About this Recording
8.554334 - CHEN / HE: Butterfly Lovers Violin Concerto (The)
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The Butterfly Lovers Concerto
Chen Gang & He Zhanhao

The Butterfly Lovers was written by He Zhan-hao and Chen Gang in 1959 while they were students of the Shanghai Conservatory. Musically, the concerto is a synthesis of the Eastern and Western traditions although the melodies and overall style are derived from the opera of Shanghai. The original version of the concerto (presented here) has a marked traditionally oriental colour. In the spirit of the Shanghai opera, the concerto, as a whole, conveys on a musical level aspects of a traditional Chinese painting in its light and calm mood.

Chen later revised the original score in an attempt to intensify the dramatic power of the music by further contrasting both the tempi and the dynamics of the concerto. The result is that the later version sounds far more Western and further removed from the Shanghai opera which inspired its antecedent.

Although the concerto is written in sonata form it is also strongly programmatic. The narrative is based on Chinese folklore and tells the story of the lovers Liang Shan-po and Zhu Ying-tai. Liang Shan-po has been studying with Zhu Ying-tai, disguised as a boy, for many years during which Ying-tai has fallen in love with Shan-po who is ignorant of her true gender. One day, Ying-tai is summoned home, where her family has arranged for her to marry a wealthy neighbour. She is, therefore, forced to part from Shan-po, in a tender scene by a bridge. After a time, Shan-po, greatly missing his companion, attempts to visit Ying-tai's house where he finds out from a servant that Ying-tai is a girl and about to be married. Only then does he understand what Ying-tai had so often tried to tell him, and in his bitter despair he falls ill and dies. On learning of the death of Shan-po, Ying-tai visits his grave and in her grief begs his tomb to open. There is a clap of thunder, the tomb breaks open and Ying-tai leaps into the grave, from which the two lovers emerge as butterflies and flyaway together, finally reunited.

Techniques of the Chinese string instrument, the er-hu, are used by the violin in this concerto and this serves to emphasise the Chinese character of the work.

Street Musician
arr. Yan Huichang

San Bang Gu (‘drum with three sticks’), popular in Hunan and Tianmen, is a kind of traditional folk art form. The theme of Street Musician is based on the melody of San BangGu, depicting the bitter life of folk musicians. The introduction provides a background of misery and the sad tune played by the cello expresses the wretched fate of the musicians. The technically demanding violin cadenza is followed by a cry of anguish at the unfairness of life. In a quicker section the main theme re-appears, in different speed and rhythm, as the music reaches a climax.

Love in Spring
Zhu Xiaogu

Love in Spring was specially written for the Japanese violinist Takako Nishizaki. By using various folk-songs and operatic themes from the North and South of China, the composer attempts to show the great beauty of Chinese melodies transcribed for the solo violin. The orchestral introduction, its shifting harmonies recalling the changing colours of spring, leads to a tender and sensuous theme for the solo violin. The melody suggests the transience of spring or perhaps a dream of the past, the dialogue of soloist and orchestra like that of spring breezes and the willow. In conclusion the theme appears in fragmented and poignant form. There is an orchestral crescendo, leading to a climax, in a work that conveys the character of spring, something beyond words, a love that embraces the whole earth.

Parting of the Newly Wedded
Zhu Xiaogu & Zhang Xiaofeng

Zhu Xiaogu and Zhang Xiaofeng wrote Parting of the Newly Wedded in 1980, basing it on a poem of the same name by the famous Tang Dynasty poet Du Fu. It tells the tragic story set in the period of the Rebellion of An and Shi, in which a newly married couple are forced to part. The piece shows the tragic scene in which the bride bids her husband farewell, as he is enlisted in the army.

Parting of the Newly Wedded is in three sections. The first of these, The Wedding, is based on a work by a well known Song Dynasty poet. The graceful melody depicts the shy gesture of a girl waiting to be wed, followed by the loud sound of wedding gong and drum. The dialogue between violin and cello, with the glockenspiel, shows the deep love and gentle feelings of the couple, the beauty of the nuptial chamber. The second part, Surprised by the Change, is introduced by an ominous drum roll, the Chinese operatic "reckless beat" combined with the free melody of the solo violin, serene harmony totally disturbed. There is strong dramatic conflict, as officers come to seize the bridegroom and take him away to join the army. The bride weeps, as they part, beating her breast and stamping her feet. The "rapid beat slow singing" of opera shows the vulnerability of the characters. In the third part, Farewell, the principal theme re-appears, slow and heavy. The weeping melody represents the helpless sighs of the bride, now her husband is going to his death. The rapid cadenza speaks of the girl's indignation, and in conclusion the orchestra plays sad and grieving music, representing the great tragedy that has taken place.


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