The focus of this disc is squarely on
the Yellow River Cantata by Xian Xinghai. We are not
given the words so we must make do with the synopsis. In outline
this piece is a populist nationalistic seven movement celebration
of victory. Each movement is prefaced with a spoken narrative
over vividly pictorial music. The narration can be emotionally
superheated and is stirred to heights of inflamed passion
by the events celebrated. The style varies from sentimental-poetic
as in the choral contribution in the Shout Aloud Yellow
River finale. Then again there is plenty of determination
and grit as is to be expected from words marking the heroism
of China's 1938 campaign against the Japanese invaders. The style
is an amalgam of voices: Stanford in Phaudrig Crohoore
and Verdi's Requiem. There’s also plenty of high-flown
‘poster patriotism’ as can be heard, sometimes irresistibly
in the works of Shostakovich and Georgi Sviridov. This is
alongside music reminiscent of Russian romantics such as Borodin
and Ippolitov-Ivanov. There is of course a dash of Chinese
folk music too but this is a remarkably low-key presence.
Some of it will make you wince but much of it is extremely
effective. If we can take the patriotic fervour of RVW, Shostakovich
and Copland we should be open to this work also.
As the notes, in both Chinese and English,
remind us the cantata was arranged as a piano concerto in
the late 1980s. I suspect that some of you will know it in
The makeweights are all short. The
East is Red extols the virtues of Mao Zedong and the Communist
Party. The music dates from the early 1940s and the recorded
version for chorus and orchestra was arranged by Li Huanzi.
Apart from a momentary but repeating shadow of the music from
BBC Radio 4's Down Your Way this is again fervent.
It's one of those songs that can too easily sound casual or
singsong but that trap is avoided here. The National song
was written for the 1930s film Children of the Storm but
was soon taken up by the Republic. It was in fact popularised
by the ever-sympathetic Paul Robeson. The Internationale
can be heard at full stretch on track 10. After the Marseillaise
it must rank as one of the world's finest anthems. My Motherland
is sung by the sweet sounding yet nasally voiced Jin Yongling.
The song marks the fortitude and valour of the Chinese Republic's forces fighting in Korea in 1950-53. Yongling also
sings in the last track conveying the thoughts of Chinese
border guards facing death: ‘The Banner of the Republic is
dyed red with the blood of heroes’.
I hope we have not heard the last of works
such as these nor of such cultural artefacts as the ballet
The Red Detachment of Women (a very catchy piece) and
the Long March symphony. When will be able to welcome