Susan Ung

Chinary Ung: Child-Song; Khse Buon; Seven Mirrors

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Chinary Ung: Child-Song; Khse Buon; Seven Mirrors Review

by Michael G. Nastos

The compositions of Cambodian native Chinary Ung display mixed elements of European, Asian, and Western musics. More so, it directly reflects his personal struggle in dealing with the mass murders of his people and family members while focusing on the multilingual aspects of contemporary creative music that goes beyond convention and simple nomenclature. The three pieces here represent a time period following an inactive decade (1974-1985) for Ung when he composed only one piece. Thankfully his inspiration returned, as we are treated to a solo viola performance from his wife Susan Ung, a trio of flute, harp, and viola, and a seven-part suite of solo piano snippets. Ung's music sounds very improvised even though it is written, but the variations of texture and timbre allowed give it the flavor and elements of spontaneous composition. There's a looser feel to the pieces where space is respected and frequently used, giving the music a thoughtful, contemplative mood related to the issues of his ravaged homeland. It is minimalist to a certain degree, orchestral in its depth and rich without being overly exotic. The deeper viola sounds on Khse Buon, which was initially written for cello, are exploited by Susan Ung, as she patiently constructs long tones strung together with plucked, percussion inserts; spirited; choppy or spare sounds; and yearning East Indian or Koto-like sounds with Arabic legato. Alto flutist Clay Ellerbroek and Susan Ung are much more dominant than acclaimed Russian harp player Elena Mashkovtseva on Child Song, a treatise of short Cambodian songs amalgamated in long form over 24 minutes. The principals take turns in stating the songs, at times layering sounds, establishing discernible time frame references mostly in a melancholy base, solo passages, and a bit of interaction midway. Acoustic pianist Charles Wells does the honors on Seven Mirrors, over 18-and-a-half minutes, starting in the ruminating drama school, heading for poetic light dance, demonstrative animal kingdom outcries, whimsical and serious contrasts, spiritual and serene musings, a quizzical exploration, and a quick-flying motif -- modal at times -- that sounds very improvised. You should know that Chinary Ung earned a PhD from Columbia University in 1974, but the resultant holocaust in Cambodia changed his music forever, trumping his academic training. If you discover his recordings for the Folkways label, please consider them as a time capsule for the events in his homeland. You might also look for his performances with his ensemble Pinpeat or look for his instrumental playing on the Cambodian xylophone, the roneat-ek. Hopefully this recording revives interest in his incredible music and keeps his name in the forefront of modern twenty first century composers.

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