China Connection = BARTOK: Four Pieces from 44 Duos; PROKOFIEV: Sonata for Two Violins, Op. 56; PUHAN WANG: Scene of the Chinese Village; HINDEMITH: Canon Variations; HU XIAU OU: Silent Forests and Raving Wind; DEJAN LAZIC: Istrian Dance, Op. 15a; YANG BAO ZHI: Three Humoresques in Canonic Form; Song of Emancipation – Zen Hu & Ning Feng, violins – Channel Classics Multichannel SACD CCS SA 80309, 60:47 **** [Distr. by Harmonia mundi]:
Can anyone happily listen to 60 minutes of violin duet music? This was the question that entered my mind when first putting on this disc. The answer, in no little part thanks to the skillful and extraordinarily numinous playing by violinists Zen Hu and Ning Feng, is a resounding yes. Part of the success also lies in the very interesting program, well-thought out and integrated. The four Bartok duets, steady diet for most players who attain certain proficiency, make for a nice warm up. It is also good that they include the “Serbian Dance” and “Arabian Song” as a prelude to the linking tissue of this recording, the idea of connections to China.
Prokofiev makes sense, as the Russian Empire has had a vast influence on China over the years. This is also the most substantial work on the disc, the composer always very careful with his violin pieces, and particularly affecting in the ones without accompaniment, like his masterly Sonata for Solo Violin. This sonata is equally profound in its way of making the two speak not only as one, but in taking very limited materials and opening a whole musical world up to us through its economy. Hindemith of course is known for economy of means; his treatment of the canon and even variations on such is a wonderful idea that few composers could achieve. As an antidote to the strict German-influence of his work we are also given the Three Humoresques in Canonic Form by Chinese composer Yang Bao Zhi.
The Scene of the Chinese Village is a nicely colored pastoral, delicately layered in its musical effects yet hardly un-lively, while Silent Forests and Raving Wind also presents us with an oriental impressionism that is quiet and evocative. Dejan Lazic’s Istrian Dance is decidedly modal and rhythmic, a fine contribution from this young Croatian composer.
I was a little surprised by the inclusion of Song of Emancipation, which the notes tell us was arranged as part of the Cultural Revolution in China. That bloody and dehumanizing time is best forgotten by all who went though it, and not enshrined in any sort of “happy moment” as concludes this CD. However, both the artists here are products of Yehudi Menuhin’s tutelage, have European careers, and are Chinese, so I suppose they knew what they were doing, even though this is a Channel of China production. The Cultural Revolution was officially denounced by the ruling dictators of China, and Mao himself condemned for it, so I will hope for the best and simply take it as a cheery little song to wrap things up.
The SACD sound is quite vivid on this release, and does wonders for only two violins, enhancing the tonal qualities of each. I enjoyed this very much and can give it a hardy thumbs-up.
— Steven Ritter