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Eastern Treasures: A Collection Of Asian Folk Songs

Chen,Chelsea & Lewis Wong
Release Date: 11/29/2011 
Label:  Cd Baby   Catalog #: 5637866301  
Composer:  Qui-dong Song ZhangDeng YuxianQuan-Sheng LuTong Su,   ... 
Performer:  Lewis WongChelsea Chen
Conductor:  Rebecca Tong
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Jakarta Simfonia
Number of Discs: 1 
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Notes and Editorial Reviews

EASTERN TREASURES: A Collection of Asian Folk Songs for Organ and Violin Lewis Wong (vn); Chelsea Chen, (org); Rebecca Tong, cond; Jakarta Simfonia CON BRIO CBR21141 (45:46)

ZHANG Rice Dumplings. DENG Spring Breeze. Four Seasons. Moonlight Blue. TRAD Three Children’s Songs. Jasmine. LU Read more class="ARIAL12bi">Cradle Song. SU The Country Farmer. Mountain of Youth. Q. CHEN Hills in Springtime. OKANO Haruga Kita. Oborozukiyo. NARITA Hamabeno Uta. KOBAYASHI Makkana Aki. ANON. Fuyugeshiki. KITAMURA Omoide. C. CHEN Jasmine Fantasy. BACH Cantata, BWV 156: Arioso

For years, before and after the Cultural Revolution, Chinese violinists and violinist-composers adapted traditional, folk-like songs for violin, making arrangements of them that sound at times like salon pieces by Fritz Kreisler or even virtuoso showpieces by Nicolo Paganini or Eugène Ysaÿe. Alternatively, they’ve composed new ones in similar styles. Violinist Lewis Wong and organist Chelsea Chen’s collection recalls others that I’ve had the pleasure of reviewing in Fanfare; but they’ve arranged most of the pieces in their program more recently (and composed several themselves)—what others began so long ago continues to the present day. Their program includes songs from Taiwan and Japan in addition to the ones from China; Chen accompanies Wong on the organ rather than on the piano.

Chen’s arrangements of Rice Dumplings (by Zhang Qui-dong Song) and Spring Breeze (by Deng Yu-Xien)—identified in the notes as Taiwanese songs from the late 1930s or early ’40s—feature the violinist preeminently, despite their lively organ parts; with the spotlight thus trained on him, Wong displays a glowing, rich tone in the lower registers and commanding, crisp articulation in the upper ones. He indulges portamentos that would fit well in another era but sound perfectly appropriate in the context of this imported music and help him draw a great deal of almost Western sentiment from these Eastern melodies. Wong’s arrangements of children’s songs for solo violin sound more oriental in their depictions of rain and a leaping frog; they pause to explore a more reflective state before returning to the original raindrops. The notes relate that Chen commissioned Jasmine, a generally straightforward setting of a Chinese folk song, from composer Yui Kitamura for Chen’s debut concert in Singapore.

Chen’s own arrangements of Taiwanese folk songs for solo organ (the piquant Four Seasons by Yu-Xien, The Cradle Song by Lu Quan-Sheng, and the exuberant Country Farmer by Su Tong) contrast wide-ranging timbres. The last of these, in particular, sounds so kaleidoscopic as to surpass by far the simplicity of folk settings, as do her arrangements of the pieces she’s assembled into the Taiwanese Suite (the bracing and colorful Hills in the Springtime by Chen Qui-Lin, the more reflective Moonlight Blue by Yu-Xien, and Mountain of Youth, by Tong, featuring the organ’s silvery upper registers).

The alternately starchy and honeyed-toned Wong returns for a set of Japanese tunes, all arranged by Yui Kitamura, beginning with the almost Johann Sebastian Bach-like Haruga Kita (Springtime Has Come), followed by the allusive Oborozukiyo (Hazy Moon) by Teichi Okano and the burbling, Johann Strauss-like Hamabeno Uta (Song of the Seashore) by the same composer, and the plaintive Makkana Aki (Red Autumn) by Hideo Kobayashi. Finally, Fuyugeshiki (Winter Scenery) leads to Yui Kitamura’s own nostalgic Omoide (Memories), in which Wong revels in the violin’s lower registers.

Chen’s arrangement of Jasmine Fantasy for violin and strings, in which the Jakarta Simfonia Orchestra accompanies Wong, displays Chen’s command of string sonorities: It’s a luxurious setting that sounds at moments almost cinematic. The program concludes with Chen’s arrangement for violin and organ of Bach’s Arioso. This turns out to be itself an arrangement of an earlier arrangement of the piece by Sam Franko. As well as forming the Sinfonia opening of the Cantata, BWV 156, the Arioso also appears as the middle movement of Bach’s Keyboard Concerto in F Minor, BWV 1056. Violinists generally play this concerto in G Minor, but Chen has not only adopted the higher key, but also assigned the violin’s melody to the register an octave below, taking advantage of Wong’s sumptuous G-string sonorities. The engineers have placed Wong so far forward that listeners won’t have to strain to hear heavy breathing (would any of them want to?).

Those who respond enthusiastically to westernized arrangements of oriental music should find Chen’s and Wong’s program highly ingratiating, although they should be forewarned that it emphasizes the lyrical, rather than the virtuosic, side of this repertoire. But for those who enjoy this kind of thing, this should prove immensely enjoyable.

FANFARE: Robert Maxham
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Works on This Recording

Rice Dumplings by Qui-dong Song Zhang
Performer:  Lewis Wong (Violin), Chelsea Chen (Organ)
Spring Wind by Deng Yuxian
Performer:  Chelsea Chen (Organ)
Period: 20th Century 
Written: China 
Four Seasons by Deng Yuxian
Performer:  Chelsea Chen (Organ)
The Cradle Song by Quan-Sheng Lu
Performer:  Chelsea Chen (Organ)
Country Farmer by Tong Su
Performer:  Chelsea Chen (Organ)
Jasmine Fantasy by Chelsea Chen
Performer:  Lewis Wong (Violin)
Conductor:  Rebecca Tong
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Jakarta Simfonia
Omoide "Memories" by Yui Kitamura
Performer:  Lewis Wong (Violin), Chelsea Chen (Organ)
Makkana Aki "Red Autumn" by Hideo Kobayashi
Performer:  Lewis Wong (Violin), Chelsea Chen (Organ)
Hills in the Springtime by Qui-Lin Chen
Performer:  Lewis Wong (Violin), Chelsea Chen (Organ)

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