Deng Hong / Chen Shasha

Celestial Music for Quin & Xiao

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The qin is a very old Chinese instrument distantly related to the Japanese koto; it's played flat on a table, its silk strings plucked and manipulated by a multitude of techniques -- there are no fewer than 54 different ways of plucking and 26 kinds of vibrato, and harmonics are often employed as well. The qin is most frequently used as a solo instrument, but is also commonly accompanied by the xiao, an end-blown bamboo flute. This collection of tunes, many of which are very old and one of which was first published in the 11th century, consists of both solo pieces and duets. To Western ears, the tracks that feature the flute alongside the qin may be the most immediately accessible; the soft and simple "Qi Yan Hui" (Tears for Yan Hui) and the gorgeously melancholy "Meihua San Nong" (Three Variations on the Melody Plumblossoms) are prime examples of the kind of sweet pentatonic melodies with which the world is familiar. The qin solos tend to be a bit more forbidding. Many showcase Deng Hong's virtuosic technique and feature passages that can be a bit befuddling to anyone not intimately familiar with those techniques or the rich history of traditional Chinese music. Still, as an introduction to both these instruments and the traditional repertoire on which they draw, this disc is both valuable and enjoyable.

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