The second of three volumes in Ocora's tremendous series on the art music of Java's Sunda people and their wondrous instrument, the gamelan, is the finest of the three. The first focused on classical music and traditional songs, this one on the gamelan, and the last on the great court gamelan -- an ensemble that differs from the degung in pertinent respects. The gamelan degung is a classical ensemble, whose musical tradition is more Sundanese than Javanese. Using the jegog gamelan as its basic foundation, the Sundanese degung is particularly suitable for Western ears, because of its clear, ringing tonal scales, its magnificent, mellifluous timbres, and the cool, linear beauty of its structures. There are no less than seven members in the degung ensemble, which features two gamelans, gongs, a suling player (four-holed bamboo flute), and the gambang -- an 18-key xylophone. One of the gamelans, the kelonang, is actually two. These recordings were made in 1972 and 1973, when master practitioners of this kind of gamelan degung -- which was never peasant folk music -- were still plying their trade in the territorial capitols. Since that time, the musicians who played this wondrous, mysterious, and haunting music that is as light and airy as a summer sky have passed on, or are too old to perform. To actually see or hear a gamelan degung in Sunda is very rare. The music on this disc was recorded before the outside world at large got to the Sunda, which makes this preservation recording valuable indeed. The music is all from antiquity and is regal ceremonial music. It accompanies various rituals and festivals held in princely palaces that were numerous before the 19th century. What can be heard is heartbreakingly beautiful in its emotional clarity and complex rhythmic palette. Suffice to say, there is no better collection of gamelan degung anywhere on the planet.
AllMusic Review by Thom Jurek