Returning Home in Review

by | Jun 20, 2022 | Reviews, Writing

for New York Concert Review; New York, NY June 20, 2022

Joanna Hyunji Kim, Soprano and E-Na Song, Piano Weill Recital Hall at Carnegie Hall, New York, NY
June 16, 2022

The young Korean /American soprano Joanna Hyunji Kim presented an impressive recital at Weill
Recital Hall on June 16, 2022. Dr. Kim studied at Ewha Woman’s University in South Korea and the
Eastman School of Music. She called her recital “Returning Home,” in response to her belief that,
in her words, “there is always an ultimate home for us all to find true peace.” This recital was
postponed two years because of the pandemic.

Lovely and graceful in ivory satin, Dr. Kim radiated inner as well as outer beauty. Her voice is
rich and powerful, her interpretation sensitive and intense, and her musicianship impeccable.
The evening began with Schubert’s charming song, Seligkeit. The piano dynamic at the beginning of
the second verse of this strophic song was particularly effective. Although the texts of all the
songs were translated, this title, which means “Happiness” was not- a small oversight. Further
along in the program this happened again with Vilse, by Sibelius.

Next we heard a heartfelt rendition of Schumann’s of Heiss mich nicht reden, from Goethe’s Mignon.
It was a pleasure to hear Schumann’s setting of this famous poem, which is more dramatic than
Schubert’s more frequently performed version of the same text. Another Mignon song, Kennst du das
Land, this time in Hugo Wolf’s setting, concluded the set. The bravura piano
part gave the excellent pianist, E-Na Song, an opportunity to shine

We moved from Lieder to Chanson for a set of Baudelaire poems set by Debussy. There was another
glitch in the program, which I feel obliged to point out. The set was titled Cinq Poèmes de
Baudelaire, although actually only four songs were performed. Dr. Kim’s sensitive musicianship and
convincing acting were displayed in these atmospheric compositions.

The first half concluded with four Sibelius songs, sung in Swedish. Their tunefulness was a
pleasant contrast to the ethereal harmonic vocabulary of the French set.

After the intermission came a group of three songs by Tom Cipullo (b. 1956) on poems by Lisel
Mueller (1924-2020) from a set of six songs titled Of a Certain Age. In these poems, a woman of
mature years looks back on a life richly lived. The texts range from the bittersweet and nostalgic
to the humorous and tragic. The well-wrought music is compelling, at times moving, and at other
times witty. The middle song, Fugitive, was one of the high points of the evening, employing the
extremes of a soprano’s vocal and dynamic range (including whispering) and operatic dramatic
intensity. Unlike many singers of foreign birth, Dr. Kim’s English diction was flawless and could
be understood even without the aid of the text provided in the program.

After this impressive English set Dr. Kim left the stage and returned with violinist Soo Yeon Kim
and cellist Heewon Lee. The four women performed an enjoyable set of contemporary songs listed in
the program as Korean Art Song, which were sung in the original language. The program tells us that
Dr. Kim’s doctoral lecture-recital was on Korean diction and art song. This lecture-recital was
presented in 2020 at the Harvard Graduate Music Forum Conference. The first two songs were by Wonji
Lee (b. 1979) and the third by Kyu-Yung Chin (b. 1948). Destined, by Lee, which began the set was
particularly gripping. The ninety minute recital ended with Un- Young La’s setting of the The Lord
is My Shepherd (Psalm 23). So effective was this composition that even without any knowledge of
Korean, this listener knew where she was in the familiar text. Ms. Kim’s adoring audience gave her and
her colleagues a well-deserved standing ovation.