Of the prunus heritage

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COMPOSERS: Chinese traditional
WORKS: Of the prunus heritage
PERFORMER: Chen Leiji, Francois Picard


With its seven strings over a lacquered sound-box, the Chinese qin is one of the noblest variants on the zither. Its origins were aristocratic, as was the music composed for it since its emergence as a solo instrument in the fifth century BC. As that grew more complex, annotation became crucial: the album from which these pieces are taken includes music composed five centuries ago. Qin music is intimate, and Chen Leiji, who studied it at the Shanghai Conservatory, is a superlative exponent.


For the first four tracks he’s accompanied by a flute, but thereafter we hear him clean and clear, and can savour his subtle art. His instrument can suggest both thunder and delicate sweetness, but its natural timbre is a ringing baritone; he creates melody by slides rather than by picking out individual notes, and he lets the sounds hang in the air. This music doesn’t depend on poetic metaphors, but it evokes them all the same, whether of birds in flight or a waterwheel slowly turning. Michael Church