It wasn't until after he immigrated to the U.S. during his high school years that composer Lei Liang (born 1972) began to seriously explore the music of China, but he then began a thorough study of the musical traditions that had been suppressed during the Cultural Revolution. Liang doesn't use Chinese music as overtly as the Chinese-American composers of the preceding generation like Tan Dun, Bright Sheng, and Chen Yi. His musical language is unapologetically modernist, and while it does incorporate sonorities of various Chinese musical traditions, the Chinese connection might not be immediately evident to listeners not aware of the provenance of these pieces. Liang takes inspiration from visual imagery, such as calligraphy, as well as literature (to such an extent that some of his pieces might even be considered programmatic), and he sometimes incorporates that imagery explicitly into his work. For instance, a player may be asked to trace the strokes of calligraphic figures on the strings of a piano. Liang relies so heavily on the expanded timbral palette of extended instrumental and vocal techniques that listeners' responses to the music may depend on whether they perceive the unconventional sounds as structurally integral to a piece or as merely gimmicky. Yuan, for saxophone quartet, and the Harp Concerto are especially convincing works, both for the fascinating soundworlds they conjure up and their intensely dramatic development. A broad assortment of performers brings earnest commitment and inventive musicality to Liang's complex scores. The sound of New World Records' CD is consistently clean, clear, and detailed.
Share this page
AllMusic Review by Stephen Eddins