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  Founder: Len Mullenger
Classical Editor: Rob Barnett

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China - Classical Music
He ZHANHAO (b.1933) and Chen GANG (b.1935)

Butterfly Violin Concerto (1959) [27.33]
Tang Baodi (violin); Yuan Fang (cond.)
Xi XINGHAI (1905-1945)

Yellow River Piano Concerto (arr. from cantata by Yin CHENGZONG, Liu ZHUANG, Chu WANGHUA, Sheng LIHONG, Xu WENXING) (1936) [19.56]
Yin Changzong (piano); Li Delun (cond.)
Five Themes on Taiwanese Folk Songs [9.38]
Tang Baodi (violin)
Huang TIAN

Yisham Mountain Fantasia - suite [19.28]
(cond. Chen Xieyang)
Sun YILIN

The Kazak Suite [23.14]
(cond. Han Zhongjie)
Tian FENG

A Trip to Yi Village - suite [18.15]
(cond. Yao Guanrong)
DP - Arrangement: Yang BAOZHI

Moonlight on the Journey's Road [4.02]
DP - Arrangement: Li GUOQUAN

Fishermen's Song at Dusk [6.22]
Yao ZHONG

Spring in Xinjiang [2.43]
Symphony Orchestra of the Central Philharmonic Society of China
rec. 1990-1999. Predominantly 1990. DDD. Licensed from the China Record Corporation
NOVALIS 150 167-2 [58.14+75.20]

 

Two CDs of Chinese socialist classical music heavily indebted in most cases to Soviet templates. Each disc concludes with a selection of folksy arrangements for violin and piano.

The Butterfly Lovers concerto is rather like the Bruch Scottish Fantasia, the Ravel Tzigane and The Lark Ascending relocated to China. It is sentimental, honey-sweet with the solo violin notably in dialogue with the harp. Along the way there are moments of headlong virtuosity and overblown majesty (21.28) all in a style that suggests that the work could have been written between 1890 and 1910. It is in one continuous half hour movement and makes extensive use of a peacefully flowing theme from the traditional opera Yue Ju. The storyline is of the tragic lovers Liang and Zhu. Zhu throws herself on her lover's tomb and falls in. Two butterflies emerge and rise to eternal love suggested by harp, flute and singing violins.

This sugary pictorialism gives way to the thunderous turbulence of the Yellow River Concerto arranged from the cantata by Xinghai (a pupil of Dukas in Paris) powerfully exhorting resistance to the Japanese invader. The Yellow River second movement derives from a tenor solo in the cantata while the Ballad (III) is taken from a female chorus. The Ballad starts with some extremely atmospheric writing for flute followed by arabesque-laden music for the piano. The final movement is called Defending the Yellow River where the people are exhorted to resist the insurgents. After some hortatory flourishes straight from the Grieg concerto a jaunty kitschy tune hops and skips along before ending the work in exultant anthem style. Rachmaninov and Tchaikovsky are the no-holds-barred exemplars. The solo part is taken with complete commitment by Yin Chengzong.

The Five Taiwan folk songs are for piano and violin. They are honeyed, pastoral, virtuosic (including a wild equivalent of Hejre Kati) and dancing halfway between Bartók and Liszt. Baodi and his anonymous pianist fill out the second disc with some gluey sentimental solos - no worse or better than many another confection perpetrated in Europe in the 19th century. The quasi-Dervish dance sounds positively Russian. This is no surprise as many of the Chinese composers were trained in Russia or by teachers who had been educated in Moscow and elsewhere in the USSR.

The four movement Feng suite has a Yi locale. This is pristine and may occasionally make us think of Malcolm Arnold's boozy Beckus. It is an atmospheric piece worthy, like the Kazak suite of much wider currency though it is not desperately original. Feng is said to have added local colour with a mouth organ, wind pipes and flute.

The four movement Fantasia is flighty and bombastic (Copland and even Gliere), vibrant (Khachaturyan) and poetic. It again celebrates the Yi people of Yunnan. Contrast this with the Kazak Suite which is in four movements the first of which is almost bluesy with a quite different edge to the other music in this set. It is closer to Borodin, Ippolitov-Ivanov and Khachaturyan. The brazen solo trumpet has a Mexican sierra 'heat'. This suite is well worth getting to know and if you like the Polovtsi style then this is certainly for you. A pity that this session shows the strings of the orchestra at their most scrawny. They are perfectly adequate elsewhere.

The notes do not tell us enough about the composers and committees involved but that aside this is a rambunctious, cheeky, flighty, sometimes overdone, sometimes treacly anthology. Approach with your taste setting at its least exalted level and especially in the case of the Butterfly Lovers and the pieces by Yilin and Feng you will find much to enjoy. Such a pity though that my own favourite (the ballet The Red Detachment of Women) is not included. If you liked Arnold's Concerto for Phyllis and Cyril or the Beatles Piano Concerto or the Hekel Tavares Concerto in Brazilian Forms (on Brana Records) then this is a surefire winner … otherwise fasten your seatbelts!

Rob Barnett

 



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