Bright Sheng / Hong Kong Philharmonic Orchestra

Bright Sheng: The Blazing Mirage; The Song and Dance of Tears; Colors of Crimson

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Chinese composer Bright Sheng, now based in Michigan, has devised a set of interactions between Chinese and Western musics that is both complex and instantly attractive even to audiences with no prior exposure to his music. His teachers included Leonard Bernstein and Chou Wen-Chung, and he has taken something from each. This release, with the composer himself conducting the impressive Hong Kong Philharmonic Orchestra, offers several contemporary works that make a good introduction to his style. The Chinese component may lie in instrumentation, tonal repertory, melodic shape, texture, or any of several other factors, and all of these may be combined. Only one work, The Song and Dance of Tears, includes traditional Chinese instruments, using a concertante-like structure to play them off against the Western orchestra. That work also includes a cello, an instrument Sheng seems to favor as a Western sound that can effectively reproduce aspects of Chinese melody. The final The Blazing Mirage is effectively a cello concerto, and one that might work in any major-orchestra concert setting. Perhaps most effective of all is Colors of Crimson, a work that takes a Chinese approach to a combination of a non-Chinese instrument, the marimba, with orchestra: the marimba plays an oddly Shostakovich-like line, but its sonorities are amplified through the entire texture as if the entire unit were one instrument. The entire program is absorbing and readily grasped, and it represents a strong outing for a composer who deserves to be known better.

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