Classical Editor: Rob Barnett

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BENJAMIN POCHI MA (1964-) The Music of Benjamin Pochi Ma Vol. 1 Symphony in g minor Requiem Ohne Worte and 11 chamber works various soloists, Shanghai Philharmonia Orchestra conducted by Li Jian Ping   OMNIS ARS 020-99-672-01 c. 58 mins

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This production showcases the music of a young composer with no hang-ups about communicating to his audience. Pochin sees no need for 'filters', 'prisms' or 'distorting mirrors'. Instead he seems utterly in equilibrium writing music which is far from original in expressive language but fresh in tuneful ideas. Ma is not at all obtuse about his influences and they are laid disarmingly in front of us.

In many ways a composer writing music in this way offers up his creations with totally disarming candour. There is no attempt to hide ideas behind a weave of innovation and avant-garderie. Instead the ideas are presented in styles already well known to most listeners. That language is freely Romantic and sometimes popular particularly approachable if you enjoy Richard Clayderman or Semprini classics although this music is original rather than an arrangement.

The Destiny Sonata is unassertively Gallic (Saint-Saens) with a glancing blow or two from Scott Joplin's ragtime and a splash of Beethovenian rage over a lost penny. There is a dreamily glum Septuple in Melancholy for solo violin, a Schubertian Fantasia for string trio, a restfully rocking Song Without Words for piano and small chamber ensemble and a jolly Pastorale for solo piano. Ali in Liberta has a touch of Nyman about it. Bach and Schubert stalk the pages of Conzia Carissima (for piano, two clarinets and two cellos). There is an energetic Tarantella set off rather nicely by the undemandingly soothing Canon For Cecily (string trio). The Tempest Prelude and Fugue in e minor is decidedly unacademic.

The 12 tracks (a work to each track) are brief and the more cynical listener may well say that this is music written for the reduced attention spans of the MTV generation and (in the UK) the ClassicFM generations that thrive on a movement from this and prelude from that.

The tracks are, in all but one case, for chamber forces and the longest runs only 7:12. This single orchestral track is a one-movement symphony not helped by decidedly bush-league (intonation suspect and creaky playing generally) orchestral playing by the Shanghai Philharmonia Orchestra conducted by Li Jian Ping. However you can see what Ma is getting at; stepping off where Beethoven's Eroica and Schubert's Unfinished end. The chamber tracks are much better done and the recording is fine. The notes by the composer are practical and helpful. Not specially compelling but sincere and promising - qualities to be cherished even if the music perhaps falls short of the high ambitions that conceived it. I would be very pelased to hear later volumes in this series. Ma's is a name to watch.


Rob Barnett

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Rob Barnett

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