Violin Concerto (2010-11) [20:56]
Glimpses, for prepared piano (2006) [10:36]
Piano Concerto Dreamscapes (2009) [25:39]
Kristin Lee (violin)
Conor Hanick (piano, prepared piano)
Metropolis Ensemble/Andrew Cyr
rec. Seiji Ozawa Hall, Tanglewood, Lenox MA, USA, 7-8 September
2011 (Concertos); Oktaven Audio, Yonkers, New York, 2 November 2011
NAXOS CANADIAN CLASSICS 8.573009 [57:11]
Doubtless more than a few eyebrows were raised when someone
at Naxos suggested a 'Canadian Classics' series.
How many people can name even half a dozen Canadian composers,
past or present? Yet Canada's relatively invisible presence
on the international art music stage does not mean that it has
no composers of note. On the contrary, it may be merely a matter
of getting someone to listen. All the more reason, then, for
a label like Naxos to take another brave plunge and forge ahead
with such a series. In quantitative terms it will probably never
match their 'American Classics' brand, which already
has around 400 titles to its credit. This is especially true
if Naxos continue at the pace at which they have begun, this
being only the third release in the first fifteen months.
Nonetheless, the first CD - orchestral works by Jeffrey Ryan
- and the follow-up, an anthology covering the contemporary
choral scene in Canada (8.572812), got the series off to an
impressive start, especially for listeners for whom a soundly
tradition-honoured basis to their modern music is important.
This latest release, three fine works by Chinese-Canadian Vivian
Fung, is more of the same in that respect: formal orthodoxy,
broadly tonal melody, exciting rhythms, splashes of exotica.
Add to this the terrific playing heard here - especially by
the two young soloists, both superb on their Naxos debuts in
music that is mentally as well as physically demanding - and
the result is a disc that is every inch a Canadian classic.
The opening Violin Concerto is a good introduction to
Fung, offering an immediate vista of her understated but brilliant
orchestration and her technically demanding but musically riveting
writing for the violin. With the further attraction of a Javan-flavoured
final section, this could easily slip into any concert programme
alongside a Brahms or Shostakovich concerto without any disservice
to audience or musicians.
By way of contrast, the Piano Concerto has perhaps less
immediate appeal. Despite a number of sections that might have
come from, say, Prokofiev or Bartók, Fung employs some unusual
effects that, on paper at least, may come over as la-di-da.
In the prologue, for example, the pianist must use a plectrum
to play his instrument's strings, to the accompaniment
of seven Vietnamese bird whistles; and right at the end the
orchestra lay their instruments aside in order to rub the rims
of wine glasses whilst the pianist plays out. Yet without this
prior knowledge it is all but impossible not to be captivated
by the haunting beauty of these effects, which Fung moreover
works seamlessly into the body of a second first-class concerto.
A work for solo 'prepared' piano may seem an odd
filling for a concerto sandwich, but Glimpses
employs such a range of sounds in its three sections that the
effect is almost orchestral - at least in a gamelan sense. Clips,
ice-lolly sticks, a metal bar, sticky tape, greased string and
a porcelain bowl are all attached to or placed on the piano
strings at various junctures. John Cage's name is almost
synonymous with the prepared piano, despite the fact that both
idea and practice predate him considerably. Fung's writing
is altogether more listener-friendly and decidedly less pretentious
than the bulk of Cage's, with harp-like ostinatos, ethereal
strummings and even a quasi-aboriginal drone never failing to
keep the listener's attention.
Though this disc has rather a short running-time - Fung herself
would surely have preferred to see an extra work or two recorded
for this, her debut monograph - the excellent sound quality
more than makes amends. If only more European labels would employ
engineers and producers of this quality.
Annotator Frank J Oteri is editor of the trendy American new
music website NewMusicBox, and describes himself as an "outspoken
crusader for new music and the breaking down of barriers between
genres". Alas for him, Fung's music never slides
from the art music plane, even where she instructs the violinist
to "play like a rock star", but Oteri's notes
are nevertheless sympathetic, detailed and interesting.
Collected reviews and contact at artmusicreviews.co.uk