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ZHOU Long (b. 1953)
Shi Jing Cantata (1990)a
Pipa Ballad (1991)
Konghou Fantasia (1995)a
A Poetessís Lament (1989/2000)
Green Song (1984, arranged 1991)
Li Sao Cantata (1988)b
Lan Rao (soprano); Music From China; Members of the Metropolitan Opera Orchestraa; Deutsche Kammerphilharmonieb; Geoffrey Simona, Muhai Tangb
Recorded: Avatar Studios, New York, December 2001 (Shi Jing Cantata, Pipa Ballad, Konghou Fantasia, A Poetessís Lament); Media Recording Studio, Frankfurt, August 1999 (Green Song) and NPS Radio, Amsterdam, June 1994 (Li Sao Cantata)
CALA THE EDGE CACD 77009 [57:59]


In Shi Jing Cantata, Zhou sets four poems from The Book of Songs. This is reputedly the earliest known collection of Chinese poetry containing some three hundred poems dating from between the 11th and 6th centuries BC. Unlike the other pieces in this selection of vocal works by Zhou, it is set in an English translation. Each poem juxtaposes natural images with human situations, with repetition, which makes these texts particularly suited to musical setting. The variety of the natural images as well as of their human counterparts suggested by the words is vividly evoked in Zhouís settings. These are by in turn lyrical, dramatic and impressionistic. This is achieved through subtle, refined and colourful scoring, avoiding easy picturesqueness. These qualities are amongst the most remarkable characteristics of Zhouís music which manages to blend Western and Eastern musical traditions in a most successful and effective way. This is also to be heard in Pipa Ballad in which the voice is effectively accompanied by pipa (Chinese lute) and cello. This long narrative poem from the Tang Dynasty is set in Cantonese dialect in preference to Mandarin, which (so we are told) is considered to be more capable than Mandarin of conveying the subtlety, phonetics and tones of Chinese poetry. The important thing, however, is that this fine setting is at once simple and sophisticated, and beautifully evocative.

In Konghou Fantasia, Zhou turns once again to a text from the Tang Dynasty in which the poet pays some heartfelt tribute to the Konghou harp player Li Ping, which he does with a wealth of contrasted images that the music reflects once again with much imagination and subtlety as well. This beautiful piece is also warmly melodic, almost as an opera aria. The piece is scored for strings and three Chinese string instruments: erhu (two-string fiddle), pipa (lute) and zheng (zither), a trio that Zhou also used in Out of Tang Court (available on BIS CD-1222 reviewed here some time ago).

These instruments also accompany the singer in A Poetessís Lament setting words by Li Qing-zhao who was, so we are told, the best-known woman poet in Chinese history. Zhouís setting perfectly matches the sorrowful, bitter and uneasy mood suggested by the words. The vocal part is often redolent of traditional Chinese singing.

Green Song, actually a vocalise for voice and pipa, is an arrangement of an earlier work Green for bamboo flute and pipa composed in 1984. A quite beautiful short work of great refinement as well as passion.

In Li Sao Cantata, composed in 1988, Zhouís music is rather more "modern", i.e. atonal and angular, with fewer allusions to traditional Chinese music that characterise much of his more recent music. Though the vocal part may still allude to that of the traditional Chinese opera, the music as a whole is rather more overtly expressionistic, often dramatic and fiercely energetic. Zhou is first and foremost a lyricist, and this comes through here, too, although the music is a somewhat tougher proposition than any of the other works. It may be less readily accessible, but it remains, for all its complexity, an impressive and gripping piece of music of great expressive strength.

This very fine release usefully illustrates other aspects of the music of Zhou Long, a composer I have come to consider as one of the most endearing personalities of his generation. All these often beautiful pieces are well served by excellent and committed readings, and a very fine recording. I enjoyed it from first to last, and I recommend it wholeheartedly.

Hubert Culot

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