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Gramophone (UK). Each of these works has its own charm, each will help to build China`s still-evolving indigenous symphonic tradition

December 31, 2010

Michael Church

Gramophone January 2011, Ken Smith.
Eastern works for flutes transcribe admirably for Western recorder.
The title is a bit of a stretch, since only Chen Yi`s The Ancient Chinese Beauty (2008) was actually composed for recorder (in this case for Michala Petri herself) Bright Sheng`s Flute Moon (1999) was originally written for Western flute, while Ma Shui-Long`s Bamboo Flute Concerto (1984) and Tang Jianping`s Fei Ge (2002) were composed respectively for the hampi and dizi, two different styles of Chinese transverse flutes. That said, the recorder is probably the only instrument with both the Western tuning and woody timbre to bridge the gab, and Petri proves to be a brilliant cultural negotiator in her own right.
Tang, the head of the composition department at China`s Central Conservatory, offers a rousing opener, ostensibly inspired by Miao singing styles but often sounding more like a cross between Copland`s prairie music and Elmer Bernstein`s film scores. Sheng`s Flute Moon marks a clear departure from his earlier works, the unrelenting aggression of H`un (“Lacerations”) now giving way to unapologetic lyricism. Chen, unsurprisingly, reaches a wholly different level, with a range of emotional states and contrasting playing techniques that fits Petri`s instrument and personal playing style with bespoken elegance.
The composers from People`s Republic stand in stark contrast to Taiwan-born Ma, who was an established composer when his younger colleagues were picking rice in the Cultural Revolution. His Bamboo Flute Concerto (1984) may not have Chen`s emotional breadth or Sheng`s orchestrational brilliance but its pioneering fusion of Chinese sonority and Western form radiates with a thrill of discovery that practically percolates off the page.
BBC Music Magazine 4 out of 5 stars
This is not the first Chinese collaboration by the Danish recorder virtuoso Michala Petri, but it`s the most interesting yet. Inspired by their country`s rich variety of flute traditions, these four concertos reflect the way China`s composers are melding their musical heritage with the symphonic one of Western Europe and America. And they also reflect the thoroughness with which Chinese composers have transcended the privations of those terrible years when they were condemned to hard labour in the countryside.
Tang Jianping`s Fei Ge draws on the folk music of the Hmong, but has at times a confident, almost Broadway lushness of sound; Sheng`s Flute Moon calls on all Petri`s virtuosity, plus that of the Danish orchestra`s piccolo player; Ma Shui-Long`s Bamboo Flute Concerto is initially relentlessly cheerful, before moving into a graceful echo of 20th-century English pastoralism. The three movements of Chen Yi`s The Ancient Chinese Beauty – the most original of those works – use Petri`s three recorders to reflect the respective timbres and tone-colours of three very different Chinese flutes. Each of these works has its own charm, each will help to build China`s still-evolving indigenous symphonic tradition. Michael Church, December 2010

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