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Chen Yi: Sound Of The Five


Release Date: 03/10/2009 
Label:  New World Records   Catalog #: 80691   Spars Code: n/a 
Composer:  Chen Yi
Performer:  Gordon RencherNiel DePonteRon BlessingerBrian Quincey,   ... 
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Third Angle New Music Ensemble
Number of Discs: 1 
Recorded in: Stereo 
Length: 0 Hours 54 Mins. 

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Notes and Editorial Reviews



CHEN Sound of the Five. Yangko. Sprout. Burning. Tibetan Tunes. Happy Rain on a Spring Night Ron Blessinger, dir; Third Angle New Music Ens NEW WORLD 80691 (54:45)


For the record, Chen is the family name of Chen Yi (b. 1953), but everyone I know (including those who know her well), call her Chen Yi, so I’ll do so here. The composer should be no stranger by now to listeners interested in contemporary music. She’s one of a potent handful of Chinese Read more composers who came of age during the Cultural Revolution of the 1970s, but who were young enough not to be broken by it (as a matter of fact, for many, the forced repatriation into the countryside seemed to help them rediscover traditional musical roots). Chen Yi is perhaps the most extroverted of these; her music has color, dynamism, and energy to spare. She’s also developed an extremely fluent and sophisticated way of blending Eastern and Western classical practice. From the former, she takes traditional modes, rhythmic patterns, motivic formulae, and timbral/intonational inflections. From the latter, she takes larger developmental forms, quick modal modulations, polymodality, Western instrumentation, and extended performance techniques. The result sounds Chinese without ever sounding self-consciously exotic. No mean feat.


This disc consists of chamber works, predominated by strings. Sound of the Five (1998) is for string quintet with a second cello; Yangko (2000–04) for violin with two percussionists; Sprout (1982–86) and Burning (2002) for string quartet; Tibetan Tines (2007) for piano trio; and Happy Rain on a Spring Night (2004) for mixed “Pierrot” quintet of flute, clarinet, violin, cello, and piano. Each has distinctive characteristics: Sound of the Five is the most substantial, being a four movement series of folkloristic portraits; Yangko is notable for the vocalizing (beat-box-like) of the percussionists; Sprout displays confident traditional counterpoint; Burning , as its title implies, is a passionate, propulsive work; the Tibetan Tunes are the only pieces to cite actual folk sources; Happy Rain on a Spring Night is for me the stunner of the group, a non-stop build of energy and color that crests and refreshes like an ocean wave (or the shower of its title).


At the same time, these works seem to be part of one vast work in progress. Chen Yi has a seemingly inexhaustible store of music within her, and combined with her masterful technique, whatever seizes her at a given moment seems to be the piece that emerges. The devices described in the first paragraph are always at work, in different degrees and combinations, in all this music. Having by now heard several recordings (and works in concert) by her, I remain a firm believer in her talent, musicality, and imagination. I also find myself wondering what a more architecturally expansive and ambitious work would sound like, one a little more abstract. I see from online sources that there are in fact three symphonies in her catalog, and I’d love to see what they do with the symphonic argument. Perhaps even more tantalizing is what, considering her feel for popular Chinese musics, would be the result if she wrote an opera. As far as I can tell, there isn’t one (but I may have missed it, or it may be in the pipeline), but despite there being not a lot of vocal music in her output, it seems that she could write something fresh and dazzling. Both Bright Sheng and Tan Dun have been given high-profile opportunities, and the results have received extremely mixed response. It seems it’s Chen Yi’s turn, if she’s interested.


I should emphasize that my curiosity about a different sort of music from the composer is only that. It’s important to celebrate what she does so effectively, and not to try to make her (or any artist) into something she is not, to force a dishonest remaking of the creative profile. For any interested in her work but unacquainted, this is an excellent introduction.


The hard-working musicians of Third Angle who morph into the varied ensembles are: Ron Blessinger, Greg Ewer, and Peter Franjola, violin; Brian Quincey, viola; Hamilton Cheifetz and Adam Esbensen, cello; Neil DePonte and Gordon Rencher, percussion; Susan Smith, piano; GeorgeAnne Ries, flute; and Todd Kuhns, clarinet.


FANFARE: Robert Carl
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Works on This Recording

1. Yangko by Chen Yi
Performer:  Gordon Rencher (Percussion), Niel DePonte (Percussion), Ron Blessinger (Violin)
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Third Angle New Music Ensemble
Period: 20th Century 
Length: 4 Minutes 43 Secs. 
2. Sprout by Chen Yi
Performer:  Brian Quincey (Viola), Greg Ewer (Violin), Hamilton Cheifetz (Cello),
Ron Blessinger (Violin)
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Third Angle New Music Ensemble
Period: 20th Century 
Length: 7 Minutes 7 Secs. 
3. Sound of the Five by Chen Yi
Performer:  Hamilton Cheifetz (Cello), Adam Esbensen (Cello), Brian Quincey (Viola),
Peter Frajola (Violin), Ron Blessinger (Violin)
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Third Angle New Music Ensemble
Period: 20th Century 

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