“Ecstatic Drumbeat – Works for Percussion and Chinese Orchestra” — YIU-KWONG CHUNG: Concerto for Percussion and Chinese Orchestra, Emperor Qin Crushing the Battle Formations; KEIKO ABE: Prism Rhapsody; NEBOJŜA JOVAN ŽIVKOVIĆ: Born to Beat Wild; TOSHIRO MAYUZUMI: Concertino for Xylophone and Orchestra – Evelyn Glennie, percussion/Taipei Chinese Orch./En Shao & Yiu-Kwong Chung, cond. – BIS Records multichannel SACD-1599, 75:10 (Distr. by Naxos) (6/19/12) ****:
Evelyn Glennie is one of the world’s greatest percussionists and she has become so not just by having tremendous technique and great musical sensitivity but by finding and promoting new and unusual music for solo percussion. So renowned is the native Scot that she was awarded an OBE by the United Kingdom and is now Dame Evelyn Glennie. In fact, she is probably the first percussionist to achieve and sustain a career as a solo classical percussionist.
This is actually one of her more unusual and most engaging collections; in this case, a collection of works for solo percussion and Chinese orchestra. This recording is a result of her highly successful engagement in 2010 in Taipei City, Taiwan. The music is all, in most aspects, directly written in a traditional Chinese style or is at least reflective of these traditions.
Kudos to the writers and editors of the CD booklet notes for their inclusion of an explanation of the orchestration of the “modern” Chinese orchestra, including the difference between the bowed and plucked strings (the only ones most people have heard of are the erhu and the pipa).
The music, as mentioned, is certainly what is to be expected in its approach to traditional Asian melodies and harmonies. What is quite interesting actually are the works by the non-Chinese composers. Toshiro Mayuzumi, one of Japan’s 20th century masters, is known for large works, such as his Nirvana Symphony and his Concerto for Xylophone, heard here, is a most interesting work filled with colorful orchestrations.
Japanese marimbist Keiko Abe’s Prism Rhapsody is actually a very interesting work in two connected sections, requiring much improvisation from the performer. I found it alltogether fascinating that this collection includes music by Serbian born Nebojŝa Jovan Žikoviĉ. His work is cleverly (and amusingly) titled Born to Beat Wild and includes a co-solo part for suona, a Chinese oboe, which soloist Tzu-You Lin really tears into. This is, in many ways, the “wildest” work in this collection, sounding a bit like a free-form jazz session in spots. I found it quite interesting.
The two works by Chinese composer-conductor Yiu-Kwong Chung are also well worth listening to. The Concerto for Percussion and Orchestra is patterned in three movements that pay homage in sound to three poems by Taiwanese poet Qing Huang. This work was also written specifically for the Deaflympics in Taiwan. (I think that the fact that Evelyn Glennie is deaf, herself, is secondary to her amazing musical skills but incredible none the less. She is by now justifiably known as a great percussionist; not a great deaf percussionist). Chung’s one movement Emperor Qin Crushing the Battle Formations is a work for two percussionists (Glennie is joined here by Tsung-Hsin Hsieh) and traditional orchestra and is actually an orchestration of a 7th century traditional court work from the 2nd Emperor of the Tang dynasty. The work is intended to accompany traditional dance that depicts the implied battle victory. The work is the most “traditional” sounding Chinese work on the program, while the Mayuzumi sounds the most traditionally scored and orchestrated.
This is really quite an interesting collection from a performer whose work I greatly admire. I think anyone who loves good quality percussion playing or who has an affinity for Chinese culture will enjoy this a great deal.