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Bradley Winterton
Taipei Times, February 2016

This is a grand and entirely laudable scheme, comparable in many ways to some of Shostakovich’s symphonies devoted to the sufferings of the former Soviet Union. © 2016 Taipei Times Read complete review

Philip Scott
Fanfare, August 2007

The first thing to note about this release is the presence of star violinist Cho-Liang Lin. He once had a contract with Sony; now he appears on the Naxos label, playing two contemporary concertos. Quite a coup! Like Cho-Liang Lin, Gordon Shi-Wen Chin was born in Taiwan (in 1957) where he now resides, working as a teacher, music director, and a very active composer. He has written symphonies, concertos, and chamber music including five percussion quartets. Chin studied in the US with Christopher Rouse, and his music displays much of Rouse's customary energy, without being quite so aggressive about it. Lin asked for a work for violin and string orchestra which could be played without a conductor, to program alongside Vivaldi's Four Seasons: the wittily titled Formosa Seasons was the result. Similarly, the substantial Double Concerto was composed for Lin and Asian-Amercan cellist cellist Felix Fan (who has one of the most impressively wide ranging biographies I have read). With performers of this caliber—and I include conductor Michael Stern—you would expect the music to be special, and it is. Chin's Double Concerto for violin and cello is, to my ears, the finest in that form after Brahms. (There aren't hundreds to choose from, I know, but my point remains valid: this is great music.)

Its first movement opens vigorously, and the close relationship between the two soloists is established at once: they appear in tandem, building chords through double stopping, occasionally imitating each other but rarely working in opposition. The orchestra responds with stabbing chords, almost goading the string soloists on to greater flights, but this uneasy atmosphere soon dissipates one of the many patches of striving lyricism that permeate this work. The lyrical quality comes into its own in the romantic second movement, pitting the soloists against impressionistic orchestral textures. Then energy resurfaces in the third movement, which is notable for a piquant and tuneful waltz segment. Finally, the long, varied fourth movement, beginning in dramatic fashion with brass-heavy chords, revisits most of the moods heard earlier as a way of summing up, while at the same time expanding the dramatic landscape. It is a very effective conclusion. My description of the concerto does not begin to do justice to the incidental beauties in the writing along the way. Chin employs a contemporary language: little of it makes one think of traditional Chinese music (except possibly a number of sliding glissandos in the slow movement)—but if you're a fan of string concertos that soar, this is for you.

Formosa Seasons is also a substantial work, far from a simple divertimento. Each of the four movements is based upon a poem written by the composer. The poems tend to be haiku-like in form, conjuring up distinctive images from Chin's boyhood in Taiwan. (Translations are included in the CD booklet.) The related music is episodic and pictorial, full of detail and spontaneous shifts of mood. The second movement, "Autumn," surges with an almost tangible momentum in the strings while Lin's violin flies above, soon melting into one of the composer's most plaintive episodes. (Aptly so, autumn being the most ambivalent of the seasons!) "Winter" employs sparer textures, while the finale depicts springtime's renewal through strength rather than mere prettiness. In all four movements the solo part is a gift: soaring, diving, and generally putting the violinist through his technical and expressive paces.

Lin relishes every challenge. The same may be said for Fan, his equal in every way in the Double Concerto. Stern leads the excellent Kansas City Orchestra with vigor and commitment. Recording quality is close-up in the house style: I wanted more space around the players in Formosa Seasons, and the atmospheric soundscape of the Double Concerto's second movement would surely benefit from a little distance, but the musical qualities of the disc outweigh this minor grumble.

Over the last few years, Naxos has released a lot of music by lesser-known composers, and it is sometimes hard to know where to begin. If you feel that way, start here: a rewarding disc, featuring superlative performers and the work of a first-rate composer. Bring on the symphonies!

David Denton
David's Review Corner, March 2007

Bob McQuiston
Classical Lost and Found, March 2007

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