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Hao-Fu ZHANG (b.1952)
Théâtre pour Deux, for flute and piano (1996) [13:39]
Crépuscule, for cello and piano (1989) [12:36]
Yin-Yang, for two pianos (1992) [14:01]
Le Chant du Ciel, for cello and piano (2005-6) [18:52]
Théâtre pour Deux II, for violin and piano (1996/2002) [15:47]
Muhiddin Dürrüoglu-Demiriz (piano)
Marie Hallynck (cello)
Eugène Galand (piano II)
Alexandra Grot (flute)
Graf Mourja (violin)
rec. Royal Conservatory, Brussels, November 2008. DDD

Experience Classicsonline

Regrettably this is only the second CD to date devoted entirely to the music of Belgian-Chinese composer Hao-Fu Zhang, and the first since the Belgian label Cyprès 2005 disc of two of Zhang's String Quartets and a Clarinet Quintet (CYP 4617).
In his short, hagiographical essay on Zhang's works in the CD booklet - rather pretentiously entitled "Towards a Humanity of Light" - Edwin Clapuyt writes, in hackneyed terms, that Zhang's music combines "modern Western writing techniques and oriental spirituality." Certainly Zhang has, quite naturally, written a fair amount of music for ethnic instruments - most recently his ChangAn Symphony for "Chinese orchestra", premiered in 2008, and a concerto for suona (Chinese shawm) and orchestra in 2009. On this new disc, the flute in Théâtre pour Deux certainly lends the work a Far Eastern flavour, but the musical, emotional and metaphysical elements of Zhang's works generally have more of a Western feel to them, notwithstanding the various Chinese influences and elements they encode and sometimes display.
Théâtre pour Deux has appeared before on CD, again on Cyprès - see review here. The title apparently refers to a Chinese theatrical convention of some kind. Clapuyt describes the work rather obscurely as "an intimist performance from which all lyricism and refinement is suppressed" which, though intended in a complimentary way, is rather overstated: the relative simplicity of the generally slow-moving music produces an atmospheric delicacy of surprising beauty. In the first libero movement the flute has a dominant, often virtuosic role, with the piano relegated to long periods of silence - not the repetition of a single chord misleadingly claimed in the notes. Roles are reversed in the second movement, marked moderato e misterioso. Théâtre pour Deux II is more or less the same work, expertly adapted for violin in 2002 for the Belgian soloist Wibert Aerts, and well suited to it too - though the original 'flutiness' of tone colour is often maintained.
Yin-Yang, for two pianos, is the most self-evidently modernistic and atonal work in the programme. The yin and yang in question are staccato and legato, the latter most obviously demonstrated by Zhang's employment of "multiple appoggiaturas", which are a recurring feature of this work, giving rise to some amazing waves of sound.
Last but not least come the two works for cello and piano. Crépuscule is a fairly early piece, named after and inspired by a poem by Li Shang-Yin. Dusk is evidently a lively, noisy time of day in Zhang's neighbourhood! In two equal parts, the energy of the first half is balanced by a more reflective, Chinese-influenced second, and the work ends under the mysterious shroud of darkness. Le Chant du Ciel is, on the other hand, one of Zhang's more recent works, and a substantial one at that. It was dedicated to pianist Muhiddin Dürrüoglu-Demiriz and cellist Marie Hallynck, using notes corresponding to the usable letters of their names, with each soloist playing his or her motif. The title, however, comes from a Chinese mountain song, which provides contrasting exotic material. This is perhaps the most immediately appealing work on the disc, with a particularly lyrical cello part that moves between nostalgic Far Eastern melodies and vigorous European rhythms.
The five soloists are not by any stretch of the imagination household names, and the CD booklet hardly helps in that direction with its total absence of any biographical notes; but their performances of Zhang's music are impressively virtuosic and convincing, particularly those of Turkish-born Muhiddin Dürrüoglu-Demiriz (b.1969), himself a composer, and Belgian cellist Marie Hallynck, who has now built up a reasonable discography on Cyprès and Fuga Libera in particular.
Sound quality is excellent throughout. As just mentioned, the booklet is a little short on detail - apart from the missing biographies, Zhang's birth year is not given, and the individual movements of the two versions of Théâtre pour Deux are not named. This last point leads to a further minor irritation: the track-listing gives only the five works, so how the seven tracks on the CD match up is left for listeners to work out for themselves, not helped by the absence of timings.
Zhang is enigmatically described on the Megadisc website as "composer of Chinese origin who became Belgian", but there is nothing arcane about his music: there is much here to appeal to more general audiences, and little to outrage them, although a familiarity with contemporary idiom would certainly smooth the way. Repeated hearings will only improve the experience and repay the listener with original, ambicultural ideas attractively presented.

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