This release contains not only what is probably the only symphony
ever written to have been based on a kung fu novel, but a symphonic
poem based on a different kung fu novel! The disc was originally
released on Taiwanese label Arcadia in July 2007. This same
recording of The Hero with Great Eagle Symphony has since
been repackaged and made available with a bonus DVD on Taiwanese
composer Fu-Tong Wong's own label - see review.
Fu-Tong Wong is a Cantonese composer currently living in Taiwan.
Initially self-taught, he emigrated to New York in the 1970s
to help in his brother's noodle business, but was able to take
a university degree in music from 1975. Since then he has published
books on music theory and violin practice, taught and studied
further, and written a fair amount of music, although even as
late as 1990 he was still working in his brother's concern.
Both Shiau-Feng - transcribed as "Hsiao Feng"
in the booklet - and The Hero with Great Eagle are based
on martial arts novels by veteran Chinese author Louis Cha (b.1924),
who writes under the pseudonym of Jin Yong, and who is reportedly
the best-selling living Chinese novelist.
Shiau-Feng is an impressive, dramatic work very much
in the European tradition of symphonic poems, showing little
trace - a few gong crashes aside! - of its Chinese or its 21st
century genesis. Well orchestrated and predominantly martial
in nature, it is a direct descendant of Liszt's Hunnenschlacht
and Robert Volkmann's Richard III Overture. According
to the booklet, the work was begun in 1992 and has been revised
six times. The 14:10 timing given on the CD for Shiau-Feng is
wrong: it should read 12:52. Sound quality, though perfectly
reasonable - there is very little audience noise, for example
- is not entirely up to best European/American standards: the
spaciousness of the recording verges at times on reverberation,
and some minor distortion occurs when the brass plays loud.
Also, and more regrettably, the music is faded down slightly
in the very last second or two and then cut off, replaced with
a misplaced percussive effect. The Taipei Orchestra gives a
fairly good account of Wong's work, but it is not unkind to
say that this is not one of the world's greatest ensembles.
The Symphony took Wong 28 years to complete, a feat of
amazing dedication, but for the music-loving public it is worth
the wait. The eight movements, which have both a traditional,
primarily implicative Western-style title and a more poetic
description, are as follows:
I. Prelude – A Rebellious Departure from the Monastery
II. Waltz – The Ancient Tomb Master and her Disciple
III. Variations – When a Man May be Called a Hero
IV. Adagio – The Greatest of Sorrows
V. Rondo – Practising Swordsmanship in the Billows of the Sea
VI. Fugue – What in Fact is Love
VII. Dance – Birthday Gifts Brought Forth by the Heroes
VIII. Fantasy – Reunion in the Valley
As the list suggests, each movement has a distinctive character,
both formally and programmatically, but there is a pervasive
mood of optimism throughout the work, with the exception of
the Adagio, which is a beautiful elegy for strings. Surprisingly
perhaps, the symphony has a very Western, at times almost neo-Classical
feel - the light-handed orchestration is inventive without recourse
to exotic instruments. It is not until the seventh movement
that the music takes an obviously Chinese turn, when the galaxy
of heroes turns up, as it were, but even here, the impression
- agreeable, nonetheless - is of a Western composer adding ethnic
Pick of the movements besides the Adagio are the Variations,
epic in character, and the high-seas drama of the Rondo, but
in truth there is not a dull moment for the listener, who is
swept along with the flow of Wong's lovely music, which culminates
in the lush final Fantasy. There is a definite film score quality
about the work in places, particularly the Prelude and Rondo.
This is quite apposite, given that Jin Yong's story has been
adapted on no less than ten occasions for both big and small
screen in the Far East. The unremitting succession of seamlessly
incorporated melodic ideas, narrative interest and timbral imagination
brings to mind the scores of Malcolm Arnold or William Alwyn,
or, from an earlier age, Rimsky-Korsakov.
Sound quality is good, although there is a slight lack of definition
to the strings in tutti sections - most noticeable in the strings-only
Adagio movement. The Voronezh State Symphony Orchestra, despite
its low profile, is one of Russia's oldest, with an impressive
history of associations. It performs Wong's music capably and
respectfully, and is well guided by Mak Ka-lok.
The CD booklet, written in Chinese and English, provides plenty
of biographical information, but little on the two works. The
CD itself may be difficult to come by, even on the internet.
Fu-Tong Wong's own website
may be the best place to make enquiries.
Collected reviews and contact at reviews.gramma.co.uk