The Red Piano
XIAN Xinghai (1905-1945)
The Yellow River piano concerto (1970) [21:18]
In that place wholly far away (arr. Zhang Zhao) [3:57]
Glowing red Morningstar lilies (arr. Wang Jianzhong) [4:24]
Pi huang [6:10]
MA Jingfeng and ZHANG Nan ,
Remote Shangri-la [2:36]
Liu Yang river (arr. Wang Jianzhong) (1951) (3:29)
Kangding love song (arr. Zhang Zhao) [1:31]
REN Guang (1900-1941)
Colourful clouds chasing the moon (1935) [3:17]
Five Yunnan folk songs (arr. Wang Jianzhong) (1958) [5:34]
ZHU Jian’er (b. 1922)
Celebrating our new life (1952) [1:44]
LEI Zhenbang (1916-1997)
Why are the flowers so red? [1:53]
My motherland [6:03]
Yundi (piano)
China NCPA Concert Hall Orchestra/Chen Zuohuang
rec. Concert Hall, National Centre for the Performing Arts, Beijing, 2-5 July 2011
EMI CLASSICS 0886582 [62:11]
Thus far Yundi has been associated on disc with the music of Chopin, so this latest release marks something of a radical departure. Radical in repertoire terms, but stylistically it marks a somewhat strange staging post too, unless one sees his nationality as of overriding importance. The Chinese music here consists of a stream of wispy miniatures bulked out by The Yellow River Piano Concerto, a work of huge popularity in its native country.
Lasting twenty-one minutes and cast in four movements the concerto derives from the 1939 Yellow River Cantata composed by Paris-trained Xian Xinghai. If you’ve not heard it before, it’s a cocktail of Chinese melodies served warm, shaken by Liszt and stirred with a dash of Rachmaninov, and poured into a glass of corn. The second movement cello cantilena is one of the music’s strongest points, but the whole shebang is more a series of Chinese musical tags roped together through adept orchestration. Pianistically the harp and Chinese cimbalom (yangqin) imitations are the classiest moments, and Yundi plays these with due diligence and ear for requisite colour. Otherwise, the music passes by with Nationalist fervour intact. It’s always struck me, though, as a peculiar act of Cultural Nationalism to appropriate a foreign musical aesthetic and sink one’s own melodies rather tritely into the mix: it’s like patting a dog on the head whilst it bites your legs off.
There is a sequence of solo piano works. Pi Huang is the old fashioned name for Peking Opera-Beijing Opera just doesn’t have the same ring, does it?-and is a rather anodyne piece. The Kangding Love Song is better, though Colourful clouds chasing the moon and My Motherland are better still in their impressionist kind of way. There are brisk folk songs aplenty, as well as Celebrating our new life, the Chinese equivalent of the kind of dross Soviet Realism deemed necessary.
It’s all a long, long way from Chopin. 

Jonathan Woolf

It’s all a long, long way from Chopin. 

see also review by Rob Maynard

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