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Allen Gimbel
American Record Guide, March 2010

The piece’s exotica is thoroughly Bartokian, and should make a welcome addition to the (Western) clarinet trio repertoire.

All performances, and engineering, are exemplary…

Allen Gimbel, May 2009

Bright Sheng’s Spring Dreams (1999) was commissioned by violinist Cho-Liang Lin after hearing Yo-Yo Ma perform the original version of the piece for cello in 1997 (not yet recorded, to my knowledge). Scored for the traditional Western string soloist and an orchestra of Chinese instruments, this coupling of two separate atmospheric tone poems blends the cultures into an entertaining global divertissement. The lengthy opening movement, ‘Midnight Bells’, is based on a Tang Dynasty (8th Century) poem depicting a nocturnal river scene; the finale, ‘Peking Opera’, takes its musical material from a suicidal sword dance from an actual Peking opera (in fact, Farewell My Concubine—no explicit relation to the movie).

The Concerto is virtuosic and colorful, though it would probably be appreciated best in performance, with the exotic array of period instruments spread about the stage and the Western violin functioning as protagonist (though here it is played by a Chinese violinist: it would be interesting having that role played by a Westerner). In any event, Cho-Liang Lin is an accomplished player, amply trained in both cultures, and he makes as good a case for this music as possible.

The remaining two pieces on this short program are chamber works. Mr Lin and pianist André-Michel Schub are paired in Three Fantasies (2006), which sandwich a violent ‘Tibetan Air’ between two sublime pentatonic-flavored ‘Songs’. The closer adds clarinet for a fine three-movement trio titled Tibetan Dance (2001), with the composer as pianist. A beautiful ‘Prelude’ sets up a sensitive setting of the Chinese folk song ‘Little Cabbage’, leading into the ‘Tibetan Dance’ proper, which ambles along with instrumental tapping and bumptious piano clusters. The piece’s exotica is thoroughly Bartokian, and should make a welcome addition to the (Western) clarinet trio repertoire.

All performances, and engineering, are exemplary, though some might feel a bit cheated by the relatively brief total timing (Naxos is inexpensive, though).

David Denton
David's Review Corner, January 2009

Born in Shanghai in 1955, Bright Sheng has lived much of his mature life in the United States, the final part of his education taken up in private study with Leonard Bernstein. Though banished to a distant rural location during China’s Cultural Revolution, Sheng was able to continue playing the piano and could assimilate folk music and the use of traditional Chinese instruments. The two cultures have now combined in an impressive catalogue of compositions, North American orchestras providing high profile premieres. Commissioned by New York’s Carnegie Hall, Spring Dreams dates from 1997 and was originally written for solo cello and Chinese Instruments. A new commission from the Hong Kong Chinese Orchestra two years later saw the work reshaped with the solo line taken up into the violin range and dedicated to the soloist on this disc, Cho-Liang Lin. In two movements—Midnight Bells and Spring Opera—the first reflects its title in a rather obvious and predictable Chinese fashion, the second taking its theme from the famous Peking Operas. As a personal reaction, I find myself enjoying Sheng when his Eastern influences colour rather than dominate, the Tibetan Dance, for violin, clarinet and piano, using the instruments resourcefully, the finale a most engaging fast and raucous dance. The Three Fantasies completed in 2006, dedicated to Lin, and for violin/piano duo, is equally likeable, with the soulful final Kazakhstan Love Song, a gently lilting piece of considerable beauty. I will take the Singapore Chinese Orchestra at face value, but would add that Lin’s playing throughout is excellent, his colleagues—Bright Sheng as the pianist in the Tibetan Dance—being off outstanding quality.

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