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Robert Schulslager
Fanfare, October 2008

“Spirits” pairs Hannibal with Chen Yue, a Chinese bamboo flutist, in a mellow recital combining traditional English, Chinese, Japanese, Hungarian, and Catalan music with one piece each by Bach (the ever-popular Air on the G String), Vivaldi (the Largo from The Four Season’s Winter, played in a faster-than-usual tempo), and Ulrik Neumann (a nostalgic Love Waltz with a Russian soul). Chen is a sensitive and expressive musician. Her lovely tone, tasteful slides, and exquisite timing beautify everything she plays; her performances of Chinese music are especially memorable. Lars Hannibal is an attentive accompanist and a virtuoso in his own right. His sophisticated arrangements—in the Chinese pieces he convincingly imitates traditional ch’in and pipa technique—treat both instruments as true partners. The two also perform as soloists—three tracks each—and Chen overdubs two flutes in Autumn Piece.

Gramophone, August 2008

Interesting, charming and unique offering

This is an absolutely beautiful release that brings you peace and quiet, like a brook that you can jump into anytime without blocking it, so that the stream smoothly runs by. Chenyue’s Xiao and Hannibal’s guitar mingle the soft and sensitive tunes with humble love. You can turn on the CD anytime and the music immediately flows from all corners to cuddle you in a delicate and elegant atmosphere; you can also walk away at any time without getting lost.

Chenyue’s Xiao and Hannibal’s guitar are the only instruments throughout the album. Simple, but the cooperation is full of plain and glamorous human love. It feels like having a visit from a friend, and you play alone or listen or play together to make a beautiful tune. Both of them are definitely remarkable in their respective field. Chenyue is already quite a pioneer of working with musicians from different fields and the best proof of this is the innovative and impressive consistency of each new recording.  Lars Hannibal, who graduated from Royal Academy of Music in Arhaus, the second largest city in Denmark, is quite familiar with China and was invited to Shanghai International Jazz Festival because of his cooperation with EMI as one of the top jazz players. During that visit, he fell in love with Chinese music and culture.

“East Meets West” is a music dialogue between two musicians where they communicate, switch roles and try to open up, all through music. They selected 18 melodious and contented pieces from Eastern and Western music including old Chinese pieces, European Baroque music and some very popular folk songs from Asia and Europe—they avoid unnecessary impurities, so that they can express themselves with their own traditional and classic music. Though there are differences between Eastern and Western music, they share something, especially in the selected traditional tunes and folk songs in which the Xiao from the East and the classic guitar from the West are harmoniously sounding perfect.  This was also the concept for the cooperation between these two artists.

“Jasmine” starts the release, several clear Harmonics brings the delicate prelude, followed by Chenyue’s Xiao. Obviously, the song is so well-known and touching that the player “sings" from the bottom of her heart and the guitar plays deep down the petal. In “The Last Rose of Summer”, Chenyue extends Xiao’s possibilities outside traditional Chinese music field so that her peaceful breathing beautifully expresses the music. The guitar performance is classical. The melody sounds like a melodious pen dipped with Xiao’s tune, elegantly pointing to a piece of paper fluterring in the summer breeze. “Three Variations on Plum Blossom” is a Xiao solo instead of Chinese zither and because of Chenyue’s plain and smooth playing, the distance and coldness is softened. It’s the first time to hear Air by Bach on Xiao and guitar, a little surprising. To select “Autumn Piece” is a wise decision, the exquisite arpeggiando brings the joy and you can almost hear the Xiao in the smoke. “El Noi de la Mare”, “La Filadore” and “Love Waltz” are clean and clear guitar solos full of emotions expressed through excellent skills to fill our hearts with happy sadness. I prefer “Gypsy Air” not just for the wonderful cooperation but the music itself—a sad ethnic piece, landing softly on our souls.

Reading the booklet of the CD, one can find many descriptions on the meaning of spirits and soul, as the connection between East and West is being analyzed.. The title “East Meets West” implies a little conflict and contradiction. However, the interesting, charming and unique offering is capped with a bigger hat. Thoughts are always a burden to music.

American Record Guide, June 2008

OUR Recordings’ Spirits features Danish guitar virtuoso Lars Hannibal in duet settings with a virtuoso of a kind not widely familiar in the West: soloist Chen Yue plays the Xiao, a bamboo flute as endemic to China’s traditional music as rice is to its diet. The program is sub-titled “East meets West” and the program, made up of short pieces, is sort of a goulash of a lot of different kinds of tunes, not only Chinese melodies but bits of Bach and Vivaldi and tunes native to Denmark, Hungary, Japan, Catalonia…despite the wide variety of the material, Spirits and its perhaps unprecedented combination of Xiao and guitar, maintains a strikingly homogenous sound. The program is varied through occasional solo turns taken by both artists; Chen Yue’s pieces are especially lovely, as her control of the Xiao is as natural as breathing. Hannibal’s solo contributions are a good example of a facility not many virtuosi truly master; the Kreisler-like ability to play something relatively simple very well, even though you have chops to burn. As a whole, Spirits maintains a quiet, even-keel approach that makes for very pleasant listening, perhaps with a glass of burgundy and crackling flame in the fireplace.

Some may feel this is too New Agey for their tastes. Traditional Chinese music has sounded this way for a long time, well before the whole concept of either World Music or New Age came about in the West, and in China, anything that does not sound Chinese is automatically foreign. One might try re-tuning their ears a bit and dropping pre-conceived notions before approaching Spirits; those who cannot do so will miss a satisfying, and certainly relaxing, recital on an instrument that Chen Yue brings to life with her quiet and low key, though in its way astounding, artistry and seamlessly fluid tone.

James Manheim, May 2008

Seemingly in tandem with China’s growth as an economic player, a steady stream of releases of Chinese music, often displaying some kind of interaction with the West, has been appearing on the market. The Western influence, of course, is not new. Anyone who remembers the Chinese folk music beloved by the Maoists cannot fail to have been struck by the degree of Western harmony present in many of the arrangements. (Of course, that shouldn’t have been a surprise, either, given the origins of Communism itself.) This release from Denmark’s OUR label is both highly listenable and fascinating in terms of the cultural meeting points it represents. Chinese bamboo flutist Chen Yue and Danish guitarist Lars Hannibal take as a point of departure the fact that, however inscrutable they may appear to each other, Chinese traditional music and European concert music meet in the emphasis each places on melody, greater than in most of the world’s other musical traditions. The mixture of Chinese and European on this album, which seems simple at first, turns out to be quite subtle. The program is a mixture of Chinese and Western tunes. Some of the Western ones, drawn from both classical and traditional repertories, are familiar (The Last Rose of Summer); some much less so. The pentatonic scales of the Chinese pieces are reduced to Western scale degrees, while the Western melodies seem to have been chosen for intervallic content and melody shapes that are intelligible in Chinese terms. The paradoxical result is that the Western tunes, if you sit and listen to this album for a while, start to sound Chinese, and the Chinese ones start to sound Western. The booklet is a minor masterpiece in itself (When mystic plain Oriental music is mixed with a romantic Western classical style, what do you feel? This is our sincere love for beautiful music!). Highly recommended, whether you are interested in musical mixtures or just like the sound of the bamboo flute, beautifully played.

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