CHINASONG

Shanghai QuartetDELOS DE 3308
TPT 1:08:56

reviewed by Neville Cohn 

This is a fascinating and delightful excursion into the folk and popular music of China. For many, such as myself, with little contact with the indigenous music of the most populous nation on earth, this collection is revelatory, not least in the sense of it being a closed book to. just about every listener in the West. As the Shanghai Quartet’s 2nd violin Yi-Wen Jiang,(who arranged most of the pieces on this CD for the medium of string quartet) points out, he undertook the task in the belief that through his arrangements of this treasure trove of music, the SQ could share their folk heritage internationally. One senses that these often beautiful melodies would have brought comfort to Yi-Wen during the difficult and terrible days of the Cultural Revolution.

Yi-Wen states emphatically that, in his arrangements, he was not endeavouring to simply imitate the traditional Chinese instruments used to perform this music in China but to bring the harmonies and structure closer to styles which would be meaningful to the ears of non-Chinese. On the evidence of this collection,, he has certainly succeeded in doing this. In fact, I cannot imagine a western listener failing to respond in a positive sense to these charming miniatures.

To its international audience, the Shanghai Quartet is almost exclusively thought of in relation to their interpretations of masterworks of the genre. But the SQ musicians are not by a long chalk hidebound traditionalists. They frequently leaven their compilations of Haydn, Beethoven, Schubert and Brahms with music by composers at the cutting-edge. Now, these folksy and pop items bring a new dimension to their programs.

There are 21 tracks. I especially liked the extrovert energy of Double Dance and, in Dali Girl, a folk song from Yunnan, the pure sound of a high-pitched violin melody to the accompaniment of cheeping, twittering birdsong simulations. Reflection of the Moon in the Er-Quan Spring is another exquisite vignette, originally written for the erhu,, an ancient two-stringd instrument. Unsurprisngly, this quiet, bittersweet miniature is considered the Chinese equivalent of Barber’s famous Adagio. And Caprice (track 8 ) has all the energy and extroversion one associates with,, say, Aaron Copland’s Hoe Down.

And a set of Sichuan folk songs are made memorable by flute obbligati provided by the gifted Eugenia Zukerman.

Neville Cohn

 

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