The Intimacy of Creativity – a Five Year Retrospective – Music by various composers played by Hong Kong Philharmonic / Jaap van Sweden – Naxos (2 CDs) 8573614-15 (8/12/16) ****:

An interesting collection of contemporary music well-played and recorded.

This celebration of the 25th Anniversary of the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology features an interesting range of music, from the string orchestra version of Schoenberg’s Verklärte Nacht to a sequence of contemporary scores. They provide an opportunity to showcase the individual and collective talents of the distinguished principals of the Hong Kong Philharmonic Orchestra. Two works, by Ming-Hsiu Yen and Matthew Tommasini, focus on Hong Kong’s landscape, whether majestically natural or busily urban, and the selection ends with Arvo Pärt’s modern classic, Cantus in Memory of Benjamin Britten.

The disc is the result of an annual partnership devoted to promoting an intimate dialogue between composers and performers. Distinguished composers, together with selected composer fellows from Hong Kong and around the world, present and revise their compositions after in-depth discussions with world-renowned performers during public open discussions. The revised compositions are presented at preview concerts on the campus of HKUST and world premiere concerts in downtown Hong Kong. The Hong Kong Philharmonic Orchestra is recognized as Asia’s foremost classical orchestra. Jaap van Zweden has been the orchestra’s Music Director since 2013.

This is an interesting idea for a program, and we get a two disc set offering quite a bit of music. The performances are excellent, and the music selection is engaging. Naxos has given us a fine recording, with a nice, stable stereo image between my two speakers. Strings are well-rendered, and there is a tight low end when the music calls for it. Percussion instruments have sharp attack in this close-in recording.

The first CD is taken up with Schoenberg’s Transfigured Night and Deep Red by composer Bright Sheng.

Disc 2 is more varied, with a collection of works by contemporary composers from the east and the west. As a program it flows quite well, and other than the Schoenberg and the Pärt, the music was new to me, but quite enjoyable.

—Mel Martin