The Silk String Quartet

Contemporary and Traditional Chinese Music

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Following one of their newer stars (Cheng Yu, the group director), ARC Music here presents a quartet of straightforward silk-and-bamboo players, largely resettled in the U.K. after training in Chinese classical music in the Beijing conservatories. The music presented is a mix of old and new compositions, though the balance leans heavily toward the new. The album opens with an old Shanghai-styled piece, but moves quickly into some program music written recently from the southeastern portions of China (complete with arpeggios mimicking burbling brooks and water wheels, no less). The Rainbow Feather Dance, though referred to in many historical records and poetry, was lost long ago -- in its place a composition based on some of those references is presented as a third offering from the group. After one more contemporary composition, the music turns back to the traditional with a Cantonese piece and a classic pipa movement. Closing out the album is a final piece of music written just in time for this album, with sentiments and styles evocative of the Hui peoples in the northwestern portion of China. After all of the ponderous, pastoral music, the album ends on a gentle love song. While the compositions are somewhat hit and miss throughout the album, the playing is never so. All members of the quartet show some obvious mastery over their instruments. The line between traditional and contemporary is likely to be invisible to the casual listener, as this is very much in the realm of the standard silk and bamboo that the Western listener will hear in any simple reference to Chinese music (or in any average Chinese restaurant). Nonetheless, it's a fairly good starting point for the curious listener -- there's plenty more out there, and much of it at a higher quality, but few albums can ease the listener in as quickly and gently as this one.

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