Thursday, 6 March 2014

CD Reviews (The Straits Times, March 2014)

GUAN XIA Earth Requiem
Soloists with Chinese National
Symphony Orchestra & Chorus
Virgin Classics / ****

Earth Requiem (2009) by Guan Xia is purportedly the first ever requiem composed in Chinese. An epic that plays for just over an hour, this was conceived in remembrance of victims in the 2008 Sichuan earthquake. Guan uses Western musical idioms in the first two movements Gazing At The Stars and Heavenly Wind And Earth Fire, which sound like film music by Ennio Morricone and Howard Shore (Lord of the Rings) respectively. In the second half, Chinese melodies dominates, the most memorable being the third movement Boundless Love with soprano Yao Hong and baritone Sun Li as protagonists.

The poignant drone of the Qiang flute played by He Wangjin opens the finale Wings Of Angels, which symbolises the flight of lost souls to a hopefully better world. In Communist China, Christian liturgy has been eschewed for Chinese texts by Lin Liu and Xiaoming Song, which unfortunately have not been included. The English translations are just about adequate. Like Brahms whose requiem has become known as the German Requiem, Guan Xia’s deserves to be hailed as the Chinese Requiem. For its eclecticism and accessibility, this is recommended listening.

Naxos 8.353251 / ***1/2

Here is a disc of entirely transcriptions for two cellos by Julian Lloyd Webber (brother of Sir Andrew, the musical-meister), performed by him and his Shanghai-born wife Jiaxin. These are very tuneful short pieces, from Monteverdi, Pergolesi and Purcell to Shostakovich, William Lloyd Webber (father of Julian and Andrew) and Arvo Pärt, well-crafted for easy listening. Most of the melodies are relatively unfamiliar other than Greensleeves, in a version by Roger Quilter. Three baroque tunes are accompanied by Catrin Finch’s harp, as is Gustav Holst’s Hymn To the Dawn from The Rig Veda which calls for four cellos.

Only one of the 21 tracks, Dvorak’s The Harvesters, is actually fast. Even Astor Piazzolla’s The Little Beggar Boy is a slow waltz, rather than a tango. The playing is refined, employing entirely agreeable intervals, harmonies, and a narrow range of dynamics, which makes for a pall of sameness, becoming soporific past the half hour mark. Pleasant this certainly is, and a further recommendation may be made for the album as a sleeping aid.    

No comments: