Tan Dun: On Taoism; Orchestral Theatre I; Death and Fire – Dialogue with Paul Klee

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LABELS: Koch Schwann
WORKS: On Taoism; Orchestral Theatre I; Death and Fire – Dialogue with Paul Klee
PERFORMER: BBC Scottish SO/Tan Dun
‘A global awareness, on which scale Shostakovich and Cage are near neighbours, and something powerfully individual.’ Paul Griffiths’s excellent (though poorly proofread) booklet notes offer an apt way in to the music of the Chinese composer Tan Dun. Born in 1957 and thus growing up in the shadow of the Cultural Revolution, Dun had already made a reputation in Peking before leaving for the USA in 1986. To British audiences, he is known through the advocacy of the BBC in Scotland.


In On Taoism (1985) Dun vocalises wordlessly as well as conducts; a Chinese quality is also clearly audible in some of the orchestral sounds. The combination of emotional directness and structural sophistication in all three works is a tribute to his technique as well as his sincerity, since the fusion of East and West, of ‘texture composition’ and melody, could easily have been embarrassing. Its components – the manic aviary of Chinese ocarinas at the start of Orchestral Theatre I (1990), the radiant E major of ‘Animals at Full Moon’, the second section of Death and Fire (1991 or 92 – both are given) – are as varied as the forms used. Dun’s real achievement – the metamorphosis of his material – is impossible to demonstrate briefly. But while the shapes are complex, the sense of timing is acute. And the results are simply compelling. Keith Potter