With this release of chamber pieces by Cambodian-American composer Chinary Ung, Bridge Records continues its exemplary quest to capture the music of contemporary composers whose work has been underrepresented on disc. As in the case of Ung, a professor at the University of California, Davis, these are frequently composers who have made a career in teaching during a period in which "academic composition" has been widely disparaged. That's particularly unfortunate because Ung's work is vital and engaging on both emotional and intellectual levels and has a warmly appealing sound that shouldn't scare off even more conservative audiences. In this inventive, colorful music, that is in fact luminous, Ung unselfconsciously incorporates Cambodian elements, giving his work a distinctively Eastern character. Each of the five chamber works presented here is strong enough to merit wide familiarity. Child Song, a deceptively naïve-sounding but musically sophisticated treatment of a Cambodian folk tune, is immediately appealing. The two works from his "Spirals" series, begun in 1987, are notable for their intense expressiveness and satisfying musical arcs. The most striking piece is Oracle, inspired by the Dalai Lama's account of a Tibetan oracle he consulted; it's an evocative, ritualistic work whose savage mysticism could raise the hairs on the back of your neck. The Da Capo Chamber Players bring a focused commitment and impeccable musicianship to the music, joined by a group of equally stellar guests, including guitarist William Anderson, soprano Lucy Shelton, and percussionists Pablo Rieppi, Tom Kolor, and Steven Schick. Bridge's sound is clear, clean, and present.
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AllMusic Review by Stephen Eddins