This is not Takako
Nishizaki’s first recording of The
Butterfly Lovers Violin Concerto
because she made one for Marco Polo
over a decade ago. She is however the
obvious choice for Naxos and demonstrates
that here. The 1959 Concerto, which
uses traditional Chinese melodies and
themes, is written as a kind of synthesis,
with the solo instrument adhering more
to the native er-hu, a two stringed
Chinese fiddle, and the Western orchestra
luxuriating in Chen Gang and He Zhanhao’s
well nigh irresistible orchestration.
I have a canny feeling that if you came
to this work to scoff at its perceived
simplicity you will leave charmed and
sometimes moved by its evocative magic.
The story on which the concerto is modelled
is a narrative concerning, well, yes,
a boy, a girl, and love. Better I think
to ignore the long if touching synopsis
and listen to it as if it were Delius.
It’s not just the soloist
who has to contend with some demanding
writing; the solo flute has a strong
role and the NZSO’s principal deserves
a bow (but doesn’t get one, this being
routine alas for symphonic players).
To English ears the fluttering violin
line reminds one of none other than
VW’s blessed lark – this is no Chaussonesque
hothouse; this is field and meadow and
a panoply of graceful, deft scoring.
There’s a lot in the notes about the
work but nothing about the still living
composers who were born in the 1930s.
Who influenced them in those dangerous
days, I wonder, and what could they
hear and learn from? They write well
for woodwind where the warmth and poetry
are splendid and the rich recording
gratifies the ear – nothing is unnaturally
spotlit. Euro-Chinese Fusion before
its time? Kitsch? No, certainly not.
This is a heartfelt, melodious and delightful
Coupled with it we
have Slovak composer Peter Breiner’s
Songs and Dances from the Silk Road.
He was a pupil of Alexander Moyzes in
Bratislava but now lives in Canada.
If the Silk Road conjures up Yo Yo Ma
and a lot of ethnic baggage you should
know that these nine pieces are all
based on original Chinese melodies,
written as a suite for solo violin and
orchestra. Breiner conjures warm and
feather fingered sonorities – tam tams,
and flutes, springing ostinati for No.3
(complete with its "Chinese portamento"
for the soloist) or else Western percussion
for the rushing figures of All At
Work (No.4). There’s even Arnoldian
horn writing in the Uygur Folk-Song
with daintily naughty violin and some
Spanish rhythms in the final movement,
Tulufan. Cross-pollination is
alive and well.
My review copy was
a SACD, which I played on an ordinary
set up. It was warm and defined. As
I’ve suggested this is a winning disc,
with the NZSO on laureate form –one-time
conductor Anderson Tyrer would have
been proud of them - and soloist and
conductor work splendidly together.
Put away your Boulez and step into the
sunshine for an hour.
see also review
by Gwyn Parry Jones