All three of these are world premiere recordings, and one of the works was actually recorded before the music had its first public performance. Ge Gan-ru, who was born in Shanghai in 1954, is considered China’s first avantgarde composer. He has lived in the U.S. since 1983 and his music – which is not all that avantgarde – has been performed all over the world. One of his teachers was the composer of the popular Butterfly Lovers Concerto, and Gan-ru found him “an invaluable mentor,” so from that we see that tonal music is not completely foreign to the composer. However, he also studied later with Cage, Crumb, Ligeti, Boulez and Stockhausen, so look out!
Gan-Ru leans toward Western elements in music because he feels they convey emotion better. He explains that pitches are less important in Chinese music than timbre. He tries to combine contemporary Western composition techniques with his native country’s rich cultural heritage. In the Chinese Rhapsody, the element of Chinese folk music is strong, but the actual use of Chinese instruments is mostly in the enlarged percussion section. The composer explains that much Chinese music is more experimental – often seeking timbres not heard in Western music. There are sometimes no pitches at all, just a lot of noise. So that fits in well with the avantgarde classical tradition. The Rhapsody has many interesting rhythmic features, including a couple of gradual accelerandos.
The piano part in Wu was written especially for soloist Margaret Leng Tan, and it explores extended piano techniques such as plucking, stroking or striking directly on the strings. This fits in with the Chinese concept of each note having a unique timbral identity. It is as though Gan-Ru is writing for a Chinese steel zither as the soloist with the orchestra. he has created a dialog between East and West on many levels. No Chinese instruments are used in Gan-Ru’s Six Pentatonic Tunes, but the colorful Asian character of the music made this work my personal favorite on the disc. One is reminded at times of works such as Britten’s Prince of the Pagodas or Debussy’s piano piece Pagodes. The music is derived from original Chinese folk tunes, all employing the five-note scale. It makes for a relaxing wrap up to the more avant preceding works on the disc. The clarity and spatial separation of the various instruments – especially the percussion – makes the hi-res surround option almost a must to really appreciate Gan-Ru’s music. I just don’t understand the SACD fans who are purchasing the $5K+ dedicated players that are only two-channel!
– John Sunier