Winning the Michael Hill International Violin Competition is much more than simply banking $40,000.

Every bit as important is a Winners Tour the following year, incorporating recitals throughout the country with Chamber Music New Zealand and a concerto performance with Auckland Philharmonia Orchestra, as well as the opportunity to record a CD on the prestigious Atoll label.

Well-timed for this week's 2017 competition, a new release from 2015 winner Suyeon Kang, with pianist Stephen De Pledge, is a treasured reminder of some of the memorable music heard on their 2016 tour.

The pairing of works by Bartok and Bloch is inspired, music by a Hungarian and a Jewish composer that shares the same deeply-etched passion to which Kang responds so brilliantly.


From the start, she catches the full dramatic impact of Bartok's 1921 First Sonata, as De Pledge lays down mysterious Debussian textures behind her. Producer Wayne Laird almost becomes a third player in the hushed moments of the Adagio, as the microphone reveals the ultimate intimacy of bow on string. A positively seismic jolt from De Pledge sets off a finale that unleashes some formidable fire and fury.

However, all is not fire and emotional intensity. A 1902 Andante by the composer, not so far from a sweet, sentimental salon waltz, is delivered with just the right affection.

Renowned violinist Yehudi Menuhin was a devout admirer of Ernest Bloch, a composer marginalised in concert halls more than he deserved. Significantly, Kang finishes her CD with a heart-stopping rendition of Bloch's prayer-like Abodah, which happens to be the first piece Menuhin had specially written for him back in 1929.

A strong sense of prayer prevails in much of Bloch's music, presented with an appropriately ecstatic edge when Kang and De Pledge explore his Three Pictures of Chassidic Life titled Baal Shem. And it's Bloch who also opens this set, with his 1924 Nuit Exotique the perfect launching-pad for 70 minutes of musical magic, fervour and charm.

What: Suyeon Kang with Stephen De Pledge (Atoll, through Ode Records)
Rating: 5/5
Verdict: A timely and treasurable reminder of the Michael Hill legacy