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Ge GAN-RU (b.1954)
Chinese Rhapsody (1992) [21.20]
Wu for piano and orchestra (1986) [24.27]
Six Pentatonic Tunes for orchestra [14.41]
Margaret Leng Tan (piano)
Royal Scottish National Orchestra/José Serebrier
Recorded in Henry Wood Hall, Glasgow, October 2003
BIS SACD 1509 [61.16]

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Chinese born Ge Gan-Ru now lives in America. The three works here are significant evidence of his compositional powers and two of them are particularly powerful in their organisational mastery. That said, Chinese Rhapsody is a post-facto title and we are advised not to make too much of it. Ge has managed to coalesce avant-garde standpoints with more traditional material, the East with the West, to greatly beneficial effect.

The Rhapsody opens like the wind, with a gush of string sound but it subsequently embraces percussive taps and evocative timbres. There is something fluid about it that makes the title apt, despite the disclaimer; harp glissandi maybe hint at impressionism, and the percussion section deliberately evokes the sounds and sonorities of Chinese instrumentation - if not explicitly at least generically. There’s some puckish wind writing here as well (amazingly some even put me in mind of The Planets) and moments that seem connected to Berg – the Violin Concerto specifically. Though his technique is capable of embracing tough modernism Ge is equally willing to position himself in the tradition – note the fugato passage which presages a return to brisk, pensive avant-garde devices.

Wu for piano and orchestra was written in 1986, originally for chamber forces, and was revised for orchestral performance five years later. Heavily rhythmic and full of percussive attacks the piano sounds very "timbral" if I can put it that way; it sounds entirely consonant with the devices explored in Chinese Rhapsody – harpsichord-like sonorities, sheer white violin tone, with a fast finale animated by incursive percussion and rasping trombones. Quiet descends before one final hectic helter-skelter piano drive. Though Wu is a fine work in its own right, and one that augments the piano into Ge’s sound world, it shares with the Chinese Rhapsody a strong sense of colour and sonorous drama.

These in differing ways are qualities that shine through in the Six Pentatonic Tunes for orchestra. With essentially Western orchestration but with a Chinese accent these range widely to include Debussyan-cum-Delian (Brigg Fair) impressionism (though as ever with Ge there’s always a touch of grit along the way) as well as some rhythmically engaging, wittily orchestrated and terpsichorean writing. To add to the two influences noted, if such they are, we can also add a touch of Prokofiev in the last of the six.

Superbly recorded and sumptuously played this is a most engaging showcase for Ge’s evocative music-making. Far more than routine East-West hybrid this music occupies another level of compositional seriousness altogether – and it’s full of interest in all sorts of ways.

Jonathan Woolf

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