Throughout her incredible career, Michala Petri has continually pushed the boundaries for her chosen instrument - the recorder. While usually identified with music of the Renaissance and Baroque eras, Petri has chosen to extend both the limits and repertoire of the recorder, both through arrangements of existing works and commissioning new works.
The results have been consistently amazing! Her recording of Vivaldi's Four Seasons was (literally...) breath-taking, while her recordings of the Bach Flute Sonatas with Keith Jarrett remain a classic. In 2006, Ms. Petri and her long-time duo partner Lars Hannibal created their own label, OUR Recordings as
a venue and creative outlet for further musical explorations. Among the first releases on the fledgling label was a trio of extraordinarily challenging contemporary concertos on the Grammy nominated disc "Movements." Movements [Hybrid SACD]Petri would continue her musical explorations on the "Dialogue East Meets West" disc Dialogue - East Meets West - a fascinating program that juxtaposes the works of five contemporary Danish composers with the works of five Chinese composers for the unlikely paring of Recorder and various Chinese flutes. The present disc is surely one of Petri's most ambitious to date - presenting a fascinating quartet of works, both original and arranged, from four different composers representing China and its diasporas.
As the booklet notes insightfully point out, the evolution of contemporary music in China is a fairly recent phenomenon - occurring almost entirely during the 30 years since the end of the Cultural Revolution. Despite its late start, a number of Chinese composers have managed to establish themselves in Western concert halls - one only need think of Tan Dun, Chen Qigang, Chen Yi and Bright Sheng - all of whom have migrated to the west - as examples. Despite this success however, the music of the mainland and Taiwan in particular, remain largely uncharted territory. Petri's disc goes some distance to remedy these lacunae in presenting the works of a composer who has chosen to remain in China as well as a Taiwanese composer.
The disc opens with a real curtain raiser, "Fei Ge" ("Flying Song") by Beijing-based composer Tang Jianping. I had previously heard a thrilling percussion concerto by Tang that he wrote to commemorate the Olympics, and eagerly hoped to hear more from this exceptional composer. As in the earlier Percussion Concerto, Tang demonstrates he knows how to craft a thrilling and colorful score! The work is loosely based on the courtship songs and dances of the Miao/Hmong ethnic minority, with vigorous rhythms contrasting with a lovely, lyrical middle section. Hopefully, other labels and performers will take note and give us some other works from this master!
Next up is Bright Sheng's "Flute Moon." Less a concerto than a diptych of two contrasting portraits, "Flute Moon" begins with a loud, stamping toccata inspired by the auspicious Chinese mythological creature, the Chin-Lin - a sort-of unicorn. This is followed by a long, lyrical mediation on the lyrics and melody of the Song Dynasty poet Jiang Kui. The music perfectly conveys a sense of stillness among ruins.
The "Bamboo Flute Concerto" by Ma Shui-long has become somewhat of a classic in the Eastern hemisphere and for this writer, among the few works by a Taiwanese composer that she has ever heard (the other being a disc of music by Gordon Shi-Wen Chin on Naxos). Ma is the oldest composer on the disc, and as the thorough booklet notes explain, music in Taiwan was under as much political duress as it was on the mainland. The result sounds a bit like Hindemith by way of Chinatown - not unpleasant but a tad academic.
Petri concludes with a new recording of "The Ancient Chinese Beauty" by Chen Yi. Ms. Chen has quite rightly enjoyed celebrity as an exemplar of the famous "Class of 1978" - the first group of composition students to attend China's music academies when they were re-opened following the end of the Cultural Revolution. Chen's piece is the most "advanced" on the disc, but not much more so than thorny Bartok (think the 3rd or 4th String Quartet). For inspiration, Chen selected three iconic Chinese art forms: Clay Figurines, Totemic sculptures and of course, calligraphy. The scoring, for Recorder and strings only, give the work a chiaroscuro effect, in contrast to the colorful orchestrations of its companions, and oddly sounds almost Neo-Baroque. In fact, to suggest a visual metaphor, "The Ancient Chinese Beauty" sounds more like an 18th century European silverpoint engraving than an evocative, impressionistic Chinese ink-wash painting. Not that this is a bad thing...
Verdict? This IS A MUST BUY! The music of China and its diaspora remains far too little known and while other composers/repertoire might have been selected, this is an extraordinary document! Combined with that, Petri's artistry pushes every limit of what you can even imagine as POSSIBLE from a recorder.
Oh yes, Lan Shui delivers to orchestral goods in spades! The pacing is thrilling, even cinematic, all of which (soloist, orchestra and repertoire) are presented in demonstration-quality SACD sound, while the booklet notes will provide an education in a little known, yet vital aspect of contemporary music!