About this Recording
8.570607 - CHEN, G. / HE, Z.H.: Butterfly Lovers Piano Concerto (The) / CHU, W.H.: The Yellow River Piano Concerto (Jie Chen, New Zealand Symphony, C. Kuan)

Yin Chengzong / Sheng Lihong / Chu Wanghua / Liu Zhuang / Shi Shucheng / Xu Feisheng
The Yellow River Piano Concerto

(based on Yellow River Cantata by Xian Xinghai)

Throughout the long history of China, music has occupied an important position, in earlier times not least in its association with ceremonies of ultimate political significance. For the new rulers of China who came to power in 1949, music continued to have a significant rôle to play in society and in political education. This resulted in inevitable limitations and restrictions, while certain acceptable works enjoyed enormous popularity. One of these, The Yellow River Concerto, was based on the famous Yellow River Cantata by Xian Xinghai, a work dating from the period of the Second Sino-Japanese War (1937–1945), and devised by the committee of composers and musicians then considered advisable for such a task, Yin Chengzong, Sheng Lihong, Chu Wanghua, Liu Zhuang, Shi Shucheng and Xu Feisheng. The concerto, with solo piano arpeggios represent the waves of the river, leading to a strong and simple melody associated with the boatmen on the river, struggling against the forces of nature. The second movement depicts the grandeur of the scenery through which the river passes, while the third movement shows the river in anger, the challenge offered by the Yellow River a counterpart of the challenge offered by a foreign aggressor. The final movement opens with the patriotic melody Defend the Yellow River, leading to the triumph of the people, joining in victory.

Chen Gang / He Zhanhao
The Butterfly Lovers Piano Concerto

(arranged by Chen Gang from The Butterfly Lovers Violin Concerto, edited by Chen Jie)

The Butterfly Lovers Violin Concerto was written in 1958 by Chen Gang and He Zhanhao while they were students at the Shanghai Conservatory and was first performed in May the following year. Musically the concerto is a synthesis of Eastern and Western traditions, although the melodies and overall style are adapted from traditional Chinese Opera. The solo violin is used with a technique that recalls the playing technique of erhu, the Chinese two-string fiddle. It is a one-movement programmatic concerto, with three sections that correspond to the three phases of the story—Falling in Love, Refusing to Marry and Metamorphosis.

The narrative, derived from Chinese folk-lore, tells the story of the lovers Liang Shanbo and Zhu Yingtai. The two had been studying together, with Zhu Yingtai disguised as a boy, her identity unknown to her friend Liang Shanbo. Their period of study together and friendship is a happy one, which comes to an end when Zhu Yingtai is compelled to return home, and the couple part at a pavilion, eighteen miles from the city. This forms the exposition of a tripartite sonata-form movement.

In the central section, the formal development, Zhu Yingtai now defies her father, who has arranged a marriage for her. Liang Shanbo decides to visit Zhu Yingtai and only now finds out that she is a girl and about to be married. There is a tender duet between the solo violin and cello, now that Liang Shanbo realises the nature of his affection for his former companion. Liang Shanbo dies, the victim of despair, and Zhu Yingtai, on the way to her wedding, stops at her lover’s tomb and leaps into it. The tomb bursts open and at the sound of the gong the music reaches a climax.

In the final section of the concerto, the recapitulation, the love theme reappears and Liang Shanbo and Zhu Yingtai emerge from the tomb as a pair of butterflies, flying together, never again to be parted.

In 1985, Chen Gang arranged the Concerto for piano and orchestra. It was given its first performance and recorded by the renowned Chinese pianist Hsu Feiping.

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