Hua Xia Chamber Ensemble

The Brahmin: New Arrangements of Ancient Tunes

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This is indeed an aptly named disc, since many of these pieces do have ancient origins -- "Plum Blossom By the Stream," for example, was composed in the year 1196, while many others have their beginnings in the T'ang Dynasty. However, the arrangements themselves are new, and quite specifically for the Hua Xia Chamber Ensemble, whose instruments include dizi, sheng, erhu, and zheng; in other words, very different from any Western chamber group. The effect, however, remains rather similar, of a small band interacting and developing the music, much of which (witness "Joyous Meeting") has a melodic loveliness, rather than the less tonal qualities many Westerners associate with Chinese music. It's also delicate, a form of calligraphy in sound, where "Three Variations of The Plum Blossom," which has been developed from an ancient Qin piece, offers three parallel tonalities, and a main theme played on harmonics (three times) to weave a gorgeous little spell of sound. The music can also be very impressionistic, almost modern in its sensibilities: "The Moon Rises" interprets the idea of ringing bells and flowing water, along with people dancing and singing, mostly through the pipa, another old instrument. Throughout, the music is wonderful, another indication that China was far ahead of the West in bygone centuries. But these new arrangements (and their execution) make them a feast for modern ears.

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