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8.225847 - Chinese Orchestra Arrangements - The Central Broadcasting Folk Orchestra Plays Popular Western Classics (Xiuwen Peng)
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The Central Broadcasting Folk Orchestra Plays Popular Western Classics

Western music has a surprisingly long history in China. Liturgical music of the Catholic church found its place in Peking in the period of the Yuen Dynasty, and, although the ensuing Ming Dynasty proved less favourable to this alien intrusion, the Qing Dynasty, established in the middle of the 17th century and continuing until its elimination in the earlier years of the 20th century, found a place for the encouragement of Western music at court, particularly under the supervision of the Jesuit missionaries who took a leading part in the cultural life of the imperial household in the 18th century. The following period of Western commercial intrusion into China also brought contact with the music of the West, with court officials instructed to copy the instruments that accompanied Lord Macartney’s embassy to Peking in 1793.

In this recording, the Central Broadcasting Folk Orchestra plays Western classical works with traditional Chinese instruments, adding an oriental flavour to these famous tunes.

Georges Bizet: Carmen (excerpts) (arr. Peng Xiuwen)
Prelude • Entr’acte (Prelude to Act III) • Aragonaise (Prelude to Act IV) • Danse bohème

Peng Xiuwen’s arrangement of excerpts of Carmen opens with the popular Prelude, assuming a particularly oriental aspect when played by the Chinese two-string fiddle, while the ubiquitous percussion of the traditional orchestra has its own part to add. The Chinese flute, its characteristic tone produced by the vibration of the membrane attached to an additional hole on the mouth-piece section, is joined by the double-reed, trumpet-like oboe and the strings in the melody from Bizet’s Entr’acte that precedes Act III of the opera, followed by the Andalusian Dance that precedes Act IV. The music chosen also includes the Act II Gypsy Song, with moments of more characteristic intonation.

Nikolay Andreyevich Rimsky-Korsakov: Tale of Tsar Saltan, Op. 57: Flight of the Bumble Bee (arr. Chang Dasen)

Rimsky-Korsakov’s Flight of the Bumble Bee is taken from an orchestral interlude in the opera Tale of Tsar Saltan, in which the hero is transformed into a bee and stings his malicious aunts. It provides an opportunity for Chinese virtuosity on the pipa, a form of lute.

Jules Massenet: Thais, Act II: Meditation (arr. Jiang Han)

The popular violin solo from Massenet’s opera Thais provides a suitable enough chance for the erhu, a two-stringed instrument with a snake-skin-covered resonator and a bow that passes between the strings. The erhu has no fingerboard, but is capable of considerable agility, as well as of melodies of some intensity. It takes the place of the violin in the modern occidentalised Chinese orchestra, supported by instruments of middle size, and by more devised bass instruments of the same family.

Aram Il’yich Khachaturian: Gayane, Act II: Sabre Dance (arr. Wang Linan)

Khachaturian’s Sabre Dance, taken from a Soviet ballet set on a collective farm, offers the Chinese Folk Orchestra an occasion for some freedom of collective intonation. It may be recalled that the composer himself attempted, in similar work, to imitate the sound of American folk instruments.

Johann Strauss II / Josef Strauss: Pizzicato-Polka (arr. Lu Liangmu)

Johann Strauss himself produced a waltz sequence - Tales from the Orient, a work that has never been as popular as his narrative of activities in the woods outside Vienna. The famous Pizzicato Polka suits well enough the sonorities of the Chinese orchestra, with its use of plucked strings and strings struck in the manner of a zither.

Grigoras Dinicu: Hora Staccato (arr. Peng Xiuwen)

The popular version of the gypsy Hora, arranged by Jascha Heifetz, forms a basis for Peng Xiuwen’s transcription, which makes exotic use of the erhu.

Ludwig van Beethoven: Die Ruinen von Athens (The Ruins of Athens), Op. 113: Overture (arr. Peng Xiuwen)

The present version of the Overture provides music of a kind that the composer could hardly have imagined. It is here, more than in less formal compositions, that the full flavour of the Chinese orchestra can be experienced, from the intonation of the first bars, played by the strings, to the characteristic tones of the bamboo mouth-organ and the relatively piercing timbre of the Chinese flute.

Claude Debussy: Nocturnes, No. 1. Nuages (Clouds) (arr. Peng Xiuwen)

For a Chinese composer to arrange the work of Debussy seems an act of natural justice. The French composer drew some of his inspiration from what he knew of oriental music, and some, at least, of his melodic material shows affinities with the melodies of China. The delicacy of Debussy’s scoring, however, undergoes some changes in Peng Xiuwen’s arrangement of Clouds for Chinese orchestra.

Ludwig van Beethoven: Six Minuet, WoO 10: Minuet in G (arr. Wang Zhiwei)

The famous Minute in G appears in a slower form in its new arrangement, with massed Chinese strings of characteristic tone colour. The central section of the work, however, gives room for greater freedom of speed, before the reappearance of the first melody.

Igor Stravinsky: The Firebird Suite (excerpts) (arr. Peng Xiuwen)
Round Dance of the Princesses • Berceuse (Lullaby) • Finale

Stravinsky’s ballet The Firebird was written in collaboration with the choreographer Fokine for Diaghilev’s company, and mounted in Paris in 1910. The nature of the original score, and its colourful use of wind instruments, a particular element in Stravinsky’s work for orchestra, makes the Chinese version not entirely unsuitable, suggesting that East and West have come closer together since the time of Beethoven.

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