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Xian XINGHAI (1905-1945)
Yellow River Cantata
(1938) [38:57]
Nie ER
National Song of the People's Republic of
China (1935) [1:03]
Pierre DEGEYTER orch. A KEJIAN The Internationale (1888) [5:47]
My Motherland (1955) [4:59]
Blood-Dyed Gallantry (1980s) [3:40]
Shanghai Philharmonic Chorus and Orchestra/Cao Ding
rec. Shanghai, China, August 1993
MARCO POLO 8.223613 [54:13]



The focus of this disc is squarely on the Yellow River Cantata by Xian Xinghai. We are not given the words so we must make do with the synopsis. In outline this piece is a populist nationalistic seven movement celebration of victory. Each movement is prefaced with a spoken narrative over vividly pictorial music. The narration can be emotionally superheated and is stirred to heights of inflamed passion by the events celebrated. The style varies from sentimental-poetic as in the choral contribution in the Shout Aloud Yellow River finale. Then again there is plenty of determination and grit as is to be expected from words marking the heroism of China's 1938 campaign against the Japanese invaders. The style is an amalgam of voices: Stanford in Phaudrig Crohoore and Verdi's Requiem. There’s also plenty of high-flown ‘poster patriotism’ as can be heard, sometimes irresistibly in the works of Shostakovich and Georgi Sviridov. This is alongside music reminiscent of Russian romantics such as Borodin and Ippolitov-Ivanov. There is of course a dash of Chinese folk music too but this is a remarkably low-key presence. Some of it will make you wince but much of it is extremely effective. If we can take the patriotic fervour of RVW, Shostakovich and Copland we should be open to this work also.

As the notes, in both Chinese and English, remind us the cantata was arranged as a piano concerto in the late 1980s. I suspect that some of you will know it in that form.

The makeweights are all short. The East is Red extols the virtues of Mao Zedong and the Communist Party. The music dates from the early 1940s and the recorded version for chorus and orchestra was arranged by Li Huanzi. Apart from a momentary but repeating shadow of the music from BBC Radio 4's Down Your Way this is again fervent. It's one of those songs that can too easily sound casual or singsong but that trap is avoided here. The National song was written for the 1930s film Children of the Storm but was soon taken up by the Republic. It was in fact popularised by the ever-sympathetic Paul Robeson. The Internationale can be heard at full stretch on track 10. After the Marseillaise it must rank as one of the world's finest anthems. My Motherland is sung by the sweet sounding yet nasally voiced Jin Yongling. The song marks the fortitude and valour of the Chinese Republic's forces fighting in Korea in 1950-53. Yongling also sings in the last track conveying the thoughts of Chinese border guards facing death: ‘The Banner of the Republic is dyed red with the blood of heroes’.

I hope we have not heard the last of works such as these nor of such cultural artefacts as the ballet The Red Detachment of Women (a very catchy piece) and the Long March symphony. When will be able to welcome them back? 

Rob Barnett







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