There's only one piece on this album of music by Chinese American composer Bright Sheng that's connected with Chinese opera, and that, A Night at the Chinese Opera for violin and piano, is the shortest of the five included. That little work evokes the vocal sound of Chinese opera singing in the violin, and actually, it suggests that the idea of instrumental music rooted in Chinese opera, rather than the ubiquitous folk melodies, is one that composers might profitably employ. So if you're looking for a whole album of that, you won't find it here. In general, though, this is an album that will satisfy fans of Sheng, a professor at the University of Michigan, as well as newcomers to his music. Sheng has found a middle path -- better, middle paths -- between grandly cinematic and rigorously modernist treatments of Chinese traditional materials, and the chamber and piano works here use structure and rhythm in addition to melody as organizing principles. The first movement of My Song (1989), for example, evokes in a general way the heterophony of much Chinese ensemble music. Another cause for celebration is the presence of onetime bad boy Peter Serkin, who has been a supporter of Sheng's music and was connected with the genesis of both My Song and the Dance Capriccio (2011). Lively and absorbing rather than catchy, this is recommended for anyone interested in the growing Chinese presence in American concert music.
Bright Sheng: A Night at the Chinese Opera Review
by James Manheim