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FANFARE (USA)This will go to the top of my list of musical pick-me-ups

January 4, 2010

Raymond Tuttle

TANG JIANPING Fei Ge. BRIGHT SHENG Flute Moon. MA SHUI-LONG Bamboo Flute Concerto. CHEN YI The Ancient Chinese Beauty ● Michala Petri (rcr); Lan Shui, cond; Copenhagen P ● OUR 6.220603 (Hybrid multichannel SACD: 71:29)
Once a busy recording artist for Philips and RCA Red Seal, Danish virtuoso Michala Petri (with guitarist and lutenist Lars Hannibal) launched her own label in 2006. This is OUR Recordings's 13th release, and the third in its “Dialogue—East Meets West” series. This collection of “Chinese Recorder Concertos” is, to enlist a perhaps overused word, delightful, and deserves to be brought to the attention of a broad audience.
If you don't believe me, try the opening work by Tang Jianping, who was born in 1955. The title's English translation is “Flying Song,” a reference to a style of folk singing indigenous to a region of southwest China. As a courtship song intended to be projected over long distances, it must be both penetrating and appealing—think of the songs from the Auvergne region set by Joseph Canteloube. With its rich scoring and tunefulness, Fei Ge also seems to be motivated by the same forces that led George Enescu to compose his two Romanian Rhapsodies. The languages are very different, of course, but the impact is quite similar. This will go to the top of my list of musical pick-me-ups. Tang Jianping originally composed this work for bamboo flute and a ensemble of various Asian instruments. The arrangement for Western instruments performed here is the composer's own.
Bright Sheng and Chen Yi are more familiar to Western listeners. The first movement of the former's Flute Moon (“Chi Lin's Dance”) is an athletic and often thunderous toccata in which the dancing of the mythical Chinese unicorn or “dragon horse” is evoked. The combination of the piping recorder with the heavy stamping of the orchestra creates an effect that is both bizarre and beguiling. The atmospheric second movement (also titled “Flute Moon”) is based on a classical melody dating from the Song Dynasty. After a tensely quiet opening, the movement erupts with dramatic gestures and a strong melodic profile, and then returns to the opening mood. Chen Yi currently teaches at the University of Missouri-Kansas City. The Ancient Chinese Beauty was composed specifically for Michala Petri, who premiered it in Beijing in 2008. Its language is more difficult, and what grabs the ear most, at least initially, is the composer's employment and combining of instrumental timbres in much the same way that an abstract painter uses a variety of paints and brushes. The three movements are “The Clay Figurines,” “The Ancient Totems,” and “The Dancing Ink.” Less than 15 minutes long, The Ancient Chinese Beauty is just the right length for its materials. The tenor recorder is used in the middle movement, and the alto recorder in the first and third. The third movement is an exciting moto perpetuo characterized by the composer's insistent use of repeated notes.
The Bamboo Flute Concerto by Ma Shui-Long (b. 1939) blends traditional Western gestures—particularly those associated with the genre of the Romantic concerto—with melodies in a traditional Chinese style. As the title suggests, Ma composed it for the bang di, but of course here it is performed on a recorder—a sopranino, unless I am mistaken. It is not a very adventurous concerto, but it is appealing, and it is an appropriate foil for the works by Bright Sheng and Chen Yi that frame it.
Michala Petri recently turned 50 and shows no signs of relinquishing her enthusiastic yet serene mastery over her instruments of choice. She plays all of these works, not just The Ancient Chinese Beauty, as if they were composed just for her. If anyone still doubts the recorder's place as an instrument worthy of the same attention as its cousin the flute, Petri's playing here should put that to rest. The Copenhagen Philharmonic accompanies her idiomatically, and with sensitivity to this music's many shapes and colors. Kudos to Lan Shui, its chief conductor since 2007, for making this happen. Finally, the booklet notes (in English and Chinese) thoughtfully guide one through the program, and the SACD technology makes a spectacular noise, from the recorder's most piercing upper registers to the granitic power of the orchestra's lowest notes.
This is Want List material. Raymond Tuttle

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