Classical CD Reviews

VIVIAN FUNG “Dreamscapes” = Violin Concerto; Glimpses; Piano Concerto ‘Dreamscapes’ – Kristin Lee, violin/Conor Hanick, piano/Metropolis Ens. /Andrew Cyr – Naxos

Interesting voice from an unexpected source.

Published on February 16, 2013

VIVIAN FUNG “Dreamscapes” = Violin Concerto; Glimpses; Piano Concerto ‘Dreamscapes’ – Kristin Lee, violin/Conor Hanick, piano/Metropolis Ens. /Andrew Cyr – Naxos

VIVIAN FUNG “Dreamscapes” = Violin Concerto; Glimpses; Piano Concerto ‘Dreamscapes’ – Kristin Lee, violin/Conor Hanick, piano/Metropolis Ensemble/Andrew Cyr – Naxos 8.573009, 57:11 ****:

I don’t usually think of Canada when the topic of interesting contemporary music and emerging young composers comes up. In part, because there have not been that many composers whose music has become known in the U.S. or beyond. For many years, I was familiar with the really fine work of Murray Schafer and the somewhat niche appeal of Srul Irving Glick. Lately, I have become familiar with Kati Agócs and, now, I am pleased to add the name of Vivian Fung to the list of contemporary composers from anywhere I find interesting and worth following.

Edmonton-born Fung actually now lives in New York and earned her doctorate at Juilliard. Her work has been played throughout the U.S., Canada and in Asia. These three pieces are but a sample of her output but an interesting one, to be sure.

The Violin Concerto is particularly striking. Fung cites her Chinese heritage as a bit of inspiration for the work but, more importantly, her exploration of the music from eastern cultures. While attending school in New York, the composer met many Chinese artists and ensembles including members of the Ying Quartet and some Gamelan artists. There is an exotic, wispy and ephemeral quality to the writing in between some propulsive moments that I found quite appealing. Actually, this work reminded me a bit of the music of Lou Harrison but probably because of the composers’ mutual sources of muse.  It is a very nice piece, existing in a single movement, and soloist Kristin Lee plays quite well indeed.

Fung’s work for prepared piano, Glimpses, is – of course – quite a different deal but another very interesting work. The piece exists in three movements: Kotekan, Snow and Chant. The musical genealogy here is the expected blend of John Cage (by way of Richard Bunger) and some more Gamelan sounds. Like all music for prepared piano, the effect and success of the piece depends on both the creative and informed use of the materials used as stops and the careful location on the nodes of the strings but also on the melodies and rhythms. In the final section, Chant, there is also a brief and mysterious sounding bit involving rosined string like a bowed piano (Listeners may know the work of Stephen Scott)  I do like many prepared or bowed piano works if they are good, and I think this is a good one!

The Piano Concerto, “Dreamscapes” is also a single movement concerto with some roots squarely in the Balinese tradition. (The very helpful booklet notes by Frank Oteri point out that gamelan-influenced works for orchestra were also a trademark of Canadian Colin McPhee)  The opening few measures are enough to capture the attention with plucked interior strings, bird calls used by the wind section and exotic drums. The piece transitions seamlessly into a series of what Fung considers “vignettes” that resemble Bartok in spots, jazz in places and – of course – some very dreamlike impressionistic passages. The culmination of this fascinating piece is the orchestra playing crystal glasses on the rim (reminiscent of George Crumb) while the piano plays some very tranquil arpeggio-like figures. This, easily, one of the most unusual piano concertos you will ever hear but, I think, the strongest work in this collection and completely fascinating. Soloist Conor Hanick in both the Concerto and Glimpses does a great job!

The Metropolis Ensemble of New York and conductor Andrew Cyr are important up and coming contributors to the new music scene. I had never heard of Vivian Fung before but I am anxious to hear more. The fact that she is Canadian and that Naxos has this marketed this as one of their “Canadian Classics” series may be the vehicle to get her music out there. The fact that she is, clearly, a very creative and skilled composer is all I need to recommend this without hesitation.

—Daniel Coombs

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