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Classic FM, August 2004

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Donald Rosenberg
Cleveland Plain Dealer, July 2004

Here is a new recording of the work, which Chinese composers Chen Gang and He Zhanhao wrote in 1959. The piece describes two lovers who, when their hopes of a life together are dashed, transcend death and fly away as butterflies. The score blends Chinese folk idioms with Western musical traditions in a soaringly poetic narrative. The soloist on the recording is Takako Nishizaki, who has championed the work for years. Her playing is silken, agile and lyrical, and James Judd and the New Zealand Symphony Orchestra are vibrant partners. A-



Gwyn Parry-Jones
Naxos

[Breiner] is a talented Slovakian composer, who has lived and worked for many years in Canada. He has taken here a selection of traditional melodies connected with the Silk Road, that great trade route that begins in Western China and wends its way westward through Asia. Keith Anderson's liner notes say that he has attempted a 'synthesis of East and West', which perhaps makes these pieces out to be more serious or even pretentious than they in fact are. They have the character of rather splendid film music, and are orchestrated with superb skill. The solo violin is again featured, and I particularly enjoyed the poetry of A Beloved Rose, with its delicate tracery in the celesta, and Lin Hua Hua, where the flute is required to bend the notes like the Chinese traditional flute, the di (or Japanese shakuhachi). Lift your veil is great fun; this energetic folk-song is set so that it alternates between the style of a Baroque Concerto and something more contemporary - truly global crossover this. The final number, Tulufan, rather confusingly echoes Falla's Miller's Dance, though the musical result is entertaining enough. The New Zealand Symphony Orchestra is now a high-class body, and James Judd draws some excellent playing from them - no hint of condescension here. This is an undemanding yet highly enjoyable disc.



David Hurwitz
ClassicsToday.com

Violinist Takako Nishizaki has a fine technique allied to good taste and sensitive all-around musicianship. She has made a career pursuing interesting and unusual repertoire, much of which has appeared on the Naxos/Marco Polo labels. Perhaps her most famous "discovery" was The Butterfly Lovers concerto, written in tandem by Chen Gang and He Zhanhao. Many harsh words have been said about the work's overt socialist realist origins, its unadventurous idiom, and film score orchestration. Of course, film scores are now in fashion, and the truth is that it's no less appealing than any number of 19th century virtuoso concertos far less attractive thematically and orchestrally, and better than many of them. You probably already know if you like it or not.

That said, this performance goes to the top of the heap. Nishizaki, whose previous recordings of the work (and there have been several) have sold millions of copies, knows the music better than anyone, and plays with consummate finesse and sensitivity. Her performance isn't all that different from her previous one for Naxos, but she's much better recorded, and she receives notably better support from Judd and the New Zealand Symphony than that offered by the Shanghai Conservatory ensemble on her last go-round. Perhaps this version displays a touch more vivid contrast between quick and slow sections. In any case, I found the work's 28 minutes passing by very pleasantly, and with no dead spots at all. Nishizaki's sweetly focussed tone soars above the ensemble like a sort of Chinese Lark Ascending, and who wouldn't enjoy that?

Reference Recording - This One 10/10

This new release also features a much more interesting coupling than formerly. Peter Breiner provided the less than wonderful orchestrations on Naxos' Albeniz Iberia, but he's on much better form in this original work. Songs and Dances from the Silk Road takes eight folk tunes and arranges them as a suite for violin and orchestra. The solo part doesn't sound especially difficult, and the idiom certainly isn't adventurous despite some pitch-bending in the third movement ("Spinning"), but I'm a sucker for this sort of thing, and once again Nishizaki and Judd turn in a performance that leaves nothing to be desired. It's very interesting to note that the fourth movement sounds a bit Latin, and there are touches of everything from Prokofiev to Liszt elsewhere, but whether or not this evokes the Silk Road hardly matters: it's pretty music nevertheless. Individual movements would make great encore pieces. I enjoyed this disc very much, and it deserves to "cross over" and become very popular. It's a class act.






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1:05:48 AM, 21 September 2014
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