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Across The Sea - Chinese-American Flute Concertos / Bezaly, Shui, Singapore Symphony Orchestra

Long / Sheng / Yi / Bezaly / Siso / Shui
Release Date: 11/22/2011 
Label:  Bis   Catalog #: 1739  
Composer:  Zhou LongBright ShengChen Yi
Performer:  Sharon Bezaly
Conductor:  Lan Shui
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Singapore Symphony Orchestra
Number of Discs: 1 
Recorded in: Stereo 
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Notes and Editorial Reviews

ZHOU LONG 5 Elements. The Deep, Deep Sea. BRIGHT SHENG Flute Moon. CHEN YI The Golden Flute Sharon Bezaly (fl, pic); Lan Shui, cond; Singapore SO BIS 1739 (71:14)

In Fanfare 34:3 I reviewed a disc of Chinese recorder concertos performed by Michala Petri and the Copenhagen Philharmonic conducted by Lan Shui. This was an Read more excellent SACD, and my excluding it from that year’s Want List was purely accidental. Across the Sea , the present disc of Chinese-American flute concertos, includes one work in common (Bright Sheng’s Flute Moon ) and the same conductor. It too is a success, and should not be regarded as too exotic for the average collector by any means.

Sharon Bezaly has not shied away from playing new music for the flute, as her extensive discography for BIS reveals. In fact, this is not even her first disc devoted to Asian composers. In 2009, she released Whirling Dance , in which she was accompanied by the Taipei Chinese Orchestra. Here, her partner is a traditional (that is, Western) symphony orchestra. These recordings were made between 2000 and 2008; the earliest, that of Flute Moon , was released on an all-Bright Sheng CD that same year, and was reviewed (positively) by Art Lange all the way back in Fanfare 24:3.

In my recent interview with pianist Tianshu Wang, she commented that Chinese classical compositions, at least the most popular works, are descriptive rather than abstract. Such is the case here, as the titles suggest. Flute Moon , for example, is in two movements. The first, “Chi-Lin’s Dance” (for piccolo), alludes to the mythological unicorn, 18 feet high, composed of the body of a deer, the tail of an ox, the forehead of a wolf, and the hooves of a horse. The orchestra (just percussion and strings) stamps with excitement for several minutes before the piccolo enters, playing an angular tune and mimicking a traditional Chinese instrument in both timbre and style. The composer’s vivid scoring is colorful and effective. The second, “Flute Moon,” was inspired by the text of a song dating back to circa 1200, in which a poet addresses “moonlight, my old friend, / How many times have you accompanied / My flute beside the wintersweet blossom?” Bright Sheng creates a mostly quiet but intense atmosphere here, and uses contrasting materials to develop it. The music is to enjoy first, and to analyze later (if at all). Zhou Long’s The Deep, Deep Sea also uses an orchestra of strings and percussion (harp, timpani) and either piccolo or flute—this time, the alto flute. This work was inspired by an even more ancient poem. The music’s slow-moving and quiet beauty does, in fact, sound like a seascape, hundreds of feet down. Again, the music’s strongly atmospheric quality practically precludes structural or thematic analysis. (However, at 8:30 there is a chord progression that strongly suggests Debussy’s La Mer !) Enjoyment of the same composer’s Five Elements (“Metal,” “Wood,” “Water,” “Fire,” and “Earth”) does not depend upon an understanding of how these five “elemental energies” have been described in Chinese culture since ancient times, but it helps. To a strong degree, this incisive, colorful music is primarily illustrative. This does not reduce its value. Chen Yi’s The Golden Flute keeps the soloist busy almost throughout its 15 minutes. It is in three movements, but the work forms a continuous span. It was the composer’s aim “to let a Western flute speak in the language of Chinese wind instruments made from either bamboo or clay.” This work is less descriptive than the other three, and adheres most closely to Western ideas about what a concerto should be—three movement, cadenza, etc. The other three works—all four, really—should be heard on their own terms, and not be judged negatively because they do not adhere to Westerns expectations.

Two of these works ( The Deep, Deep Sea and The Golden Flute ) were written for Bezaly, and Five Elements was “inspired by” her, although dedicated to the memory of Serge and Natalie Koussevitzky. Her stylistic versatility is as impressive as her technical ability—these three composers throw a lot of extremes and unusual playing techniques at her, and she handles them as if they were natural to her. What fellow flutist would not be jealous, hearing this CD? Lan Shui and the Singapore Symphony Orchestra are idiomatic and polished partners. Add to this BIS’s remarkably present and detailed engineering, and you have a CD that makes a strong visceral impact. For the greatest effect, though, play the four works at four separate sittings.

FANFARE: Raymond Tuttle
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Works on This Recording

Five Elements by Zhou Long
Performer:  Sharon Bezaly (Flute)
Conductor:  Lan Shui
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Singapore Symphony Orchestra
Flute Moon by Bright Sheng
Performer:  Sharon Bezaly (Flute)
Conductor:  Lan Shui
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Singapore Symphony Orchestra
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1999 
The Deep, Deep Sea by Zhou Long
Performer:  Sharon Bezaly (Flute)
Conductor:  Lan Shui
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Singapore Symphony Orchestra
The Golden Flute by Chen Yi
Performer:  Sharon Bezaly (Flute)
Conductor:  Lan Shui
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Singapore Symphony Orchestra

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