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Surrealistic Landscapes - Man-Ching Donald Yu

Yu / Li / Lugansk Academic Philharmonic / Chernyak
Release Date: 11/13/2012 
Label:  Albany Records   Catalog #: 1378  
Composer:  Man-Ching Donald Yu
Performer:  Amanda LiBonnie ChungDonald YuCaleb Woo Wing Ching,   ... 
Conductor:  Serhij ChernyakJimmy Chan
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Lugansk Academic PhilharmonicHong Kong Chamber OrchestraOpera Hong Kong Chorus,   ... 
Number of Discs: 1 
Recorded in: Stereo 
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Notes and Editorial Reviews

YU Symphony No. 1 11,12. From the Depth 4, 8,9,10. Octet for Strings. 6 Sunset in my Homeland. 7 The Maximum Speed of Raphael’s Madonna. 1,3 Explosion for Piano. 3 Disintegration for Piano and Electronics. 3 Read more class="ARIAL12bi"> Two Poems by Ya Hsien. 3 Breeze 2 1 Bonnie Chung, 2 Edwin Yu (fl); 3 Donald Yu (pn); 4 Amanda Li (sop); 5 Caleb Woo Wing Ching (bar); 6 Ukraine String Octet; 7 Equinox Trio; 8 Op Hong Kong Ch; 9 Jimmy Chan, cond; 10 Hong Kong CO; 11 Serhij Chernyak, cond; 12 Lugansk Academic Philharmonic ALBANY 1378 (78:00)

The present CD contains a generous sampling of music by Hong Kong composer and pianist, Dr. Man-Ching Donald Yu, who was born in 1980. As a pianist, Yu made his debut at the age of 16 with the Pan Asia Symphony Orchestra, and eventually earned a B.A. degree from Baylor University. Further musical studies took him to the Internationale Sommerakademie Universität Mozarteum in Salzburg, and he completed his education, being awarded a Ph.D. in composition and music theory at Hong Kong Baptist University. He is currently on the faculty of the Hong Kong Institute of Education.

The more than 150 compositions in Yu’s portfolio range from instrumental, vocal, and chamber pieces to large-scale operatic, choral, and symphonic works. The music on this, the second CD devoted to the composer’s music, has been selected to give an overview of the breadth of the genres in which this composer writes. Yu’s style, given that the reader likely is (as I was) encountering his name for the first time, forms an arresting and personal intermixing of tonal and atonal languages, with the musical colors and gestures of his native country infiltrating the mix.

Yu’s First Symphony (he has written two to date) is a powerful work, and rather dark in timbre, perhaps a cousin to the symphonies of Allan Pettersson. A three-movement work of some 20 minutes’ duration, the symphony remains one of its composer’s more substantial pieces. The more-or-less atonal language is softened by Yu’s use throughout of lyrical melodic elements. The work is cast in a cyclical form wherein motives from each of the movements show up in the others, serving to solidify the structure of the work. The quiet opening flute solo of the second movement yields to an energetic section that keeps the entire orchestra very busy, as motives are tossed adroitly from one orchestral choir to the next. The third movement begins with several ominous strokes on the timpani and the somber tone of the work continues, drawing on minor seconds and other dissonant intervals, but the symphony ends with a powerful and more-or-less affirming major triad.

From the Depth is Yu’s setting of Psalm 130, sometimes known by its Latin title, De Profundis. Many composers (this writer included) have set this stirring text, in which the exiled ancient Israelites cry out in despair from their Babylonian captivity. Yu’s stated intention in setting this psalm is to reflect on various unspecified unjust acts that have occurred in the world in modern times. There are plenty of these from which to draw one’s inspiration, to be sure. After a suitably solemn introduction, a soprano solo soars above the orchestra, and is shortly joined by the chorus, intoning the text in gentle harmonies. In the central portion of the work, the music reaches its dramatic zenith, becoming more agitated and chromatic. The work, like the symphony, is a powerful one, even in its quieter moments, although it is cut from a more tonal cloth than is its predecessor.

The harmonic language of the Octet for Strings reverts to that used in the symphony, and much of the work is ethereal and almost surreal in its effect upon the auditor. Tremolo and other devices are used to enhance the pitch set (0,1,4, e.g., C, D?, E) that spins forth the work. The pitch set is expanded and contracted in various ways as the piece proceeds through slow outer sections alternating with fast, rhythmic sections in 6/16 meter. Sunset in My Homeland, scored for clarinet, violin, and piano, was written for the Equinox Trio, which is comprised of those instruments. This work follows a long tradition of music inspired by art—in this case, a 2001 painting, Sunset, by Chinese artist Zhang Guanghai. Here, I hear somewhat more overt references to Chinese music, with pitch bends in the clarinet and guzheng-like sounds from the piano in its lower register. Like the painting, this music also tends towards the dark side of musical expression.

In the next four works, we get to hear the considerable pianistic abilities of the composer. The Maximum Speed of Raphael’s Madonna is a work for flute and piano, and is also inspired from the world of art. In this case, the painting is the Salvador Dalí surrealistic canvas of the same name. The musical language is largely abstract and atonal, as it is in the following Dalí-inspired work for solo piano, Explosion (after the painting of the same name). In this work, a number of abstract variations are worked out in this brief and rather virtuosic piece. Dalí, clearly a favorite painter of the composer, also served as the inspiration of Disintegration for piano and tape, the painting being his Disintegration of the Persistence of Memory. The tape part was produced by the Granular Cloud Generator, and maintains a shimmering presence throughout the work, while the pianist plays musical filigree over this sonic background. It’s all extremely evocative and effective—all the more so if you know the original Dalí painting, which if you know anything about his work, you very likely do.

In his vocal music, Yu seems to trend more towards tonality. This is true, at least, of the Two Poems by Ya Hsien, and From the Depth, discussed above, as well as his Requiem to which I listened on his website. Two Poems was commissioned by the International Writers Workshop, and sets the poetry of the renowned Taiwanese poet. The texts, “Autumn Song” and “Blue Well” set a largely conjunct melodic vocal line against a kind of musical commentary by the piano, oftentimes in the extremes of its register. The CD closes with Breeze, a work for solo flute, in which the solo lines are interrupted by trills, sounds of breathing, fillips, and other effects.

The recorded sound of this CD, especially in the works for larger forces, is a bit rough around the edges, and the orchestras occasionally betray a ragged edge in their otherwise generally good readings. One could also find fault with the intonation of the soprano soloist in From the Depth. However, these are peccadilloes, and did not detract from my enjoyment of Yu’s finely wrought music. Consequently, I recommend this disc most heartily to those who find themselves absorbed in the music of our time.

FANFARE: David DeBoor Canfield
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Works on This Recording

Symphony no 1 by Man-Ching Donald Yu
Conductor:  Serhij Chernyak
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Lugansk Academic Philharmonic
From the Depth for Soprano, Chorus & Orchestra by Man-Ching Donald Yu
Performer:  Amanda Li (Soprano)
Conductor:  Jimmy Chan
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Hong Kong Chamber Orchestra,  Opera Hong Kong Chorus
Octet for Strings by Man-Ching Donald Yu
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Ukraine String Octet
Sunset in My Homeland by Man-Ching Donald Yu
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Equinox Trio
The Maximum Speed on Raphael's Madonna by Man-Ching Donald Yu
Performer:  Bonnie Chung (Flute), Donald Yu (Piano)
Explosion by Man-Ching Donald Yu
Performer:  Donald Yu (Piano)
Disintegration for Piano & Electronics by Man-Ching Donald Yu
Performer:  Donald Yu (Piano)
Two Poems by Ya Hsien for Baritone & Piano by Man-Ching Donald Yu
Performer:  Caleb Woo Wing Ching (Baritone), Donald Yu (Piano)
Breeze for Flute Solo by Man-Ching Donald Yu
Performer:  Edwin Yu (Flute)

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