About this Recording
8.225972HDCD - CHEN, Gang / HE, Zhanhao: Butterfly Lovers Violin Concerto (The) / BREINER, P.: Songs and Dances from the Silk Road (Takako Nishizaki, Judd)

Chen Gang (b

Chen Gang (b.1935) and He Zhanhao (b.1933)

The Butterfly Lovers Violin Concerto


The Butterfly Lovers Violin Concerto was written in 1959 by Chen Gang, one of the leading composers in contemporary China, and his fellow-student He Zhanhao, whose works have won similar fame. The two composers were still students at the Shanghai Conservatory at the time when they succeeded in creating one of the best known of all contemporary Chinese compositions. The concerto follows an ancient legend that has served as the basis for a number of Chinese operas, offering here a synthesis of East and West. Scored for a solo violin and Western orchestra, the work makes use of themes from traditional Shaoxing opera, popularised in a film of the 1950s, while the solo violin part reflects something of the technique of the er-hu, the two-string Chinese fiddle. The work is in one continuous movement, its three sections corresponding to the demands of the narrative and to the divisions of Western sonata form.


The story itself is well known in China, although there are some variants in the tale as it is told. Zhu Yingtai, an intelligent and ambitious girl, disguises herself as a boy and sets out for Hangzhou, to study. On her journey she meets Liang Shanbo, a poor scholar, who is also going to Hangzhou for the same purpose. They soon find much in common and swear to become blood brothers. During their three years of study together, they develop a deep friendship, but later Zhu Yingtai is urged by her father to return home. During her years of study she has fallen in love with Liang Shanbo, but has been too shy to admit it to him. He is reluctant to say good-bye to Zhu Yingtai and walks with her on the first eighteen miles of her journey home, parting at a pavilion, before she continues her journey. He is still unaware of Zhu Yingtai’s true identity, in spite of the hints she has dropped, which the boy has not understood. This forms the first section of the concerto. In the central development Zhu Yingtai defies her father, who has arranged a marriage for her with the son of a rich neighbour. Liang Shanbo decides to visit his friend, and discovers, to his surprise and delight, that Zhu Yingtai is a girl. Sadly she tells him of her father’s plan for her. Liang leaves her, in sorrow, and soon dies of unhappiness. On Zhu Yingtai’s wedding-day, when the wedding procession from the Zhu’s to the house of her new husband passes by Liang’s grave, Zhu Yingtai insists on leaving the bridal palanquin, to mourn at the grave. At that moment a thunderstorm breaks. In the heavy rain, Liang Shanbo’s grave suddenly opens. Zhu Yingtai immediately leaps in, before the grave closes again. After the storm, a rainbow appears. Among the flowers rise two butterflies, said to be the souls of the immortal lovers, transformed and now united for ever.


Songs and Dances of the Silk Road, a suite for solo violin and Western orchestra, 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. These themes are used by the Slovak-born composer Peter Breiner to form a suite that provides a further synthesis of East and West. Well known internationally for his many recordings, broadcasts, telecasts and concert appearances, Peter Breiner had his musical training at the Ko‰ice Conservatory and at the Academy of Performing Arts in Bratislava, where he was a composition pupil of Alexander Moyzes. In 1992 he settled in Canada, where he has continued his varied career as a composer, conductor and pianist. In his suite he draws on Chinese melodies to create an attractive and skilfully crafted addition to solo violin repertoire. A Beloved Rose, also known as Dao Da’er and Ma Liya, is a Kazakh folk-song, celebrating the rose as it comes into bloom. The Half Moon Climbs is an Uygur folk-song that became popular in the 1940s. When the half moon climbs up into the sky and shines onto the girl’s dressing-table, the boy can no longer suppress his feelings towards her, and serenades her through her window. Spinning is a folk-song from Gansu province. The spinners rest their hope on the spinning-wheel, as they work day and night. Work All Out is a well-known work-song from Northwestern China, suggesting unity of purpose. Sa li hong ba is a folk-song, previously known as Where do the camel caravans come from?, but re-arranged during the 1940s and 1950s. This Uygur song depicts the merchants travelling from Xinjiang. The caravan approaches from the distance, before the main theme emerges, the solo violin leading the caravan forward in the vast surrounding desert. The song Lan Hua Hua is widely known in Shanxi and the North of China. In a village in Shanxi the beautiful Lan Hua Hua has been forced to marry a rich husband. She resents this kind of marriage, and meets her lover secretly, her sadness reflected in the music. Following Muslim custom, some women belonging to ethnic minorities in Xinjiang wear the veil. The Uygur folk-song Lift Your Veil celebrates a wedding. After lifting up the veil of his bride, the bridegroom sings in happiness, the music a reflection of the man’s joy and the girl’s modesty. Tulufan is based on Xinjiang folk-song themes, heard as grapes are harvested and lovers united.


Keith Anderson

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