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TON-THAT Tiêt (b.1933)
Les Sourires de Bouddha

Les Eléments/J Suhubiette
rec. Flaran, France, 23 Sept 2002. DDD


The Vietnamese composer TON-THAT Tiêt was born in Hué and studied at the Paris Conservatoire as a pupil of Jolivet. Having dabbled with Western musical culture he has increasingly returned to Oriental springs. Chinese and Hindu philosophy have influenced him and this has resulted in several large-scale musical cycles. You may have heard his music if you have seen his mid-1990s films The Fragrance of Green Papaya and Cyclo.

The music on this CD is intensely mystical/devotional. Huge and slowly moving waves of choral sound shift and flow into each other. Three Chinese poems in French translation are spoken by an orator over great washes of vocal cloud. For the most part the material is undramatic although there is at least one startling spiked crescendo in the second track. Penderecki-like wailing undulations, seraphic long-held and blindingly 'white' high notes, chiming bells, Ligetian chants and incantation; all these elements interweave and interact.

The disc is an entirely French production; not a word of English in sight. The four tracks use three poems by the Chinese poets Wang Wei (701-761) and Qi-Ji (863-937). They take as their subject flora and the non-animal natural world and the images provide a springboard for philosophical reflection.

This music will appeal to those who are at home with Stockhausen's Stimmung, Ligeti's choral music and Eastern mysticism. Frankly it's not that forbidding; the faint-hearted will have to be very faint of heart not to like this. Interesting and likeable writing but not compelling stuff.

Rob Barnett

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