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CD: AmazonUK AmazonUS

Fu-Tong WONG (b.1948)
Postcards from China
Xi Shi Fantasy [11:45]
Variations on the Theme of Anping Ballade [7:19]
Variations on the Theme of Hoyahue [8:20]
Chinese Dance in D [2:29]
Chinese Dance in E [4:52]
Suite: Dream of my Motherland (1976) [11:10]
Four Chinese Folk Songs [14:37]
Cho-Liang Lin (violin)
Evelyn Chen (piano)
rec. Concert Hall, Rice University, Houston, Texas, 17-18 May 2010. DDD

Experience Classicsonline

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 in Chinatown, 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.

This CD, released on Wong's own label, is a step towards realising, in his daughter's words, "his dream of uniting the best of classical Western and Eastern music". It contains all of Wong's music to date for solo violin with, in all but one case, piano. The disc is not widely available as such, but on can be had at the 'superbudget' price (under 5.99), with individual tracks even cheaper. For a CD which is crammed with gorgeous Far Eastern melodies but fundamentally Western harmonies, instruments and techniques that is all but guaranteed to appeal to almost any music-lover, that represents an absolute bargain.

The Xi Shi Fantasy is based on Wong's only opera so far, Xi Shi. It consists of four distinct sections, recounting the love woes of the eponymous heroine, one of the apocryphal Four Beauties of Ancient China whose loveliness had a tendency to bring ruin upon kingdoms. Wong considers this piece, which was premiered in its original orchestral version in 1993 at the famous Musikverein in Vienna, one of his signature works, and in it he has attempted to "embody the qualities of Bach's music and Chinese opera" - a curious notion, perhaps, but one in keeping with Wong's belief that Bach is "the founder of all compositions", as he writes in his 2004 book Theory on Music, and his aim to combine Eastern and Western ideas in his music. Aptly, this virtuosic work has plenty of drama, but also lyrical pastoralism, dance and rhapsodic beauty.

The oddly-titled Variations on the Theme of Anping Ballade is Wong's only work so far for solo violin. It is a programmatic piece, telling the story of a girl whose spends her life waiting in vain at the Taiwanese port of Anping for her love to return from sea. Wong's music is suitably longing in mood, albeit more touchingly wistful than gloomy, and with a glimmer of hope cruelly dashed in the middle. Cho-Liang Lin's violin, well-known in the West both on disc and in the concert hall, is marvellously delicate here, and as immaculate and heartfelt as it is throughout the recital. Wong has written that "there is no good composition without good performance", and in Lin and Evelyn Chen's hands he is already halfway to winning audiences over.

Hoyahue is a popular Taiwanese song written by composer Yuxian Deng (1906-1944), sometimes known as the "father of Taiwanese pop music", and whose Spring Song some may know from a couple of Lang Lang's CDs. According to the liner notes, Hoyahue means "a flower in the rain and darkness" and symbolises "the hardship of the Taiwanese people." Wong's Variations on this lovely theme alternate key and mood to reflect the joys and struggles of the Taiwanese.

The two sprightly Chinese Dances are similar in character, although the second interweaves a further, more melancholic motif, telling as it does the story of a captive Uighur girl whose dancing eventually sets her spirit free in the sanguine ending.

Wong wrote the Dream of my Motherland Suite in 1976, before he had had any formal training in composition, "to fill his nostalgic heart with music". There are five short sections, the yearning, beautiful 'South of the Yangtze River', 'Sheng Dance', a knees-up round a bonfire with the ethnic mouth organ, 'Remembrance', in which Wong "wants to greet his loved ones from across the ocean through his music", the cantering 'Song of the Horse Wagon', and 'Hand Drum Dance', a lively jig from northwestern China sounding uncannily British.

Finally, the four arrangements of Chinese Folk Songs: 'Mongolian Folk Song', a simple but evocative piece depicting the vast landscape and arduous life of the nomads, the fleeting but perky and tricky 'Drum Dance', the atmospheric 'Tibetan Love Song', and the 'Ali Mountain Song', a medley of idiomatic tunes which Wong initially thought a Taiwanese folksong, but which turned out to be an original piece by Taiwanese film director Che Zhang.

Sound quality is very high. The CD booklet is informative, although all the more so for those who can read Chinese!


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