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As the Spring returns timely for the Chinese new year celebration, let us indulge ourselves in the masterworks of modern and contemporary Chinese composers, from the concert staples of The Butterfly Lovers and The Yellow River, to the recent works by Zhou Long, Tan Dun and the like.

Featured Releases

Naxos 8.570607
CHEN, G. / HE, Z.H.: The Butterfly Lovers Piano Concerto / CHU, W.H.: The Yellow River Piano Concerto
Jie Chen, New Zealand Symphony, C. Kuan

The Yellow River Concerto is one of the most popular of all Chinese works, a richly melodic exploration of scenic variety, and a forceful expression of patriotic pride. Written in 1958 by Chen Gang and He Zhanhao, The Butterfly Lovers Violin Concerto has achieved world renown for its moving and beautiful synthesis of Western and Eastern traditions. In 1985 Chen Gang made an arrangement for piano and orchestra, played on this recording in the edition by the brilliant international soloist Chen Jie.

Naxos 8.572839
LIANG, Lei: Verge / Tremors of a Memory Chord / Aural Hypothesis / Five Seasons
Palimpsest Ensemble, Callithumpian Consort, Wu Man, Pi-hsien Chen

Chinese-born American Lei Liang’s intercontinentally inspired work has been described as ‘hauntingly beautiful’ (The New York Times) and ‘brilliantly original and inarguably gorgeous’ (The Washington Post). Vergeis a musical amulet for Liang’s new-born son Albert, while Aural Hypothesis explores how calligraphic lines can find expression in sound. Both Five Seasons and Tremors of a Memory Chord bring together Chinese and Western instruments to create fascinating sonorities, from an evocative single pipa to the unique richness of a grand Chinese orchestra.

Naxos 8.570608
TAN, Dun: Symphonic Poem of 3 Notes / Orchestral Theatre / Concerto for Orchestra (after Marco Polo)
Hong Kong Philharmonic, Tan Dun

The multifaceted and multi-award winner Tan Dun has made an indelible mark on the world music scene with a creative repertoire that spans the boundaries of classical music. The Symphonic Poem on Three Notes describes an evolutionary arc from nature through industry and back to nature, the traditional orchestra augmented with a range of unorthodox sound sources such as wind, stones and car brake drums. The drama of Orchestral Theatre centres on memories of ritual from the composer’s childhood, linking folk music styles to Western atonality, while the Concerto for Orchestra describes the exoticism of Marco Polo’s geographical, musical and spiritual journeys.

Listen to our podcast with Tan Dun talking to Gail Wein about his music

Naxos 8.557348
CHEN, G. / HE, Z.H.: The Butterfly Lovers Violin Concerto / BREINER, P.: Songs and Dances from the Silk Road
Nishizaki, New Zealand Symphony, Judd

The Butterfly Lovers Violin Concerto, scored for solo violin and Western orchestra, is one of the best known of all contemporary Chinese compositions. It has become indelibly linked with Takako Nishizaki, whose seventh recording of this hugely popular work features on this disc. Songs and Dances from the Silk Road, by the Slovak-born Peter Breiner, is based on traditional melodies to be heard in the West of China, from where the famous Silk Road takes its course through Central Asia to the Occident.

Naxos 8.572889
CHEN, Yi: Dragon Rhyme / HIGDON, J.: Soprano Saxophone Concerto / WEILL, K.: Violin Concerto
Koffman, Miller, Hartt School Wind Ensemble, Adsit

The wind band offers considerable variety and color to composers, as demonstrated by these three disparate works. Jennifer Higdon’s Soprano Saxophone Concerto brings to the instrument an unerring warmth and sizzling dexterity perfectly suited to its plangent beauty. Kurt Weill’s 1924 Violin Concerto exudes neo-classicism, Mahlerian influence and a pungent dynamism that account for its popularity. Chen Yi’s Dragon Rhyme employs musical intervals familiar from Beijing Opera, in a work rich in textual color and vivid intensity.

Naxos 8.570221
CHIN, Gordon Shi-Wen: Double Concerto / Formosa Seasons
Cho-Liang Lin, Felix Fan, Kansas City Symphony, Michael Stern

"Formosa Seasons" is based on a series of Haiku-like poems, and is dedicated to the celebrated Taiwanese-American violinist Cho-Liang Lin. It follows the format of Vivaldi's "Four Seasons", and has enjoyed many performances, although only once were the two works paired in concert. The Double concerto for Violin and Cello was again dedicated to Cho-Liang Lin, and to the Taiwanese-American 'cellist Felix Fan, who had studied with Yo-Yo Ma and Janos Starker.

Naxos 8.557678
GAO, Ping: Shuo Shu Ren / Distant Voices / Cello Sonata No. 2
Ensemble Pyramide, Gao Ping

The music of the contemporary Chinese composer and pianist Gao Ping, now resident in New Zealand, draws its inspiration from his native folklore, the oral tradition of story-telling familiar from his childhood in Sichuan, and Chinese poetry. The composer himself writes: “I have always thought of myself as a story-teller of sorts, but in place of words I use music.” The second of the Two Soviet Love Songs for Vocalizing Pianist, a hugely entertaining homage to Shostakovich, interweaves the Russian\ folk song Katyusha with fragments of the Scherzo of the Russian composer’s Tenth Symphony and Youman’s Tea for Two.

Naxos 8.570603
GE, Gan-Ru: String Quartets No. 1, ‘Fu’, No. 4, ‘Angel Suite’ and No. 5, ‘Fall of Baghdad’

China’s first avant-garde composer and one of the most original composers of his generation, Ge Gan-Ru, studied at the Shanghai Conservatory of Music before obtaining his doctorate from Columbia University in the USA. The composer notes that he ‘often tries to combine contemporary Western compositional techniques with my Chinese experience and Chinese musical characteristics to create a unique and highly individual sound world.’ Modern Works was founded in 1997 in New York by cellist Madeleine Shapiro to focus on recent string repertoire. The ensemble has given premières of works by Berio, Gubaidulina and Xenakis.

Naxos 8.559322
HUANG, Ruo: Chamber Concertos Nos. 1-4
International Contemporary Ensemble

Influenced by both the East and the West, Chinese-American composer Huang Ruo strives to create a seamless synthesis and a convincing organic unity, drawing influences from many genres and cultures. His music has been performed by the Philadelphia Orchestra, the ASKO Ensemble, and the Nieuw Ensemble, under conductors James Conlon, Dennis Russell Davies and Wolfgang Sawallisch. In 2003, he was featured on a Composer Portrait concert at Columbia University’s Miller Theatre, where the International Contemporary Ensemble premiered the Chamber Concerto Cycle. The concert was hailed by New York Times critic Allan Kozinn as No. 2 of the Top Ten Classical Moments of 2003.

Naxos 8.559653
HUANG, Ruo: Drama Theater Nos. 2-4 / String Quartet No. 1, ‘The 3 Tenses’
Future In REverse, Huang Ruo

The release by Naxos of Huang Ruo’s Chamber Concertos Nos. 1–4 (8.559322) was hailed as ‘a bold debut’ (Gramophone) which ‘shows a major compositional voice emerging’ (The Juilliard Journal Online). This disc, also conducted by the composer, presents three of his Drama Theaters for various combinations of Eastern and Western instruments—including 18 beer bottles—the elusive subtitle of each strikingly suggesting a musical/cultural/philosophical idea. Similarly, The Three Tenses explores a paradoxically integrated notion of time, where past, present and future create ‘a seamless entity called timelessness’. Huang Ruo won the 2008 International Composition Prize of the Luxembourg Society for Contemporary Music and has been cited by the New Yorker as ‘one of the most intriguing of the new crop of Asian-American composers.’

Naxos 8.570600
MA, Sicong: Music for Violin and Piano, Vol. 1
Hsiao-Mei Ku, Ning Lu

Ma Sicong is remembered today as a leading violinist, composer and teacher who devoted his life to creating a new national identity for Chinese music. He pioneered the use of folk idioms, often adopting fragments or motifs from folk tunes and crafting them into his own musical writing. His vast output includes symphonies, concertos, chamber music, operas and ballet music as well as various forms of vocal music. Of this extensive output, Ma’s violin music is widely regarded as one of his most important contributions. This is the first release in the Naxos Chinese Classics series.

Naxos 8.570605
MA, Sicong: Music for Violin and Piano, Vol. 2
Hsiao-Mei Ku, Ning Lu

The Chinese composer and violinist Ma Sicong was born in Haifeng in Guangdong (Canton) province in 1912, and was among the relatively few Chinese musicians of his generation to study abroad. He settled in America in 1967. The music on this disc embraces contrasting moods, each imbued with Ma Sicong’s abiding love for his homeland and combining Chinese inspiration with Western musical techniques. Shortly after composing the Rondo No. 4 he wrote this heartbreaking entry in his diary: ‘When can I end my exile? Nobody knows.’

Naxos 8.559610
SHENG, Bright: The Phoenix / Red Silk Dance / Tibetan Swing / H’un (Lacerations)
Sheng, Seattle Symphony, Schwarz

The Phoenix, co-commissioned by the Seattle Symphony and Danish National Symphony Orchestra, was inspired by a Hans Christian Andersen tale, the mythical bird symbolizing for Chinese-American composer Bright Sheng “the muse of all peoples.” Aggressive fervor seeks meditative peace in H’un: In memoriam 1966–1976, hailed by The New York Times as “a searing portrait of the Cultural Revolution in China…deeply affecting.” Sheng’s exquisite Spring Dreams, Three Fantasias and Tibetan Dance are available on Naxos 8.570601. China Dreams and Nanking Nanking can be heard on Naxos 8.555866.

Naxos 8.570601
SHENG, Bright: Spring Dreams / 3 Fantasies / Tibetan Dance
Cho-liang Lin, Singapore Chinese Orchestra, Tsung Yeh, A.-M. Schub, E. Svoboda, B. Sheng

Chinese-American composer Bright Sheng acknowledges no aesthetic borders, weaving together haunting melodies and sonorities from sources as diverse as Chinese, Kazakhstani and Tibetan music, or even his own dreams, like silken threads into shimmering brocades of sound. His love of song and dance, blending Asian and Western instrumental textures, imbues his music with a fascinating, highly personal cultural counterpoint that has won him immense popularity, critical acclaim and an enviable reputation as an ever-fresh voice in cross-cultural music.

Naxos 8.555866
SHENG, Bright: China Dreams / Nanking! Nanking! / Two Poems from the Sung Dynasty
Hong Kong Philharmonic Orchestra, Samuel Wong

The Chinese composer Bright Sheng was born in Shanghai and studied there and in the United States, where he has established a reputation as a composer. He has won awards both in China and in America. The present release includes works evoking the spirit of China, a celebration of its landscape, its culture and of the sad history of 1937.

Naxos 8.570604
ZHOU, Long: Su / Pianogongs / Taiping Drum / Wild Grass / Taigu Rhyme / CHEN, Yi: Monologue / Chinese Ancient Dances
Beijing New Music Ensemble

Trained side-by-side in Beijing at the Central Conservatory, and in New York at Columbia University, Chen Yi, the first woman to receive a master’s degree in composition in China, and Zhou Long are now partners on the faculty at the University of Missouri—Kansas City. Despite the close ties, their compositions enjoy distinct identities, frequently bringing into fascinating juxtaposition Western and Eastern instruments as well as traditional and contemporary compositional techniques. The Beijing New Music Ensemble is the only independent music ensemble dedicated to new music in China. This is its début recording.

Naxos 8.572488
Asian Music for String Quartet
New Zealand String Quartet

This programme brings together aesthetic and musical elements of East and West. Zhou Long captures the essence of the Chinese plucked ch’in, and Cambodian aesthetics are preserved in Chinary Ung’s expressive Spiral III. Tan Dun’s Eight Colors combines the exotic timbres of Peking Opera with Second Viennese School tonalities. Gao Ping’s Bright Light and Cloud Shadows has been admired for its ‘long-breathed brush strokes’ (Washington Post). Taking its inspiration from James Joyce’s Finnegans Wake, Toru Takemitsu’s beautifully crafted A Way a Lone evokes a shimmering sound world.

Naxos 8.570602
Chinese Piano Favourites
Chen Jie

While the piano is a western invention, it has come to occupy a special position in Chinese musical life. The earliest Chinese piano pieces date from the first half of the twentieth century; many remain popular in the concert hall today. This latest release in Naxos' Chinese Classics focuses on piano works from the Republican period (1911-1949), featuring Jie Chen, Bronze Medal Winner of the 2005 Santander Piano Competition. The music draws on well-known ancient melodies or folk-tunes, as reflected in the titles.

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