Xiaogang YE (b. 1955)
Symphony No.3 ‘Chu’ (2004/2007) [37:26]
The Last Paradise, op.24 for violin and orchestra (1993) [15.22]
Cho-Liang Lin (violin)
Hila Plitmann (soprano)
Royal Philharmonic Orchestra/Josť Serebrier
rec. June 2015, Cadogan Hall, London
BIS BIS-2083 [54.13]

This is music of extraordinary beauty and real distinction, played with conviction and intensity. A little while ago, I reviewed Symphony No 2 by Xia Guan (Naxos 8.570618 - review) , a piece of well-made but curiously anonymous music, in a rather generalised film-music style. It was good then to come to this recording, a wonderful example of the exciting music emerging from the newer generation of Chinese composers.

Xiaogang Ye is perhaps best known for his piano concerto Starry Sky, premiered at the opening of the Beijing Olympics in 2008. Influences include Louis Andriessen and Alexander Goehr, with whom he studied, but his sound-world is distinctively his own. In his works he repeatedly draws on aspects of Chinese culture.

In the Symphony here, the inspiration is the ancient state of Chu (c1030 – 224 B.C.), its art and stories as well as its artefacts. But this does not mean that this is programme music. Rather it explores different moods and dreams. A special feature is the use of traditional instruments, not as mere colouring but as integral to the symphonic logic. The skill shown in the blend of sounds means that they are no mere exotic add-ons, to give a bit of oriental flavour. The players are not named, but the nstruments used – in addition to Chinese percussion instruments – include the di (a transverse flute), the xiao (an end-blown flute), sheng (mouth organ), erhu (violin) and pipa (lute). As in Vaughan Williams’ Pastoral Symphony, there is a wordless soprano, here in the third and seventh movements. Much of the music is lyrical, though sometimes, as in the movement ‘Bronze’ there is discordance in the many bells heard.

The Last Paradise is a very different piece of considerable interest. Although perhaps reminiscent of a violin concerto, it is rather a tone poem inspired by the composer’s experience when living in a village during the Cultural Revolution. The piece requires virtuosity and there are moments, as in the opening, when there is true pain in the expression, but ultimately the piece ends with quiet rapture. As instrumentation is that of the usual classical orchestra, there is no barrier to regular concert performances of the work: it would be an attractive and significant addition to the repertoire.

Performances are impeccable and committed, and the acoustic of the Cadogan Hall generous. I shall return to this very often.

Michael Wilkinson

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