ACROSS THE SEA: Chinese-American Flute Concertos. ZHOU LONG – Concerto for flute and orchestra – The Deep, Deep Sea; BRIGHT SHENG – Flute Moon; CHEN YI – The Golden Flute – Sharon Bezaly, flute /Singapore Sym. Orch./ Lan Shui – BIS CD 1739, 71:14 [Distr. by Qualiton] *****:
This is an enterprising disc of works for flute and orchestra written in the last 13 years by three well known Chinese composers of the same generation (born within three years of each other), who all emigrated to the United States and earned their Doctorate of Music degree from Columbia University in 1993.
Zhou Long (b.1953) won the Pulitzer Prize with his opera Madam White Snake in 2011. He’s known as a “pioneer in transferring the idiomatic sounds and techniques of ancient Chinese musical traditions to modern Western instruments.” The Deep, Deep Sea (2004) is an impressionistic dialogue between the alto flute/piccolo, timpani, harp and strings and the dizi (bamboo flute) and pipa (Chinese lute). It’s a wonderfully transparent and very beautiful composition that should be heard more in the future. Five Elements – Concerto for Flute and Orchestra (2008) is a musical depiction of the five elemental Chinese energies (metal, wood, water, fire and earth) that represent the “various stages of transformation on the recurring natural cycles of seasonal change, growth and decay, climatic conditions and human physiology,” the composer explains in his program notes. Each movement depicts an element. For example, in Fire, Zhou Long uses rhythmic drumming to and the solo piccolo to represent the hot energy of fire. Although it is almost essential to know the program of this work, the imaginative integration of Chinese and Western color and textures and his use of the flute as a ‘driver’ of the various elements is a constant source of astonishment to these ears.
Bright Sheng’s orchestral landscape in Flute Moon (1999) is larger, with thicker textures and more dramatic and melodic lines. The first section, Chi-Lin’s Dance (for piccolo) depicts a monstrous Chinese unicorn with the piccolo doing a devil’s dance around the menacingly-textured unicorn. The second section (Flute Moon) is a dramatic, contemplative, and very beautiful meditation based on an art song by Chinese poet and composer Jiang Kui (1155-1235). The shimmering conclusion is a gorgeous ending to a tone poem that will sound more familiar to Western ears.
In Chen Yi’s three movement flute concerto, The Golden Flute, the composer uses the Western flute to speak in the language of Chinese wind instruments (the dizi, and the xun, an ancient clay vessel that is similar to the ocarina). Using elements of Chinese folk music, he creates a more delicate, pointillistic sound world, often contrasting the high pitched flute with lower orchestral colors. Much of the flute writing is of a virtuosic nature, and, here flutist Sharon Bezaly demonstrates her innovative circular breathing technique, in a work written specifically for her. Should anyone doubt the brilliance of her playing, listen to her performance of the two cadenzas in The Golden Flute. The playing of the Singapore Symphony under Lan Shui is ideal and BIS’s sound is perfectly judged. This is a mandatory purchase for those interested in modern Chinese compositions and an intriguing purchase for anyone interested in the music of today.
French Romantic and Impressionism… Ivan Ilich