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Bright SHENG (b.1955)
The Song and Dance of Tears (2003 rev.2013) [22:07]
Colours of Crimson (2004) [18:06]
The Blazing Mirage (2012) [18:59]
Sa Chen (piano)*, Hui Li (pipa), Tong Wu (sheng)*, Trey Lee (cello) , Pius Cheung (marimba)
Hong Kong Philharmonic/Bright Sheng
rec. May 2013, Tsuen Wan Town Hall, Hong Kong.
NAXOS 8.570610 [59:55]

Bright Sheng was born in Shanghai in 1955. He worked as a pianist and percussionist in folk music and dance troupes and then went to the local university. He moved to New York in 1982 and, among his teachers there were Leonard Bernstein and Jack Beeson, famous for his terrific opera Lizzie Borden.

A number of his previous CDs have been reviewed by MWI although he was a new name to me. Naxos, as always, has been very enterprising in recording new works by relatively unknown composers; one of the joys of reviewing is discovering these and helping to making them more widely known.

The Song and Dance of Tears is influenced by the composer's travels along the Silk Road in China. It employs a Sheng, described as a kind of Chinese mouth-organ, originating over 2500 years ago and a Pipa, a kind of lute, equally ancient. The music could be described as a concerto for orchestra and is melodic and atmospheric. Various themes evolve and there is strong instrumental colour. There is a real sense of emotion through the work, particularly a lament for lost youth at the end. This music is based more on impressions than direct illustration of the journey and with some use of local folk songs.

Colours of Crimson was written for and dedicated to the excellent Evelyn Glennie. The composer is aware of the marimba's limited range of timbral variety and uses the orchestra to convey various tones. In this he succeeds. The piece was written when Sheng lived in a remote part of North West China and again is influenced by the folk music of that region. It develops well from a very lively beginning to a more thoughtful and wistful conclusion.

The Blazing Mirage is inspired by the Dunhuang Caves, which preserve great Buddhist frescoes and art from 400 AD. The title comes from the legend of a vision of one thousand Buddhas in golden lights. The cello recitative at the start is based on a Central Asian classical motif called a Mukam, whilst the orchestral theme is a well-known folk tune. Later the two themes merge. If the first piece could be crudely described as 'Chinese Bartok', this could be described as an oriental Cello concerto. Lovers of The Protecting Veil should give it a listen. Of all the concertante instruments my favourite is the cello and Sheng has given the player great colours to produce. The interplay between Trey Lee and the orchestra is exciting and melodic and brings this successful CD to a splendid conclusion.

I did not take exception to the notes and sound quality.

A successful combination of Chinese melodies and the classical tradition. This deserves to achieve wide recognition.

David R Dunsmore