“East Meets West II – Clarinet Music by Chinese Composers Overseas” = (TrackList follows) – Jun Qian, clarinet/various performers – Albany

“East Meets West II – Clarinet Music by Chinese Composers Overseas” = Music by JING ZHOU, KAY HE, A-MAO WANG, ZHOU LONG, CHEN YI, JUN QIAN, QIUXIAO LI (TrackList follows) – Jun Qian, clarinet/various performers – Albany TROY1528 (12/01/14) 59:12 ***:

While I am no “expert” in either traditional Chinese music or contemporary classical works that use traditional Chinese modes and timbres as their impetus, I can say that I have heard quite a bit of this type of music. Generally, I like it.

Chinese composers ever since the “cultural revolution” have tried to find ways to write music that honors their rich heritage and – more recently – explores the vast possibilities of writing in a “western” way that still pays homage to the Chinese culture. Every year, in fact, the orchestra I play principal clarinet in does a special Chinese New Years concert to connect to my area’s fairly large Chinese-American population. The music varies in quality but has a distinctive sound to be sure.

The works in this collection are fascinating and hypnotic to listen to but if we think of “traditional” Chinese music and then think of the large and amazing output of Tan Dun, let’s say, these works are more in the progressively modern or avant garde camp than what you may have heard.

There are two names in this collection that are already high on the list of recognized and respected composers here in America; Zhou Long and Chen Yi. Chen and Zhou are actually married and spend much time teaching in universities here in the states. Most importantly, each has a distinctive and brilliant compositional voice. As prime examples, Zhou’s Taiping Drum for clarinet and piano is an exciting (and difficult) work that leaves a strong impression. Chen’s Three Bagatelles from China West for clarinet and sheng are also commanding to listen to and bear some of the composer’s trademark style of technical flourish in a context that evokes the Chinese culture (as does Zhou’s piece).

To be honest, I have been familiar with the work of Chen and Zhou for a while now and like it very much. I was anxious to hear the other works on this album that holds plenty of unfamiliar repertory.

Of the remaining works here, I was particularly impressed with New York Improvisatory Dialogue by Jun Qian and Jian Bing Hu. First, Jun Qian is a very impressive clarinet player and his skills are on display throughout this album. This “improvisation” piece is especially attractive for its somewhat jazzy inflections and “riffs” that find their way into the texture; as in New York, I imagine.

I also really enjoyed The Feeble Breeze, The Sullen Spring by A-Mao Wang for clarinet, percussion and guzheng. This is a nearly “impressionistic” work that does seem to evoke the wind and the elements and I found it very impressive. I also have a bit of an affinity for acoustical-electronic works and Wu Song Fights the Tiger by Qiuxiao Li is a very dramatic example in which the clarinet plays the role of protagonist in an old play, “The Water Margin.”

Honestly, I enjoyed all the pieces in this very unusual collection including those by Kay He and Jing Zhou but the ones I describe were my favorites.

There are several different reasons to get this recording and to be fascinated. Jun Qian is, indeed, a very fine player who also serves as principal clarinet in the Waco Symphony and teaches clarinet at Baylor University. Second, these works show very creative uses for traditional Chinese instruments like the string instrument the guzheng, played impressively here by Jing Zhou or the amazing wind-blown sheng, played here by Jian Bing Hu. Lastly, each of these works is truly like nothing else you have heard. I am anxious to go hear “East Meets West” volume one that features Jun Qian in works including Chen Yi and the always interesting Bright Sheng.  Check this out!  I don’t think you’ll be disappointed.

TrackList:

1- 4. The Four Gentlemen Among Flowers – Jing Zhou

5. Soliloquy, Wings – Kay He

6. The Feeble Breeze, The Sullen Spring – A-Mao Wang

7. Taiping Drum – Zhou Long

8-10. Three Bagatelles from China West – Chen Yi

11. New York Improvisatory Dialogue – Jun Qian

12. Wu Song Fight the Tiger – Qiuxiao Li

—Daniel Coombs

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