Traditions and Transformations: Sounds of Silk Road Chicago

Our rating 
4.0 out of 5 star rating 4.0

COMPOSERS: Bloch,Harrison,Prokofiev,Sharav
WORKS: Bloch: Schelomo; Sharav: Legends of Herlen; L Harrison: Pipa Concerto; Prokofiev: Scythian Suite
PERFORMER: Yo-Yo Ma (cello), Wu Man (pipa); Silk Road Ensemble; Chicago Symphony Orchestra/Miguel Harth-Bedoya, Alan Gilbert


Marking the end of the Silk Road Ensemble’s year-long collaboration with the Chicago Symphony, this is probably the most Occident-centric album they have released insofar as only the Mongolian, Sharav, was not born into the European classical tradition.

But more, if anything, than their more ‘exotic’ programmes it stresses the pointlessness of pigeon-holing: the Swiss-born Bloch’s mature music is rooted deeply in the Jewish tradition, the American Harrison immersed himself in Eastern music long before he ever visited the region, and Prokofiev’s Scythian Suite displayed his fascination with the nomadic tribes of the Asian steppes.

Bloch suggested the cello in Schelomo could represent the voice of Solomon. Ma invests the solo part with regal and sagacious qualities, but shot through with frailty and the King’s realisation that ‘nothing is worth the pain it causes: all is Vanity’.

Khongorzul Ganbaatar contributes a nape-prickling vocal to Sharav’s Legend of Herlen, inspired by ‘long song’: long-breathed, highly-ornamented melodies.

Harrison’s Pipa Concerto is predominantly (and characteristically) bright in texture and lively in demeanour, given added zing by Wu Man’s incisive, agile playing. Prokofiev’s suite has been compared to Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring.


Less jagged and barbaric, it is still very exciting and allows the Chicago SO to show off its power. Barry Witherden