Darrell Ang / New Zealand Symphony Orchestra

Zhou Long/Chen Yi: Symphony 'Humen 1839'; Zhou Long: The Rhyme of Taigu; The Enlightened

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This release of music by Zhou Long and Chen Yi, who are married and are both professors of music at the University of Missouri-Kansas City, is both more Chinese and less Chinese than other prominent compositions by Chinese-American composers. It's less Chinese in that, except for Chinese percussion, only traditional writing for a standard Western orchestra is used, and the central work, the Symphony "Humen 1839," falls into a four-movement form Western listeners will find familiar. On the other hand, all three of the works on the album have programmatic references that would be more apparent to Chinese listeners than to Western ones. The dichotomy is strongest in the Symphony, which depicts the Chinese destruction of a large cache of British-dealt opium in 1839, an event that led to the First Opium War and China's defeat. This is exactly what's ingenious about the work: it can be experienced equally well on several different levels. The work is listed as co-composed by Zhou Long and Chen Yi. The notes suggest that Chen Yi composed the opening movement, but it would have been interesting to hear more about the nature of the collaboration. The opening work, The Rhyme of Taigu, is intended to represent the court drumming of the Tang Dynasty that gave rise to Japanese taiko drumming; the Chinese word "taigu" is equivalent, but the tradition has largely died out in China. This is again a tradition that many listeners, Eastern and Western, will have had varying levels of experience with, and the music works well in abstract or specific terms. The final work, The Enlightened, refers to Chinese philosophical ideas that once more may be appreciated with greater specificity by Chinese hearers. The orchestration is colorful (and solidly handled by the New Zealand Symphony Orchestra under Darrell Ang), and each work is vivid and compact. Recommended.

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