Most non-Chinese cannot listen to a traditional Chinese ensemble and pick out the individual instruments employed; although their sound is intoxicating, the instruments tend to be so foreign sounding and blend in such a strange way that to say "Oh that is a pipa" would be an impossibility. Recognizing the need, the Chinese label JKS Record has produced its deluxe package String Tones, a collection of 12 tracks devoted to solo pieces featuring 10 traditional Chinese instruments -- erhu, gehu, gaohu, banhu, leiqin, jing hu, ruangonghu, zhuihu, yehu, and Chinese zither. The hardcover booklet features photographs of all these instruments save the ruangonghu.
Given the extravagant, high-end packaging and the fact that this is a Direct Stream Digital disc, one would expect that the sound on String Tones would be considerably more spectacular than it is. In practice, it is a little dim, favors the midrange mostly, and contains a faint trace of hiss. Also the emphasis on including only "beautiful Chinese Classical Music" as mentioned on the front cover is perhaps too rigorously applied; we could have used more of a variety of compositions to break up the easy listening sound of the selection, which tends to get rather dull sounding listened to straight through. It is worth mentioning though that one of the most captivating pieces on the disc is among the most unpromising-sounding titles, the banhu solo Tunes from Shanxi Opera, pointing up the basic incompatibility of the Chinese language as it relates to English. Nevertheless, as a demonstration disc for the various Chinese stringed instruments, String Tones works well; taken in small doses, it can be quite rewarding and is good for training one's ear in these exotic instruments -- it is worth knowing the difference between an erhu and a gehu, if one is so inclined.