both performers to advantage.
Following the Prokofiev came Four Pieces for Clarinet and Piano, composed by Mr. Jung. Originally conceived for voice and piano, Mr. Jung arranged these pieces for clarinet in 2017 to honor his friend and duo partner Mr. Chávez. In his notes, Mr. Jung wrote that the four pieces were to be used “to compliment and uplift the Catholic Mass.” The four pieces are (no title), Illuminate, Sanctus, and Agnus Dei. There is a strong French influence in the first three; the first two have striking Debussyian qualities, and the third reminds one of Milhaud. The piano part is virtuosic; there is no “hack-in-the-back” anywhere to be found in any of the selections. The fourth piece, the Agnus Dei, was much more individualistic, with a mournful sound that was truly moving. It was this listener’s favorite of the set. Mr. Jung knows his partner well, as the clarinet writing strongly realizes all of Mr. Chávez’s strengths- his rich tone and assured technique.
After intermission, Mr. Jung took the stage and briefly spoke to the audience about how he came to collaborate with Mr. Chávez, and about the Beethoven and Scriabin works he was to play. After thanking the audience for attending, he took his seat at the piano and played Beethoven’s Seven Bagatelles, Op. 33. As the title suggests, these are light-hearted works showing Beethoven in a happy, playful vein. Mr. Jung played with a light touch that seemed ideal, not too serious, but not tossed off glibly. Scriabin’s Piano Sonata No. 5, Op. 53 followed the Beethoven. This work, in a single movement (a scheme that Scriabin used for his subsequent sonatas), was written shortly after the Poem of Ecstasy, in which Scriabin struck out towards a style that Mr. Jung aptly called “hyper-romantic.” It’s an eleven-minute powerhouse work. Mr. Jung has obviously made it his mission to make this work a signature piece. He brought a well-considered, technically polished, and “hyper-romantic” approach that electrified the audience. It was a performance that Mr. Jung can be proud of and one that this listener found compelling.
Mr. Chávez rejoined Mr. Jung in a spirited reading of World Dance, the third of Three Pieces for Clarinet and Piano, from the pen of the well-known Israeli-American composer Ronn Yedidia (b. 1960). One can hear many dance styles, in what might be called a “Klezmer Hoedown.” It’s a delightful romp, and the duo played it to the hilt. It was a joyous ending to the evening. The composer was present, and he acknowledged the cheers of the audience. They gave the duo a standing ovation.