Concert notes: Jeajoon Ryu’s Sinfonia da Requiem

Inhye Kim and Grzegorz Nowak with the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra
Inhye Kim and Grzegorz Nowak with the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra

The Royal Philharmonic Orchestra orchestra and 90-strong Chorus together with soprano soloist Inhye Kim convened in the Cadogan Hall on 12 April to perform Jeajoon Ryu’s Sinfonia da Requiem (2007). It was composed to honour Hyundai founder Chung Ju-yung, who passed away 10 years ago in 2001, and also dedicated to Korea’s past generations, who toiled to develop and improve the country during the 20th century.

With such serious aims, it’s no surprise that this is serious music. There’s very little to provide consolation to the souls of the dead or to the living who remain behind. Unlike the more choral-oriented requiems of the 20th century such as Durufle or Howells, there are no moments of beauty. The tone is sombre (particularly in the first movement, the Requiem Aeternam); or even despairing (in the 4th movement, the Sanctus).

Jeajoon Ryu
Jeajoon Ryu (류재준)

The title obviously harks back to Britten’s work of the same name, which is purely orchestral, but unlike Britten who in his War Requiem used words by Wilfred Owen, Ryu sticks to the traditional words from the requiem mass. Although in the mass we ask for requiem aeternam, the music of Ryu provides little hope of it: the first movement ends unexpectedly with an imperfect cadence, urging you on to the second movement, which ends suddenly on a discord. The third movement, in which we pray for Chung’s soul to be rescued from the jaws of an inappropriately skittish lion in the woodwinds, ends on a positive note before we are plunged back into the turbulent finale which threatens to end on a dark minor chord before the clouds suddenly part to reveal a more optimistic D major.

The work was well-performed by soprano soloist Inhye Kim and the chorus. The orchestra had been well drilled in the work, and articulated the several stately fugal passages well. Coming so soon after a whole day of Unsuk Chin’s kaleidoscopic orchestral palette, the more traditional and conventional orchestral sound of Ryu’s requiem suffered by comparison, but of course was more appropriate to the subject in hand.

The Royal Philharmonic Orchestra performed Jeajoon Ryu’s Sinfonia da Requiem on 12 April at the Cadogan Hall. Other items in the programme were Shostakovich’s Festive Overture and Prokofiev’s 2nd Violin Concerto performed by Chloe Hanslip. The concert was sponsored by Hyundai, Hyundai Heavy Industries Co., Inc and the Asan Foundation.

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