GE GAN-RU Shanghai Reminiscences
Royal Scottish National Orchestra
Naxos 8.570609 / ****1/2
Ge Gan-Ru (born 1954), a native of Shanghai and now resident of New York, has been described as China's first avant-garde composer.
There is however little avant-garde about his vast programmatic symphony Shanghai Reminiscences, premiered by the Shanghai Philharmonic in 2009 to mark the People's Republic of China’s 60th anniversary. In two parts, My Childhood and Cultural Revolution, it is completely tonal and unfolds like a movie soundtrack based on a semi-autobiographical novel of the composer’s life.
Amid the quotes of old Chinese melodies heard in his youth and the sounds of temple bells and taxi horns, a solo violin played by Maya Iwabuchi represents the composer as he makes his journey to the West and an eventual return back home.
In Revolutionary March, the rampage by the Red Guards resembles a manic and minor key version of the Disney tune It's A Small World After All. Tagged on is Ge's Butterfly Overture, a sanguine tribute to Ge’s teacher Chen Gang, who was one half of the composing team responsible for the Butterfly Lovers Violin Concerto.
The performances by the Royal Scottish National Orchestra, conducted by the Singapore Chinese Orchestra's Music Director Tsung Yeh (himself of Shanghainese origin), are vividly recorded.