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Penguin Guide, January 2009

Bright Sheng was born in Shanghai, experienced living through the Chinese Cultural revolution as a child and later studied composition at the local Conservatory of Music. In 1982 he moved to New York where he studied further, under Bernstein among others, winning various awards both in his homeland and in the USA. His highly accessible music has an individual voice and a vividly unpredictable orchestral palette. The spectacular China Dreams was composed between folk music. Fanfare, the second of the four movements, a brilliant toccata well laced with percussion, is immediately arresting, and the following evocation of lapping waters. Juliana Gondek joins the orchestra for the Two Poems, early works from 1985, the first short and exotic including some expert vocal glissandi, the second, longer, more a symphonic poem, with atmospheric orchestral writing and startling percussion.

Nanking! Nanking!, completed in 2000 and depicting the massacre when the Japanese swept into that ancient city in 1937, opens powerfully and stridently with remorseless rhythms and echoes of the Rite of Spring. The pipa (a short-necked Chinese lute) provides a ruminative retrospective narration, remembering both the darkness and the heroism of the survivors. But the music again generates considerable violence before, in a warm postlude for the strings, both elegiac and hopeful, the composer celebrates conclusion, with a final soliloquy from the pipa—so sensitively played here by Zhang Qiang—is interrupted by a brief but desperate final warning from the orchestra. These are surely definitely performances, with the Hong Kong Orchestra responding superb to the dedicated direction of Samuel Wong, and the recording is outstanding too.

William Dart
The New Zealand Herald, August 2003

"A spectacular canvas which fires the Hong Kong musicians to give of their best...Sheng's music is at its most explorative, and the sound of Gondek's creamy, Western-style classical voice taking on the sounds and techniques of Chinese traditional music is captivating...The solo pipa (a Chinese lute) is both onlooker and survivor, and poignantly so. Dramatic may be an understatement for the orchestra when it's going at full steam but, in the gentler moments, the consummate artistry of Zhang Qiang reveals why the instrument's sound has been likened to that of pearls falling on a jade tray...This is a disc which proves that World Music also happens in the concert hall."

Allen Gimbel
American Record Guide, August 2003

"The Naxos disc is a budget-priced sampling of Sheng's orchestral music...Samuel Wong's Hong Kong Philharmonic is a superior band to Lan Shui's Singapore Symphony, and Naxos gives Wong's ensemble more vivid and flattering sound; Wong also is slightly more leisurely, especially in the climactic IV, resulting in a more coherent structural grasp. So if you're in the market for this piece, I'd go with the Naxos."

S.G.S., July 2003

"Wong and the Hong Kong players give a truthful, rather than a generous performance. Gondek and Qiang make music out of the fiendish parts Sheng has given them. One doesn't think of the technique, but the complexity of expression. Both communicate like nobody's business...I listen to Qiang, however, with my jaw on the floor...virtuosity and poetry are that tightly woven."

Robert Maycock
BBC Music Magazine, June 2003

"Samuel Wong's conducting shapes everything as clearly as you could wish. Performance: ****. Sound: ****."

James Manishen
Winnipeg Free Press, April 2003

"It was Leonard Bernstein who convinced Bright Sheng that all music was 'fusion.' The Chinese born composer had just settled in the USA in 1982. He was 26, with the horrors of his Cultural Revolution experiences obviously imprinted when he met the impassioned American, who told him that Western music could incorporate Eastern culture.

That's most in view here in China Dreams, a lyrical, absorbing four-movement suite composed between 1992 and 1995 suggesting oriental instruments, pentatonic scale variants and Chinese percussion. The other items are hard-edged modern in the Bartok vein, with folk elements also suggested though in more a geo-political stance.

Nanking! Nanking! is a powerful, deeply felt threnody based on the massacre of that city's citizens during the 1937 Japanese occupation. Pipa player Zhang Qiang is at the centre of the striking 27-minute narrative. Two Poems from the Sung Dynasty involve love lost but of a uniquely Chinese tang.

Conductor Samuel Wong leads first class performances and the engineers spotlight every detail."

Mark Stryker
Detroit Free Press, April 2003

"Bright Sheng's career has reached a striking crescendo. In addition to a string of prestigious commissions, the University of Michigan composer won a $500,000 MacArthur genius grant in 2001 and his "Madam Mao" receives its premiere this summer at the Santa Fe Opera.

Meanwhile, Naxos has released this superb orchestral survey. Sheng's aesthetic is a marriage of Chinese folk materials with the Western orchestral tradition, and his ability to distill his cultural roots into non-cliched fits of Eastern melody, abstract harmony and fresh orchestration gives his music its power.

The 26-minute "Nanking! Nanking!" was inspired by the 1937 Japanese invasion of the city. The music opens with a moody portrait of peace, followed by machine-gun explosions of brass and percussion, pulverizing strings and hammered figures frightful in their intensity. A pipa (Chinese lute) offers strummed lamentations and pleas for humanity, but they cannot quell the brutality. Conductor Samuel Wong leads the authoritative performance. "Two Poems From the Sung Dynasty," tragic love poems, finds soprano Juliana Gondek supported by slippery wind lines, spooky strings and percussive thwacks. "China Dreams," a 25-minute symphony, inhabits a more comforting, picturesque world."

Ken Smith
Newark Star-Ledger, March 2003

"China Dreams, an orchestral suite assembled over time from three different orchestral commissions, is very lyrical, its stellar orchestration rendered with buoyancy and flexibility. Whether due to the Hong Kong Philharmonic's affinity for the music or to the composer's presence during the recording process, the results are superb."

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