“The Butterfly Lovers” = Works for Violin and Chinese Orchestra [TrackList follows] – Lu Siqing, violin / Taipei Chinese Orch. / Chung Yiu-Kwong – BIS multichannel SACD 2104 [Distr. by Naxos] 63:13 ****:

Founded as recently as 1979, the Taipei Chinese Orchestra has made six recordings for BIS. The orchestra includes in its programmes Chinese music as well as music from around the world.  The BIS recordings have featured a solo artist with the orchestra; so far, Sa Chen, Sharon Bezaly, Claude Delangle, Evelyn Glennie, Christian Lindberg have featured on releases, mostly on SACD.  This, the most recent, has the celebrated violinist, Lu Siqing (b. 1969), an alumnus of the Yehudi Menuhin School at Cobham, England, where he studied from the age of 11. Since graduating, he has built a successful career in China.

This release, as with some in the series, mixes music from East and West, and opens with a selection of well-known showpieces for violin and orchestra. Siqing, playing the Guarneri del Gesù “Wieniawski” (lent by the Stradivari Society) gives bravura and thoroughly musical performances of Kreisler’s Tambourin Chinois (a delightful opener), Wieniawski’s Legend, Sarasate’s Zigeunerweisen (an especially gripping performance) and Tchaikovsky’s Melodie.

The Taipei Chinese Orchestra, whose instruments are listed and described by the conductor, Chung Yiu-Kwong, in the excellent booklet, accompanies these Western works with a sometimes striking East European flavour.  The four sections of the orchestra include both bow-stringed and plucked-stringed instruments, the latter similar to dulcimers, lutes and zithers which, in these musically symathetic arrangements, sound utterly in keeping with the music. Those for whom ‘arrangement’ is anathema may well be most pleasantly surprised by the results.

The bulk of the works on this well-recorded SACD are Chinese, opening with an arrangement of a traditional work, Sunshine on Taxkorgan, whose open-air flavour and final energetic dance are quite captivating. The slow movement from the Inner Mongolian Suite, Nostalgia has Siqing providing yearning warmth in this moving work.

And finally, The Butterfly Lovers, the violin concerto written by Gang and Zhanhao, played with much aplomb by all concerned.  Siqing has recorded it before, twice for Marco Polo, with the Beijing Central Philharmonic and with the Shanghai Symphony, both orchestras using Western instruments. On this release, the concerto is performed using the arrangement for Chinese Orchestra made by the conductor, Chung Yiu-Kwong, and it certainly adds a different and diverting colour to the sound.  Coupled with Siqing’s very fine fiddle playing, the Chinese Orchestra sounds quite fired up and virtuoso in its response.

Zhongshang Hall in Taipei City, the location for this recording doesn’t seem to have a long reverberation time, not that the results are dry by any means. BIS supplies excellent stereo sound, and the surround mix is successful though with less ambience from the surround speakers than I expected.  The sound quality does offer a pretty good concert hall perspective from the 24-bit/96kHz originals.

This interesting fusion of East and West is well worth investigating, not least for some breathtakingly good playing by Lu Siqing.

Tracklist:

1. Kreisler (1875–1962), arr. by Simon Kong Su Leong: Tambourin Chinois, Op. 3 (Schott)

2. Wieniawski (1835–80), orch. Wang Chenwei: Légende, Op. 17

3. Sarasate (1844–1908), arr. Chung Yiu-Kwong: Zigeunerweisen, Op. 20

4. Tchaikovsky (1840–93), arr. Ma Tsui-Yu: Mélodie from Souvenir d’un lieu cher, Op. 42 No. 3

5. Traditional, arr. Chen Gang & orch. Chung Yiu-Kwong: Sunshine on Taxkorgan

6. Ma Sicong (1912–87), arr. Wu Ruey-Chen: Nostalgia from Inner Mongolia Suite

7-9. Chen Gang (b. 1935) / Ho Zhanhao (b. 1933), arr. Chung Yiu-Kwong: The Butterfly Lovers’ Violin Concerto

—Peter Joelson