Tan Dun: Violin Concertos, etc

Eldbjørg Hemsing (violin); Oslo Philharmonic Orchestra/Tan Dun (BIS)

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Tan Dun
Violin Concertos: Rhapsody and Fantasia; Fire Ritual
Eldbjørg Hemsing (violin); Oslo Philharmonic Orchestra/Tan Dun
BIS BIS-2406 (hybrid CD/SACD)   62:37 mins

Described by The New York Times as a ‘rock star of the modern music scene’, Tan Dun has made waves with his vibrant, theatrical and complex works. Dun’s scores often fuse Chinese musical traditions with contemporary Western composition and his evocative writing for strings has won the composer rich accolades (including an Oscar for the score, featuring Yo-Yo Ma, to Ang Lee’s Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon). This excellent disc of violin concertos showcases Dun’s dexterity and imagination in writing for the instrument and features radiant and sophisticated performances from the violinist Eldbjørg Hemsing, for whom Dun originally composed these two works.

The disc opens with the exhilarating Rhapsody and Fantasia which was completed in 2018 but draws on sketches that date back to 1987 when Dun first arrived in New York. The concerto’s first movement divides between pulsating rhythm and passages of near-Mahlerian elegy, while the second movement, ‘A Dream out of Peking Opera’, cleverly evokes the soundworld of Chinese opera with a ‘jing hu’ fiddle theme. Dun explores every inch of the solo violin with a depth of imagination that calls to mind Berg’s groundbreaking concerto for the instrument, and performances from both Hemsing and the Oslo Philharmonic are every bit as accomplished as Dun’s compelling score.

Fire Ritual (2018), subtitled ‘a music ritual for the Victims of War’, also draws on the composer’s Chinese heritage, here exploring the shamanistic rituals of rural Hunan where Dun grew up. Soaring but never schmaltzy, the concerto blends the fierce and the meditative, and is performed with integrity and precision by Hemsing to complete this fine disc.

Kate Wakeling