Various Artists

A Musical Anthology of the Orient: Malaysia (UNESCO Collection)

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More than two dozen albums into its Musical Anthology of the Orient, the UNESCO-funded series was still going strong when it got to the Malaysian islands and documented several different styles of royal court and theater music, all of it as elaborate and intricate as the best Baroque chamber music. Listeners who enjoy the sounds of Balinese gamelan or Cambodian royal court music will certainly approve of the happenings here. "Homage to his Royal Highness" is as fine a salute as any royalty can hope to receive, performed by a palace orchestra that sports pairs of deep gongs and several different sizes of oboes. This is followed by a ceremonial aria from the "Ma'yong," or Malay dance drama, including a superb vocal performance as well as a haunting introductory statement played on the bowed rebab. Gongs and drums also play emphatic parts in the orchestral arrangements. The Malaysian version of gamelan is featuring on the piece entitled "The Royal Changeling," and this is one of the highlights of this collection, a skillfully performed composition utilizing some of the instruments from the Indonesian gamelan but differing greatly in musical concept. Other tracks feature an Islamic influence, which is particularly evident on the vocal performance of "The Young Prince," some of which sounds like Syrian Bedouin music or traditional singing from Yemen. The rebab solos that conclude the set also have much in common with similar pieces from Turkey, Iran, and Iraq. A lush glossy booklet in English, French, and German with a selection of interesting photographs is included. The playing time is generous, with more than 25 minutes of music on each side.

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