Various Artists

Spirits: East Meets West

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OUR Recordings' Spirits features Danish guitar virtuoso Lars Hannibal in duet settings with a virtuoso of a kind not widely familiar in the West: soloist Chen Yue plays the Xiao, a bamboo flute as endemic to China's traditional music as rice is to its diet. The program is subtitled "East Meets West" and the program, made up of short pieces, is sort of a goulash of a lot of different kinds of tunes, not only Chinese melodies but bits of Bach and Vivaldi and tunes native to Denmark, Hungary, Japan, Catalonia. The track titled "Believe Me" turns out to be "Believe Me if All Those Endearing Young Charms," and identified as "Traditional English" even though it is Irish, and the work of Ireland's official bard-in-residence, Thomas Moore. OK, so the Chinese/English track list could have been compiled more carefully, but that does not matter; despite the wide variety of the material, Spirits and its perhaps unprecedented combination of Xiao and guitar maintains a strikingly homogenous sound. The program is varied through occasional solo turns taken by both artists; Chen Yue's pieces are especially lovely, as her control of the Xiao is as natural as breathing. Hannibal's solo contributions are a good example of a facility not many virtuosi truly master; the Kreisler-like ability to play something relatively simple very well, even though you have chops to burn. As a whole, Spirits maintains a quiet, even-keeled approach that makes for very pleasant listening, perhaps with a glass of burgundy and crackling flame in the fireplace.

Some may feel this is too new agey for their tastes. Traditional Chinese music has sounded this way for a long time, well before the whole concept of either world music or new age came about in the West, and in China, anything that does not sound Chinese is automatically foreign. One might try re-tuning their ears a bit and dropping pre-conceived notions before approaching Spirits; those who cannot do so will miss a satisfying, and certainly relaxing, recital on an instrument that Chen Yue brings to life with her quiet and low-key, though in its way astounding, artistry and seamlessly fluid tone.

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