> QILIAN CHEN sings Chinese songs [RB]: Classical Reviews- May 2002 MusicWeb(UK)

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Folk Music:

Embroidered Handbag; Song of the mountain stream; Drops from the mountain rock; Shepherd's song; Alamuhan.

Thanks to the winterflower (Zlanjie); Stream to Stream (Llu hu lan); Peking opera - Hate from my heart (Hong deng ji)
Classical Music:

It's not the flower (Huang Zi); Homesick (Huang Zi); Three wishes for a rose (Huang Zi); I live at the head of the Yangzi river (Qing Zhu)
Present-Day Music:

The woman coastguard (Fu Jin); Fishing song (Ren Guang); Pavilion of the yellow crane-bird (Yser Luo Bin to words by Mao Zedang); The girl who loves to sing (Zhu Ligian)
[composer's names in brackets except in opera section where name of opera is given]
Qilian Chen (sop)/Jean-Paul Wittek (piano)
rec Studio Caraïbes, Brussels, 1993, DDD
PAVANE ADW7299 [43.30]
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This is not one of Pavane's finest hours and this is no criticism of the voice of Qilian Chen nor of accompanist Jean-Paul Wittek.

Chen was born in Dallan in the People's Republic of China. She taught at Shen Yang University from 1983 until 1985 then after her move to Brussels studied with Jules Bastin (a common presence in Pavane CDs). She has won the usual quiver of prizes from European singing contests and has sung at the Brussels National Opera and at Flemish Opera, Antwerp. Her roles have included parts in Don Carlo, Elektra, Rosenkavalier, Parsifal, Die Ferne Klang and Nozze di Figaro.

Qilian Chen has a full and robust voice - soprano with alto reserves of tone. Hers is evidently an operatic training and while she shows the usual vibrato trait (unacceptable, I thought, in the Mao Zedong setting) she sounds strong and resolute as in the extremely taxing Drops from the mountain rock - a folk song from Henan province. She can sing quietly and extremely high as well as in Shepherd's Sing (from Inner Mongolia). In Alamuhan (tr5) and The girl who loves to sing (tr16) the international commonalty of the folk tradition shows in music that is very little different from Canteloube's Auvergnat songs. Luciano Berio would have been fascinated (see his Folksongs as sung by Cathy Berberian).

The hate from my heart (tr 8) has real attack and clearly cries out for orchestral support. Homesick was surely informed by the German lieder tradition as are the other 'Classical Music' tracks (9-12) and Fishing Song (tr 14). The final four tracks are from 'Present-Day music'.

The recital takes us into repertory that for many Westerners will be utterly unknown. The pity is that the disc runs for well short of 45 minutes and you would not know that until you checked the readout on your CD player. There is no indication on the outside of the disc nor inside the booklet.

Pavane also have Qilian Chen in a recital of Puccini arias with orchestral accompaniment.

The booklet prints the names of the songs in Chinese characters, and the texts are given in English and French. The two artists receive a brief personal profile.

It is extremely disappointing that the pianist is uncredited except inside the booklet and that the total playing time of the CD is only 43.30. Everyone deserves better.

Let me not detract however from the fascination that these songs must have for Westerners whose 'knowledge' of Chinese song is based on the various filters, alloys and unclean metals of Mahler, Bantock, Bliss and Lambert. We have a great deal to learn. How much we have to learn is evident now not only from the vast acres of Western music being recorded for the first time but for the vast treasuries of oriental classical music.

Rob Barnett


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