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George Adams
American Record Guide, May 2013

Lei Liang’s Verge is a gripping and engaging work for 18 solo strings, which are taken full advantage of in their timbre and potential for sound. The music here stands out among many new records for its vitality and directness… © 2013 American Record Guide Read complete review on American Record Guide

Record Geijutsu, March 2013

Lei Liang’s fourth solo CD includes four recent pieces. In his earlier works, elements of traditional Chinese and Asian music are absorbed within a language of contemporary Western music: only occasionally do they emerge; at other times we can only glimpse them subtly. In most of the pieces on this disc, however, these elements are foregrounded. This foregrounding is most evident in Liang’s use of the Chinese pipa and an orchestra of Chinese instruments; in addition, however, most of the pieces are clearly constituted by an alternation between sections strongly influenced by traditional Asian musics and others which are not. At times we almost have the impression of listening to traditional music, and yet the composer’s personality emerges in the way these various elements are brought together and unified. What is retained from his previous discs is the consistently beautiful sonority—refined and gentle—and the music’s skillfully controlled dynamic development. The only piece on the disc in which we do not hear a pentatonic scale is Aural Hypothesis. This piece is articulated by explosive piano passages emerging suddenly from calm sustained notes and interweaving glissandi. It is particularly remarkable for the subtly changing gradations of pitch and of timbre. © Record Geijutsu

Ettore Garzia
Percorsi Musicali, January 2013

Lei Liang’s approach to contemporary music is amazing: he belongs to a category of composers who does not use ethnic traditions in overly simplistic ways (as described in the CD liner notes), and he focuses his music on the “memory ”of his land - a sort of imaginary sounds that have been etched in his memory before he moved to the United States. These sounds stored in some part of his mind reappear at the right time in the compositional process: all musical instruments are involved in these sound processing of frames of mind. I really think that few composers of his native China have been able to produce a result so special, perhaps Chou Wen-chung might be his natural predecessor, but the originality of these four recent compositions, recorded on Naxos Records, confirms the concept of musical “totality” that pushes the Eastern tradition (especially Chinese, Japanese and Mongolian) to adopt the rules of contemporary techniques. Beyond any other ephemeral consideration, the music shows critical breaks and dynamism, the instruments individually try to “live” the representation, and the overall result leaves a pleasant feeling that is often hard to find in contemporary music.

“Verge” is a composition that involves 18 solo strings, in which we can appreciate the work done by Liang about structure: the musicians are used in a way unconnected in the background, nearly “cosmic”…the idea is to be sensitive spectators of an unknown journey where a hint of a Mongolian melody reveals to us a comet, where the mixture of violins is acidic and violent, or provides situations with rich orchestral dynamics, in the best tradition of contemporary composition. Magnus Lindberg was director of a recording with the New York Philharmonic. This piece probably tries to explore the boundaries of purity of the Mongolian heterophony in the face of American avant-garde theories.

“Aural Hypothesis”, dedicated to Chou Wen-chung, is an attempt to represent Chinese calligraphy: in this composition for flute, clarinet, violin, cello, piano and vibraphone, Liang is highly creative. He builds a “spatial” texture, almost a spectral form, with alternating moments when we can enjoy the contrast between auditory and silent spaces, and ultimately of a mysterious atmosphere. The performance of Callithumpian Consort conducted by Stephen Drury ensures an almost maniacal perfection of the work.

“Five Seasons”, for pipa and string quartet, is a musical simulation of some elements of nature related to the seasons (there are five due to Changxia, a transitional phase between the summer and autumn that binds it ideally to the Earth). As in the style of Lei, the strong points of the work (about 17 minutes in duration) are the solutions and the texture: the pizzicato in dynamic progress that seem to simulate flowing water, the youthful ghosts of Beijing’s cicadas, the quartet’s percussive attack that evokes Bartok and Cage, and the final movement that is totally in the hands of Wu Man’s pipa, an icon in the execution of the instrument (a kind of lute with four strings almost without handle). The work of many Eastern composers (Tan Dun, Bright Sheng, Bun-Ching Lam, etc.) and some western members of the musical current of minimalism related to the oriental culture (Terry Riley, Philip Glass, Carl Stone, etc.) have allowed the pipa to conquer a high degree of autonomy in the field of contemporary music of the last thirty years.

“Tremors of a Memory Chord”, for piano and grand Chinese orchestra, is a long and composite piece which reproduces traditional references: the piano (Pi-hsien Chen in World premiere) sounds like a condensation of ethnic elements revisited with a Western perspective: the piece has a cinematic tension but also an intrinsic enjoyment; it is an opposition based on the alternation between high and low tones of the piano evoking the “contemporary tremor”, an expression of sonic memory of Lei’s childhood, which is enriched by the pragmatism of Chinese orchestral instruments (lun, yao, pipa, guzheng, percussion). © Percorsi Musicali

Peter Grahame Woolf
Musical Pointers, January 2013

The production is meticulous, with the composer writing really informative notes and providing precise track timings to focus our attention to particular moments and transitions…

Strongly recommended… © 2013 Musical Pointers Read complete review

Daniel Stephen Johnson
WQXR (New York), December 2012

Verge, for string orchestra, seems at first forbiddingly crystalline—here, a series of jagged profusions of percussive noise; there, cool, transparent prisms of sound—but gives in, ultimately, and slides comfortingly into a folkloric sense of melody.

But if Verge is exciting, Tremors of a Memory Chord, scored for piano and grand Chinese orchestra, is a revelation. The combination of high-modern textural effects and the slightly alien (to Western ears) sonorities of Chinese instruments is at times unearthly, like tape music from one of Stockhausen’s especially extra-terrestrial moods, and at times positively uncanny, as if the Chinese musical tradition had been melted down and poured into surreal new shapes, while yet retaining familiar features of the original style.

The performances here are, without exception, stellar. Stephen Drury’s Callithumpian Consort scintillates in the brilliantly colored Aural Hypothesis for small ensemble, and Five Seasons stars Wu Man, rock star of the lute-like Chinese pipa, alongside the Shanghai Quartet. Passionately, but precisely, these interpreters make a powerful case for Lei Liang as a composer with the ears and the ingenuity to construct a boundless, and boundlessly thrilling, new music. © 2012 WQXR (New York) Read complete review

Grego Applegate Edwards
Gapplegate Classical-Modern Music Review, December 2012

It is all very convincing to me. The music itself, the performances and the sound staging all make for a compelling program. Anyone with a sense of musical adventure should respond to this recording. It gives a mini-portrait of Lei Liang’s striking music and I hope serves as the beginning of many such appearances to the music loving public. © 2012 Gapplegate Classical-Modern Music Review Read complete review

David Denton
David's Review Corner, December 2012

Born in China in 1972, Lei Liang moved to the States in 1990, and presently enjoys a growing reputation as one of the country’s most energizing young composers. He brings to the musical table a mix of influences from very different cultures, the haunting Verge for eighteen solo strings using conventional orchestral stings—it was commissioned by the New York Philharmonic—which in the outer sections produce sounds very akin to Chinese instruments. Let me bypass the composer’s thought process of Aural Hypothesis explained at length in the booklet, for it is the resultant music that concerns us. Written for flute, clarinet, violin, cello, piano and vibraphone, the composition come very close to electro-acoustic sounds. Still little known in the west, the Five Seasons features the traditional Chinese instrument, the pipa, its plucked sounds not a million miles away from a mandolin. For large passages it combines with a string quartet playing pizzicato. We do hear them bowed, but this is in the sense of creating effects as opposed to melody. Tremors of a Memory Chord was the first large scale commission following his arrival in the States, and is scored for piano and Chinese orchestra, the keyboard bringing a Western influence, while the percussion induces those sounds of ‘Japanese Drumming’ that have become a popular on the theatre stage. With the composer credited as the  disc’s ‘producer’, I will take the performances at face value, the sounds being intriguing, and the dynamic range ideal. © 2012 David’s Review Corner

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