Jackie Yoo Plays Etudes

cover GEN 20720

what a performanceLIGETI: Etudes for Piano, First Book. LUTOSŁAWSKI: 2 Etudes. LISZT: Grand Etudes of Paganini / Jackie Jaekyung Yoo, pno / Genuin 20720

Korean pianist Jackie Jaekyung Yoo has taken this recording opportunity to present etudes by Ligeti, Lutosławski and Liszt in reverse chronological order. Reading through the liner notes, her choice of these three composers seems to be that they all presented “breakthroughs” in the creation of piano etudes, but when you come down to it there really is no connection between their very different music except for the adoption of that form—that, plus the fact that all three composers’ names begin with an L.

But I must say, the way Yoo attacks the Ligeti Etudes is exciting and bracing. No shy wallflower she, but a bold, powerful pianist who plays her instrument like a man. I love it! These performances, in fact, are more exciting than those recorded by Pierre-Laurent Aimard for Sony Classical, a recording which has received praise from many quarters. Nor does Yoo ignore the tender moments in this series, such as the second etude. She is some incredible pianist. The extraordinarily complex cross-rhythms of the Etude No. 3 are child’s play for her.

Yes, the two Lutosławski Etudes do sound eerily like Ligeti’s, even though they were written 44 years earlier, in 1941…at least, the way Yoo plays them they sound alike in both form and character. These are clearly among the composer’s best pieces, full of energy, strong rhythms and imagination.

But it was in the Liszt Etudes, played in a crisp, strong, non-Romantic manner, that I was really sold on Yoo’s extraordinary talent as an interpreter. She clearly took an entirely new view towards these pieces, emphasizing their virtuosic quality over the warm, gooshy legato style in which his music is normally played. Some listeners may object to this, but since they are Etudes based on Paganini, who himself wrote powerful, virtuosic pieces for the violin that avoid Romantic sentimentality, I find her interpretations to be completely valid. Not since the late György Cziffra have I heard Liszt played in such a bracing manner. Just listen to the way she plays the famous “La Campanella” for an example.

Thus what could easily have been a disappointing finish to this album turned out to be, for me at least, an extraordinary listening experience. There are very few younger pianists on the scene today who I consider to be in that rare category of musical masters, but on the basis of this recording I would place Yoo in that category. I would crawl over broken glass to hear her play in person—that’s how good she is.

Quite simply, a fantastic CD.

—© 2020 Lynn René Bayley

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