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Chen GANG (b.1935) and He ZHANHAO (b.1933)
The Butterfly Lovers Violin Concerto (1959)
Peter BREINER (b.1957)

Songs and Dances from the Silk Road: A Beloved Rose (Kazakh Folk-Song); The Half-Moon Climbs (Uygur Folk-Song); Spinning (Gansu Folk-Song); All at Work (Great North-West Folk-Song); Sa Hi Long Ba (Uygur Fol-Song); Lan Hua Hua (Shanxi Folk-Song); Lift Your Veil (Uygur Folk-Song); Tulufan (Xinjiang Folk-Song)
Takako Nishizaki, violin
New Zealand Symphony Orchestra/James Judd
Recorded at the Michael Fowler Centre, Wellington, New Zealand, 8th-10th April 2003
NAXOS 8.557348 [63:23]

 

This is unashamedly brushed-up folk-music, after the ‘travelogue’ manner of a Canteloube or Hasefeld. We are in a different world from the grit of Bartók or the sophistication of Britten ... which is not to say that the music is worthless or without appeal. This is simple, colourful stuff and could appeal strongly to those who have travelled in the Far East – rose-tinted spectacles firmly in place, maybe, but attractive nonetheless.

The Butterfly Lovers Concerto belongs to a genre of Chinese concert music initiated principally by Xian Xinghai’s stirring Yellow River Cantata (later arranged as a concerto) of 1939. This concerto is programme music, and is based on a beautiful Chinese legend of two ill-fated lovers who, in death, become butterflies. It is in a single long movement, with a most evocative orchestral introduction, reminiscent to my ears of Mussorgsky’s Khovantschina Prelude. The solo violin then enters, announcing one of those ingenuous traditional pentatonic melodies that abound in Chinese music, which becomes the main theme of the work. This is inevitably a highly episodic piece, and captures the changing moods of the bitter-sweet tale very well. Takako Nishizaki is a sympathetic soloist, and, if you can cope with the somewhat cloying tone of the concerto, you will find this to be charming and eventful music, albeit not something you would wish to listen to too often!

Peter Breiner’s work is a rather different kettle of fish. He is a talented Slovakian composer, who has lived and worked for many years in Canada. He has taken here a selection of traditional melodies connected with the Silk Road, that great trade route that begins in Western China and wends its way westward through Asia. Keith Anderson’s liner notes say that he has attempted a ‘synthesis of East and West’, which perhaps makes these pieces out to be more serious or even pretentious than they in fact are. They have the character of rather splendid film music, and are orchestrated with superb skill. The solo violin is again featured, and I particularly enjoyed the poetry of A Beloved Rose, with its delicate tracery in the celesta, and Lin Hua Hua, where the flute is required to bend the notes like the Chinese traditional flute, the di (or Japanese shakuhachi). Lift your veil is great fun; this energetic folk-song is set so that it alternates between the style of a Baroque Concerto and something more contemporary – truly global crossover this. The final number, Tulufan, rather confusingly echoes Falla’s Miller’s Dance, though the musical result is entertaining enough.

The New Zealand Symphony Orchestra is now a high-class body, and James Judd draws some excellent playing from them – no hint of condescension here. This is an undemanding yet highly enjoyable disc.

Gwyn Parry-Jones



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