Meng Qinghua

Song of Songs [Rhymoi]

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The Song of Songs is a rather unfortunate choice of title for a disc of Chinese classical vocal music, as in the West this phrase refers rather unyieldingly to an ancient Hebrew text within the Holy Bible, traditionally ascribed to King Solomon. Rhymoi Music's The Song of Songs is rather a collection of 10 songs belonging to the genre of Ling GeChinese orchestral songs based on traditional folk material, and utilizing traditional instruments in conjunction with lightly applied Western-style orchestration, though the dominant factors being, above all, the voice. The singing here, divided among a number of soloists, is terrific, and one wishes there was more information about them in the ample annotation for the book. The two singers, representing a village girl and naughty boy, respectively, in the The Corydon, both sound convincingly like children, though it's actually a woman and a boy singer. Wee Hours of the Morning is likewise a standout, featuring singer Feng Xinrui in some vocal gymnastics that seem unreal. Meng Qinghua's arrangements are tasteful and restrained, sometimes a bit too much so, but the point, naturally, is to get out of the way of the voice. Meng steps out a little in the closer, The Whole River Red, which features dramatic orchestral gestures suggesting television scoring, no doubt pressed into service as the piece is as much narrative as song. Throughout The Song of Songs, however, the balance between Western instruments and the traditional Chinese players is artful and scrupulously controlled.

The Song of Songs would be a wonderful disc for young students of Chinese to listen to, given the clear accents of the singers; it's a bit of a pity transliterated texts weren't also included, but the quality of the performances make up for it. Just don't think that this is a Buddhist take on Solomon's love poem; it really isn't that, and that shouldn't prevent a Westerner from enjoying it.

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