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Chinese Lieder
Jingma Fan (tenor)
Reinild Mees (piano)
rec. January 2008, Frits Philipszaal, Eindhoven
CHANNEL OF CHINA - CHANNEL CLASSICS CCS SA 80908 [58:36]
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1. My Sentiments to the Yangtze River Lyrics by Li Zhiyi (Song Dynasty) Music by Qingzhu
2. Homeland Nostalgia Lyrics by Qu Zong, Music by Zheng Qiufeng
3. How Can I Not Miss Her Lyrics by Liu Bannong, Music by Zhao Yuanreng
4. The Moon Reflection Lyrics by Peng Bangzhen, Music by Liu Zhuang and Yan Shen
5. Emei Mountain Air Lyrics by Li Bai (Tang Dynasty), Music by Luo Zhongrong
6. Tristesse at the Yangguan Pass (Tunes of Guqin) Arranged by Xia Yifeng and Wang Zhenya
7. In the Silvery Moonlight (Tatar folk song) Arranged by Wang Luobin and Li Yinghai
8. The Sorrowing Shepherdess Lyrics by Huo Fan, Music by Jin Sha
9. Mama in the Candlelight Lyrics by Wang Jian and Li Chunli, Music by Gu Jianfen
10. Gaolitai (Xinjiang folk song) Arranged by Li Yinghai
11. A Lovely Rose (Kazak folk song) Arranged by Lao Zhicheng
12. Swallow (Kazak folk song) Lyrics translated by Aitowarff, Arranged by Wu Zuqiang
13. Mayeela (Kazak folk song) Lyrics and music by Mayeela Shamstodinowa, Arranged by Wang Luobin and Ding Shande
14. The Running Stream (Yunnan folk song)
15. Mongolian Madrigal Arranged by An Bo
16. Grassland Serenade Lyrics by Zhang Jiayi, Music by Tian Ge
In English Translation:
17. Mama in the Candlelight
18. Mayeela
19. Homeland Nostalgia
20. Gaolitai

My claim to an affinity with Chinese culture derives almost entirely from a period in which I worked as a freelance text editor – in English – for the Chinese embassy in The Hague. Part of the rewards for checking tourist brochures, speeches and articles on subjects such as the marvellous Hubei ‘Chime Bells’, a replica set of which recently toured in Europe, were gifts of numerous CDs of Chinese music in a variety of arrangements.

The idea of Chinese folk or traditional songs arranged as ‘Lieder’ with piano accompaniment, and sung almost as if they were Western in origin, might seem strange. If there is one thing I have learned however, there is no such thing as ‘strange’ when it comes to Chinese music. There will always be traditionalists and authentic ensembles which play purely on instruments of the periods from which the music derives, but commercial Chinese recordings of ‘classical’ music often quite freely and happily mix the old and the new. This can take the form of a fondness for string orchestras and the like, but also goes as far as introducing new harmonies with an abandon which make artists like Stokowski and Horowitz sound as if they were merely tinkering at the sidelines.

Jingma Fan won the third Cardiff Singer of the World competition, and has since performed all over the world in numerous operatic roles. His is a secure and expressive tone, with a fairly tight and rapid; what the Dutch would call ‘strak’ vibrato. He has plenty of colour contrast in his voice to be able to conjure impressions of tenderness and passion, even when one can’t understand the words. As can be seen from the titles, the songs are mostly about nostalgia and romantic longings set in beautiful landscapes and countryside. Reinild Mees is a skilful and sensitive accompanist, but the piano arrangements more often than not sound like 1930s salon repertoire: variously a bit like Puccini, any number of operetta composers, or even Gershwin at times. In other words, there is nothing at all difficult about the music, and anyone put off by the idea of strange pentatonic harmonies or exotic melodic shapes will be pleasantly surprised by the accessibility of what is on offer here.

All of the texts are given in English in the booklet, and the last four songs are also sung in English versions. It is logical to zap straight to these in order to gain some kind of comprehensibility to the otherwise – to non-native speakers – entirely abstract Chinese singing, but these English versions of the texts largely serve to show how idiomatically the songs are written expressly for the Chinese language. In a swift song such as Mayeela it is easy to hear where the words don’t quite fit, or have been compacted in order to retain their meaning, and the texts generally show a pretty random sense of non-poetry when translated. It is nice to hear some of the songs in English, but these examples provide as good a reason as any for keeping the original Chinese.

The SACD recording has plenty of extra acoustic information from Eindhoven’s substantial Frits Philips concert hall. This is a location which proves as good for chamber music as for symphony orchestra however, and the sound and balance are well up to Challenge’s usual top quality. With full text and listings in Chinese characters, and Channel Classics’ "Channel of China" label variant it is clear that the company is targeting a growing market overseas. With this fine product as a calling card I’m sure they will do very well indeed.

Dominy Clements


 




 


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