Ge GAN-RU (b.1954)
Fairy Lady Meng Jiang for flute and orchestra (2008) [39:28]
Lovers Besieged, orchestral suite (2009) [23:04]
Sharon Bezaly (flute)
Orquesta Sinfónica de Castilla y León/Enrique Diemecke
rec. March 2009, Auditorio Miguel Delibes, Valladolid, Spain
BIS-CD-1779 [64:00]
Richard Freed’s note leads us by the hand through the background to Shanghai-born composer Ge Gan-ru. His leading teacher at the Conservatoire there was Chen Gang, composer of The Butterfly Lovers violin concerto. Ge’s music ploughs a completely different furrow, as you will know if you are familiar with Bis’s other Ge disc issued in 2005 (BIS-SACD-1509). It is no accident that this composer participated in Alexander Goehr’s masterclasses when China opened its artistic doors in 1980. After this he came within the orbits of influence of contemporary composers such as Crumb, Cage, Ligeti, Boulez and Stockhausen. This path was consolidated when he continued his studies with Chou Wen-chung, a disciple of Varèse, and Mario Davidovsky.
For all of the gently artistry on show in the four-movement work that is Fairy Lady Meng Jiang the music is predominantly a vortex of the distraught and the anxious. You can hear this undiluted in most of Savage Land (I) and parts of Abduction (III). Bird song - real and flute-evoked - is at play in the second movement (Gourd Girl). Bezaly is called on to deliver - and delivers - with extraordinary intensity the wailing and crying in the cataclysmic final movement: Crying Down the Great Wall. It’s unnerving - disturbing even, yet ultimately bends and morphs into more sweetly consolatory though hesitant paths. This large-scale fantasy flute concerto was written as a commission from Robert von Bahr specifically for Sharon Bezaly.
Almost as tragic as the flute concerto is Lovers Besieged. It too is concerned with a war-torn episode in China’s ancient history. This three-movement suite (Ambush; Chu Song; Sword Dance) derives from a 2006 trio for cello, percussion and piano. It starts with a vinegary, propulsive, dissonant kinetic power that is reminiscent of the Philip Glass symphonies. As we know from Fairy Lady Meng Jiang, Ge, for all his sharply defined brutality, also has a deep and gentle vein of something close to sentimentality. This can be experienced in the central Chu Song with its slowly coaxed quasi-Gallic Pavane. This rises at 3:03 to a gorgeous slow-motion, long-breathed flourish from the strings which spreads to the whole orchestra. The final ‘panel’ is witty and angular with a faint flavour of Honegger’s Pacific 231 and Mosolov’s Iron Foundry.
This will broaden your horizons and introduce you to Ge, a composer - well served by all the musicians and the technical team involved - who is at ease working with the avant-garde and with the sentimentally eloquent.
I found the sound extremely impressive.
Rob Barnett

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