Red Silk Dances.
Tibetan Swing. The Phoenix. H'un (Lacerations).
Bright Sheng, piano.
Shana Blake Hill, soprano. Seattle Symphony, Gerard Schwarz, cond.
Review by Steve
This is an excellent
release in Naxos' American Composers series. Sheng, born in China, protégé
of Leonard Bernstein, is a master orchestrator. He deftly uses eastern and western
elements so that his compositions have complete unity, without any whiff of
facile chinoiserie used by so many composers of all ethnicities.
He described the
Red Silk Dances as "a capriccio for piano and orchestra," and
it does have the energy of that form. Rhythm, colors, excitement abound: these
are Sheng's stock in trade. Following a piano and flute interlude, the work
develops with strings and angular wit, then impressionistic piano, ending with
weird chimes and a march. Without the least disrespect to this performance,
as I listen, I wonder what Dudamel could make the Simón Bolivar Youth
Orchestra achieve with such a piece.
uses a timpani tattoo. My hips sway along with the grinding, low basses, first
slashed by drums, then stroked by harp, next held aloft by winds, then snaked
by French-sounding reeds.
The title track
here, The Phoenix, is a modern aria for soprano and orchestra, running
twenty-four minutes. With references to Eden, The Ganges, Arabia, the phoenix
legend is universalized. Shana Blake Hill's enunciation is so clear one barely
needs the text, which (thank you, Naxos) is printed in the booklet. I'd like
to hear what she could do with Barber's Knoxville.
of text and music is exemplary. The only debit here is the stilted edit and
translation of the text, done by Sheng himself, more narrative than poetic:
when thou wert born in the first rose, beneath the Tree of Knowledge, thou receivedst
a kiss, and thy right name was given thee -- thy name, MUSIC."
The disc closes
with H'un (Lacerations): In Memoriam 1966-76, a reflection on Mao's Cultural
Revolution. (I remember all too clearly, in a trip to China shortly before the
1989 Tiananmen Square protests and massacre, meeting the victims of the Cultural
revolution: the daughter of a violinist who had his fingers crushed and was
forced to do farmwork, and a dancer whose toes were broken for embracing Western
It's not programmatic
in a literal way, but it is a tone poem. Halfway through its twenty-two minute
length, a quiet presents itself, hushed, then terrifyingly still and acrid massed
strings, as moving in its own way as Penderecki's Threnody for the Victims
There is another
performance of H'un on New World which I haven't heard, but I've read
that the difference in audio makes this version a clear first choice. The three
other works are world première recordings.
At Naxos' price
of less than nine dollars, it would be a disservice to deny yourself these works.