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Sheng: China Dream, Etc / Wong, Gondek, Qiang, Hong Kong Po

Release Date: 03/18/2003 
Label:  Naxos   Catalog #: 8555866   Spars Code: DDD 
Composer:  Bright Sheng
Performer:  Zhang QiangJuliana Gondek
Conductor:  Samuel Wong
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Hong Kong Philharmonic Orchestra
Number of Discs: 1 
Recorded in: Stereo 
Length: 1 Hours 6 Mins. 

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Notes and Editorial Reviews

This selection of orchestral works by Bright Sheng combines certain "authentic-sounding" Chinese motifs and timbres within the tone-world of 20th-century Western music in a way that is often captivating and exciting. There is a little of everyone referenced here: Messiaen, Bartók, Bernstein, Crumb, Stravinsky, and others--and it's all expertly crafted, played with tremendous virtuosity and energy by the Hong Kong Philharmonic and presented in fine sound. These works nonetheless possess a derivative quality that suggests that for all his skills and growing renown, Sheng has yet to command attention as a true original.

The first work, China Dreams, is a suite of individually commissioned works that
Read more represent Sheng's reflections on his homeland. The opening Prelude is suffused with Chinese folk-like themes based on pentatonic scales, replete with "traditional"-sounding portamentos in the strings and swooping glissandos in the trombones. Together with the highly charged and percussive Fanfare, recollections of Stravinsky's Rite of Spring and, in particular, Le Chant du Rossignol, start to insistently excite the eardrums. The more melancholy but tensile The Stream Flows also makes ample use of the exaggerated portamento effect to re-create the sound of Chinese instruments--but the flavor of the piece is certainly more indebted to Bartók than anything else. The final and longest movement, The Three Gorges of the Long River, is an extended replay of the Prelude, but this time with a lot more frenetic percussion and brass playing to liven things up.

The songs based on poetry from the Sung Dynasty, while not as bombastic as the other works on this disc, show Sheng in a more intimate and meaningful light. At once tragic, emotionally wrenching, and highly dramatic, these poems of lost love and misfortune are declamatory in nature--Sprechstimme à la George Crumb. Soprano Juliana Gondek throws herself into the music and possesses a terrific phonetic command of Chinese. These pieces sound as if they're as much acted as sung, making enormous demands on the singer in terms of range and inflection. Think Ancient Voices of Children or Mario Davidovsky's recent Biblical vocal works in Chinese and you've got the picture.

A memorial to the massacre of Chinese at Nanking in 1937, the final work is as much a concerto obbligato for pipa (a Chinese lute) and orchestra as it is a threnody. Strains of Messiaen and Bernstein make their way into this rather long impressionistic work. The driving, propulsive rhythms in the strings bring to mind "The Jet Song" from West Side Story; the crashing of tam-tams, Chinese gongs, and suspended cymbals, combined with sudden passages for lushly-scored strings, the exuberant trumpet outbursts, and the low, raspy trombone snarls recall several of Messiean's large-scale orchestral works. Zhang Qiang is about as good a pipa player as you could find for the protagonist (serving as witness, survivor, and victim rolled into one) and plays the fast-paced passages with dazzle and flair. While Sheng's Western influences abound in these works, few listeners will be disappointed by the effort exhibited by all the parties involved.
--Michael Liebowitz, ClassicsToday.com Read less

Works on This Recording

China Dreams by Bright Sheng
Conductor:  Samuel Wong
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Hong Kong Philharmonic Orchestra
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1995 
Nanking! Nanking! by Bright Sheng
Performer:  Zhang Qiang (Pipa)
Conductor:  Samuel Wong
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Hong Kong Philharmonic Orchestra
Period: 20th Century 
Poems (2) from the Sung Dinasty by Bright Sheng
Performer:  Juliana Gondek (Soprano)
Conductor:  Samuel Wong
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Hong Kong Philharmonic Orchestra
Period: 20th Century 

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