Violinist Helen Hwaya Kim. (credit: KSI)

Violinist Helen Hwaya Kim offers diverse if mostly familiar repertoire in solo recital

Helen Hwaya Kim & Robert Henry
February 7, 2022
Morgan Hall, Bailey Performance Center
Kennesaw State University
Kennesaw, Georgia
Helen Hwaya Kim, violin; Robert Henry, piano
Jean-Marie LeCLAIR: Sonata No. 3
Ludwig van BEETHOVEN: Sonata No. 7, OP. 30 No. 2
Daniel ROUMAIN: Filter
Camille SAINT-SAËNS: Havanaise
Lili BOULANGER: Deux Morceaux

Mark Gresham | 14 FEB 2022

Violinist Helen Hwaya Kim is one of metro Atlanta’s most hard-working and in-demand chamber musicians. She has participated in concerts with top local chamber music groups: Atlanta Chamber Players, Bent Frequency, Emory Chamber Music Society of Atlanta, Georgian Chamber Players, and the Summit Piano Trio in which she performs with cellist Charae Krueger and pianist Robert Henry — all three members of the faculty at the Bailey School of Music at Kennesaw State University — not to mention the annual Highlands-Cashiers Chamber Music Festival and other distinguished music festivals across North America.

EarRelevant has reviewed a number of those chamber concerts since pandemic conditions initiated, often by video stream but sometimes in-person on specific occasions during a lull in public risk.

As busy as she is with top area chamber groups and festivals, this is the first time we’ve reviewed Kim in a solo recital since early March 2020, only days before the COVID-19 pandemic came crashing in to shut down the world of live concerts.

In last Monday’s recital at the KSU Bailey Performance Center’s Morgan Hall, Robert Henry joined Kim as the collaborative pianist for this performance. They opened with the Sonata in D Major, Op. 9, No. 3 by the French Baroque violinist-composer Jean-Marie LeClair (1697-1764), credited with having founded the French school of violin playing.

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Although most of LeClair’s sonatas and concertos for violin remain obscure today, this particular sonata is popular among contemporary violinists. It is a bright, sunny work in four movements, full of ornaments and double-stops. It was a happy way to kick off the recital.

Beethoven’s Violin Sonata No. 7 (Op. 30 no. 2) was published in 1803 as one of his “Three Sonatas for the Pianoforte with the Accompaniment of Violin.” Despite the title, the violin part is hardly insubstantial. However, Ms. Kim did have to be persistent about keeping her violin part’s head above water against the dramatic contrast and power of the piano in the outer movements. The “Adagio cantabile” second movement provided a more lyrical foil, while the Scherzo and Trio were a more playful excursion for both instruments before the turbulent Finale.

With the two multi-movement works behind them, the program turned to works of smaller scope after intermission.

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Kim began the second half with an unaccompanied violin work, Filter by Daniel Roumain (b. 1992). She chose it in part to honor Black History Month. But she also says because “it’s pretty virtuosic and very unique in that [a peformer] can do a lot of different effects with the same material.”

An intensely bluesy introduction gives way to a rapid-fire fast section of syncopated rhythms that have more to do with American fiddling than anything but without losing that gutsy, gritty element from the blues, pushing ahead in a nearly breathless manner.

Filter proved an excellent showpiece for Ms. Kim that offers one four-minute glimpse at her incisive grasp of contemporary music styles. Unfortunately, we have recently seen less of this due to several shifts among Atlanta’s hard-core contemporary music scene over the last decade. We hope to hear more of such repertoire from Kim soon.

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I last heard Kim play another showpiece, the Havanaise in E major, Op. 83 by Camille Saint-Saens (1835 -1921), last August at the Highlands-Cashiers Chamber Music Festival. It is one of the standards of concertante violin repertoire.

A havanaise, or habanera, is a kind of 19th-century Cuban contradance music in a slow duple meter that features a syncopated rhythm and a strong downbeat. Saint-Saëns freely develops the style in a sort of rondo based on this characteristic rhythm, with lyrical interludes intervening between more virtuosic episodes.

The piece does have its share of sheer showpiece passages, but both Kim and Henry were also sensitive to the work’s sentimental, lyrical aspects. The contrast and its Cuban-inspired flavors are a bit of what makes the Havanaise a public favorite.

Kim has remarked that she included the Havanaise in this concert because last year was the centennial of Saint-Saëns’ death and that because of COVID-19, she felt it might’ve been under-programmed.

Violinist Helen Hwaya Kim and pianist Robert Henry. (credit: KSU)

Violinist Helen Hwaya Kim and pianist Robert Henry. (credit: KSU)

The recital closed with music that Kim and Henry had also performed in their March 2020 program: Deux Morceaux by Lili Boulanger, the first female winner of the Prix de Rome composition prize. Tragically, this promising young composer died of intestinal tuberculosis in 1918 at the age of 24.

The Deux Morceaux are Nocturne (1911) and Cortège (1914). New York publisher G. Schirmer printed the two together under the title Deux Morceaux (“Two Pieces”) for violin or flute with piano, with no copyright marking or plate number. G. Ricordi & Co. of New York published Cortège by itself in 1919 with the notice “Copyright 1919 by Société An. des Editions RICORDI, Paris” and each page stamped with the plate number “R 531”. Hence, the title Deux Morceaux may well be a posthumous one invented by G. Schirmer. The two engravings of Cortège are observably different, although their layout is similar. The Ricordi edition is the better engraving work.

Nevertheless, the two pieces work splendidly together, requiring a mere five minutes to play. The slower, more ethereal Nocturne and the sprightly Cortège balance each other by contrast of moods within the light modern French style they share. Deux Morceaux made for a refreshing concert conclusion. It was delightful to hear Kim and Henry play this pair of early 20th-century miniatures again.

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Mark Gresham

Mark Gresham is publisher and principal writer of EarRelevant. he began writing as a music journalist over 30 years ago, but has been a composer of music much longer than that. He was the winner of an ASCAP/Deems Taylor Award for music journalism in 2003.