Enjoyable Asian String Quartets on Naxos

Review by: David Hurwitz


Artistic Quality: 9

Sound Quality: 9

This disc brings together five works by as many highly talented Asian composers, some, like Takemitsu, quite well known, others less so. The first three works, Zhou Long’s Song of the Ch’in, Chinary Ung’s Spiral III, and Gao Ping’s Bright Light and Cloud Shadows, come from a similar school of contemporary composition, broadly speaking. You might call it an offshoot of Romantic Nationalism with avant-garde elements, at least to the extent that Asian melodic ideas mingle with imitations of native instruments involving advanced playing techniques. All three works are captivating in their various ways. Zhou Long’s occasional reference to folk music, like Bartók’s, is placed in service of a wholly modern sensibility (no Socialist Realist “Butterfly Lovers” here!). Chinary Ung’s piece perhaps employs the widest variety of timbre, while Gao Ping’s is the most dramatic. All three works last about 10 minutes. Takemitsu’s A Way a Lone (whatever that means) exploits the composer’s familiar mix of Debussy and Messiaen with typically evocative results.

Tan Dun’s Eight Colors is the largest piece on the program, eight short movements lasting about a quarter hour, not all of which have anything obvious to do with color. Anyone familiar with this composer’s more listener-friendly recent work may find this 1986 essay in atonality disconcerting, but placing it last on the program turns out to be a smart move, as the work exploits many of the same timbral elements previously heard and the music comes across as nicely contrasted and appealing. All five pieces are very well played by the sensitive and virtuosic New Zealand String Quartet, and equally well recorded by Naxos’ engineers. A very enjoyable disc for the moderately adventurous.

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Recording Details:

Reference Recording: No reference recording

Zhou Long: Song of the Ch'in; Chinary Ung: Spiral III; Gao Ping: Bright Light and Cloud Shadows; Toru Takemitsu: A Way a Lone; Tan Dun: Eight Colors

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