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Chieh SHIH (b.1950) Die Überquerung des Flusses (Crossing the River) (1995) [17:14] Ein Takt (A Measure), for nine instruments (2006) [9:35] Ein Takt (A Measure), for piano and four strings (2006) [9:35] Wanderschaft (Travels) - Symphonic Song, for soprano and chamber orchestra (2010) [14:10]
*Die Trennung (The Separation) (1999-2000) [19:46]
Anu Komsi (soprano); Anika Vavić (piano)
Ensemble 'Die Reihe'/Georg Fritzsch
*National Symphony Orchestra Taiwan/Chien Wen-Pin
rec. ORF RadioKulturhaus, Vienna, 30 November 2010 (live); *National Concert Hall, Taipei, Taiwan (no date; live). CAPRICCIO C5111 [65:31]
This is one of a pair of '21st Century Portraits' released by Capriccio in 2012, the impressive other being devoted to German composer Christian Jost (C5118). At the time of writing a third volume has just come out, given over not to a single composer but - somewhat incongruously and ironically - to the 'Ensemble xx. Jahrhundert'.
Vienna-based Taiwanese composer Chieh Shih, a naturalised Austrian styled simply 'Shih', drops the listener right in at the deep end with his Die Überquerung des Flusses, which opens with a cacophony of metallic percussion, not unlike a stack of dustbins being thrown off a building. An hour later, in the final Die Trennung - along with Die Überquerung des Flusses, part of a larger triptych, incidentally - there are several mind-blowingly chromatic crescendos. As the booklet notes promise, Shih does indeed blend occidental and oriental elements, but in a decidedly modernist way, with an emphasis on textures, atmospherics and psychology rather than form, melody or harmony. Only the appearance of the erhu and pipa in Ein Takt for nine instruments truly point to Chinese influences.
In fact it is the Austrian side of Shih that is uppermost in these works, meaning that some listeners may find some of the language and violence disturbing! By way of mitigation, the three middle tracks, Wanderschaft and both works bearing the title 'Ein Takt', are much less clangorous than the outer pair, though they too are highly animated, virtuosic and unequivocally modernist in idiom. An appreciation of the likes of Carter, Birtwistle or early Penderecki is virtually a prerequisite for understanding Shih's music, whereas an interest in traditional Chinese music will take the prospective listener almost nowhere.
There is some superbly responsive, empathetic musicianship on display on this recording, both from the excellent ensemble 'Die Reihe' and the National Symphony Orchestra Taiwan under Chien Wen-Pin. Soprano Anu Komsi is Finnish and sings German with a foreign lilt, but in Wanderschaft her voice quality, control and power are all terrific, making it a simple matter to overlook any such ‘transgression’. Serbian pianist Anika Vavić also merits a name-check for her intensive trill-fest in Ein Takt.
Recordings at both venues have been very well done, with spacious, moist, at times almost 'super-audio' reproduction. All are live captures, and the odd audience cough can be heard, inevitably at the more inopportune moments, but their distraction value is limited.
The booklet notes are relatively brief but still useful, if slightly pretentious in their Teutonic wordiness. Translations into English have been done by a German-speaker, leaving them with a slight accent.