Zhu Huiling (soprano), Shenyang (bass-baritone) et al; Orchestre National de Lyon and International Choir Academy Lübeck/Tan Dun
Decca 485 4221 94:10 mins (2 discs)
Since Tan Dun crashed onto the scene in 2000 with his Oscar-winning score for Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, he has continued to bring his trademark fusion of eastern and western musical traditions to the masses. Buddha Passion is his latest offering in this vein. Tipping its hat to the musical tradition of the liturgical Christian Passion, this epic work roots itself in the stories of Buddhism. Dun was inspired by a visit to the vast ancient caves in the Dunhuang desert, which were bedecked with musical murals depicting musicians, orchestras and instruments. His aim was to ‘transcribe’ these murals into sound through six evocative stories that tell the life of Buddha.
The work received its UK premiere in January this year to great acclaim, but this recording predates that performance, captured live at the Shanghi Oriental Art Center in 2019. It’s Dun’s debut on Decca Classics, in a release coordinated with a performance at the opening of the Edinburgh International Festival this summer.
With Tibetan singing bowls and Chinese symbols seamlessly set against vibrant brass and lush string textures, Dun travels across cultures and historical eras. Choirs are set against the Mongolian vocal techniques of indigenous singers. This is a work of significant scale, with massed choirs, a large orchestra, six percussionists and a range of soloists including indigenous singers, traditional Chinese instruments and a dancing pipa player.
This is a feat of musical storytelling: broad in scope and style, but clear in its narrative, direction and impact.