Breathe (CD) – Hera Hyesang Park

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Breathe (CD) – Hera Hyesang Park

Composers: Various
Artists: Hera Hyesang Park, Emily D’Angelo, Orchestra e Coro del Teatro Carlo Felice
Conductor: Jochen Rieder
Number of Discs: 1
Label: Deutsche Grammophon
Release Date: January 19, 2024

Hera Hyesang Park unveils Breathe, her second album for Deutsche Grammophon. As with her debut, I am Hera, she brings a very personal approach to her choice of music, which ranges from classics by Rossini, Verdi, Massenet and more to recent works by contemporary composers Luke Howard, Cecilia Livingston, Hyowon Woo and Bernat Vivancos. The soprano recorded the album in Genoa with the Orchestra e Coro del Teatro Carlo Felice and conductor Jochen Rieder and is joined on some of its tracks by mezzo-soprano Emily D’Angelo. 

Breathe grew out of the existential questions that beset so many of us during and after the pandemic. A series of life-enhancing experiences led Hera from fear and despair to light, energy, and a desire to embrace the present. 

The album opens with Luke Howard’s “Hymn,” the Australian composer’s work having been especially adapted to incorporate the words of the Seikilos Epitaph and rechristened “While You Live.”

Hera’s choice of contemporary repertoire additionally includes Catalan composer Bernat Vivancos’s “Vocal Ice,” a vocalise inspired by Michelangelo’s Pietà; the central movement of “Breath Alone,” written for the soprano by Canadian composer Cecilia Livingston; and an excerpt from “Requiem aeternam” by Hera’s compatriot Hyowon Woo, in which she is accompanied by the ajaeng, a traditional Korean string instrument.

Breathe also offers Hera’s portraits of individuals facing the threat of death with “unwavering determination and resilience.” First among these is the real-life inspiration used by Górecki in his Symphony No. 3 – the prayer scratched on a prison wall by a young Polish girl arrested by the Nazis in 1944. From the world of opera, meanwhile, Hera has chosen Cecilia’s dying confession from Licinio Refice’s 1934 retelling of the saint’s martyrdom, as well as an extract from the ending of Rossini’s L’assedio di Corinto, in which Pamira and her companions choose death in the face of the Turks’ conquest of Corinth. And she presents portraits by both Rossini and Verdi of Desdemona, doomed to fall victim to Othello’s jealous rage.

Verdi’s “Ave Maria” for Shakespeare’s heroine is mirrored by a version of the same prayer set to the well-known “Méditation” from Massenet’s Thaïs, preceded by an excerpt from the French composer’s Le Cid. We also hear the ever popular “Evening Prayer” from Humperdinck’s Hansel und Gretel, “Flower Duet” from Delibes’s Lakmé, and a beautifully expressive rendition of “In trutina” from Orff’s Carmina burana.

“I hope that many people who listen to this album will find the courage to live their lives with peace and strength through this music,” says Hera Hyesang Park. “We all have something to say that somebody out there needs to hear, and only we can say it in precisely the right way. So don’t keep silent. Share what you have to say with the whole world. Just breathe and be brave!”

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