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Ronald E. Grames
Fanfare, January 2018

One of Sheng’s earliest chamber works is Four Movements for Piano Trio (1990)… It impressed with the pleasing balance of delicacy and power, the use of dissonances arising, often gently, out of the essentially pentatonic tonality, and the exquisite balance of the voices. Since then, Sheng has developed—or returned to—a more assertive style—rhythmically sharper, more dissonant—which is still clearly in his voice, but seemingly even more influenced by Western modern music.

Northern Lights for cello and piano, the namesake of the album, is the big surprise. Expanding his exploration of folk melodies beyond those of his native and adopted countries, Sheng incorporates Norwegian and Scandinavian folk music into his compositional palette and explores parallels here with Appalachian and bluegrass music. The shimmering image of the Aurora borealis—the northern lights—is an apt simile for the complex and variegated luminosity of the work, and for the incandescent playing of cellist Julian Schwarz.

In fact, all of the musicians here are remarkable for their commitment and ability. The recordings, made in Hong Kong and New York, are vivid and intimate. © 2018 Fanfare Read complete review

Allen Gimbel
American Record Guide, November 2017

All of this is well crafted and exceptionally well played. © 2017 American Record Guide Read complete review on American Record Guide

James Manheim, August 2017

Chinese-born American composer Bright Sheng, based in Michigan, devises structures that are deep fusions of Chinese and Western idioms, and has even gone so far as to say that he is 100 percent Chinese and 100 percent Western. He often uses Chinese folk melodies of various kinds in his compositions, integrating them with Western textures and structures, but he has rarely taken a Western folk tradition as the starting point as he does here in the title work, Northern Lights, for cello and piano. …Sheng makes the cello stand in for this instrument at several junctures, using various techniques… The other works, all recent chamber pieces by Sheng are equally interesting. Two of them involve a marimba, an instrument that is neither Chinese nor Western and that fits nicely with Sheng’s use of timbre as a structural element. © 2017 Read complete review

David Denton
David's Review Corner, July 2017

Bright Sheng was born in Shanghai in 1955, but moved to New York in 1982 where he continued his studies in composition and conducting with Leonard Bernstein. He is a composer who is obviously fascinated by sounds and wishes to communicate those to the listener in a way that at times challenges our thoughts on traditional classical composition. So we have to come to terms with Northern Lights, which he informs us is a work for cello and piano based on Scandinavian folk music. That might come as a surprise to those who know that genesis. What we do have is a mix of melody and atonality, the third movement basically a song for cello, while the finale is akin to a swarm of bees in a hectic dance of death. When he moves back to his Chinese influences in Melodies of a Flute, we also enter the seductive world of Hollywood romance in the opening Flute and Phoenix, followed by a brilliant display of marimba virtuosity in Lotus Flowers. From 1990, the Four Movements for Piano Trio returns him to Asia and to his homeland, the joyful second movement a delightful folk song from Si-Chaun area of China, a region particularly in our thoughts today in the dreadful mudslide that has devastated it. Finally, a sense of lonesomeness that those scenes have just generated. Sweet May Again lifts the gloom in a jazzy solo for double-bass with piano accompaniment. Finally a two movement duet for violin and marimba, Hot Pepper, the music at times coming close to an American hoedown. A catalogue of performers take part, Pius Cheung’s brilliant marimba, and the violinist, Dan Zhu, calling for a special mention, while the composer is the pianist in his Piano Trio. Reliable close-up sound quality. © 2017 David’s Review Corner

Records International, July 2017

Sheng has repeatedly impressed in previous offerings (10R074, 04P089, 01L098) by his accessible, communicative style that effortlessly integrates modes and material from traditional Chinese music into a Romantic western idiom. This nicely varied program of chamber music is no exception. Northern Lights finds the composer experimenting with folk idioms from another culture—Norway—assimilated via its relationship to the folk music of the composer’s adopted America into his familiar language. The intriguing result is music of charm and character that suddenly reminds one of something that Grainger or Grieg might have done with folk songs of the north. The other pieces draw on Chinese folk melodies and styles rendered into western concert music. The two legends based on poetry of Li Qing Zhao (1084–c.1151), full of longing, nostalgia and sensuous metaphor, are especially memorable. The dynamic and virtuosic contrabass piece, after a poem by William Carlos Williams, is more extrovert, and a strikingly muscular foil to the watercolor imagery of the other works here. © 2017 Records International

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