Memories Lost

Our rating 
4.0 out of 5 star rating 4.0

COMPOSERS: Say; Tyzen Hsiao; Julian Yu; Qigang Chen; Xiaohan Wang; Xilin Wang
LABELS: BIS
ALBUM TITLE: Memories Lost
WORKS: Say: Piano Concerto No. 3; Tyzen Hsiao: Farewell Etude, Op. 55; Memory; Julian Yu: Impromptu, Op. 9; Qigang Chen: Instants d’un opera de Pekin; Xiaohan Wang: A song in childhood; Xilin Wang: Piano Concerto, Op. 56
PERFORMER: Sa Chen (piano); Taipei Chinese Orchestra/Chung Yiu-Kwong
CATALOGUE NO: BIS-1974 (hybrid CD/SACD)

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This the most interesting and successful recording of new Chinese music I have yet heard, even if it emanates from Taipei, and if the opening work is by a Turk dedicated to evoking his homeland. But Fazil Say’s concerto has been transcribed for piano and Chinese instrumentation, so I think that counts as Chinese too, particularly the way Sa Chen and the Taipei Chinese Orchestra play it. Its opening movement is ethereal, its second has a Prokofiev-like aggression, and its third and fourth are gently ruminative, but with quintessentially Chinese orchestral timbres.

This is followed by five solo piano pieces which are all in some degree pervaded by nostalgia for home, family, and village, with several drawing on the tunes, rhythms, and effects of Chinese opera. Qigang Chen’s piece, heavily influenced by Messiaen, represents a lovely melding of East and West, while Xiaohan Wang’s offers delicately inflected minimalism in the Chinese folk style.

But the piece de resistance is Xilin Wang’s concerto, a strikingly assured work inspired by rage at the crimes against artists during the Cultural Revolution. His first movement, which allows Sa Chen to display her virtuosity, has savage momentum, and is followed by a mystical passacaglia. The finale is brilliant and fascinating, as the sheng mouth-organ replaces the clarinet of the original Swiss version, and the Chinese winds and strings create a sweet swirl of microtonal figurations.

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Michael Church