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New Zealand String Quartet Records Works by Asian Composers for Naxos

November 21, 2010

Between 21–24 July 2010 in St Anne’s Church, Toronto, Ontario, the New Zealand String Quartet recorded works by Asian composers for release on Naxos 8.572488. The works recorded were: Tan Dun Eight Colors, Toru Takemitsu A way a Lone, Gao Ping Bright Light and Cloud Shadows, Chinary Ung SPIRAL III and Zhou Long Song of the Ch’in.

Photo courtesy of Maarten Holl

‘A wonderful combination of repertoire. There are some very individual and characterful composers coming out of Asia these days, and we think we’ve got some of the best on this disc. We very much enjoyed recording in the beautiful acoustics of St. Anne’s Church, with the fine ears of Norbert Kraft behind the microphones. Only the traffic noise sometimes interrupted us in full flight! Some of the music is very soft indeed so we needed to do some late night sessions for minimum ambient noise. We also had to schedule our breaks around shift change times in the chocolate factory across the street!’

— Helene Pohl, first violin

‘This collection of works by Asian composers is a fascinating mix. There are sounds imitating the voices in Chinese opera in the Tan Dun, and many special string effects—glissandi, hitting the strings with our hands, Eight Colors is sometimes humorous, sometimes soulful.

‘The piece by Zhou Long also uses traditional Chinese sounds, with the 4 modern western instruments imitating the ancient bowed multi-stringed instrument, the Ch ’in. Here one can imagine village life, happy songs, the fisherman rowing into shore—there’s even the sound of creaking oars.

Bright Light and Cloud Shadows by Gao Ping, (also from China, though now living in New Zealand,) is perhaps the most delicate of the works on the disc, with some sounds imitating brush strokes on paper. Based on an ancient poem and famous painting, it depicts sounds of nature with a human cry of a falling whole-tone interspersed throughout. At one point the rumble of approaching Genghis Khan armies threatens the peace.

‘Takemitsu explores a different, more meditative world, full of soft unified sounds, with the players in close harmony and similar rhythm, rising and falling, exploring Debussy-like colours and Webern-like harmonies—a very special piece.

Spiral lll from Cambodian composer Chinary Ung, is a unique sound world with vivid colours, an atmosphere of ecstasy and total sensuality.’

— Gillian Ansell, viola

‘Following their magnificent 3 CD set of Mendelssohn string quartets, the New Zealand String Quartet have now turned their artistry to the works of 5 contemporary composers with Oriental origins. These are all pieces written within the last quarter century, and exhibit not only elements of the composers’ origins, but all feature a wide range of colours, contrasts, and musical direction, while each displays great originality and individuality.

‘With their huge dramatic palette, the NZSQ explore every aspect of this music, from extreme dynamic changes, and sparkling dissonance, to unabashed heart-on-sleeve lyricism and impressionism, with an elegance and depth that only a mature string quartet can achieve.

‘During the sessions, the New Zealanders’ lively discussions and dialogue in turn informed the musical dialogue, and it seems that the performance is a living thing, growing and being refined and polished during the course of the recording. I always come away from these sessions feeling enriched and especially so in the case of this program. There are some familiar works and others less known, but there is much to reward the listener in what may be another landmark disc.’

— Norbert Kraft, producer


New Zealand String Quartet Biography & Discography

Naxos Chinese Classics series

Naxos Japanese Classics series


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