Ge Gan-ru Chinese Rhapsody
During the past decade, just as Asia has become particularly fashionable and a generation of Chinese immigrants has won nearly every award a composer can earn in the West, Ge Gan-Ru (b1954) has nonetheless shunned the musical spotlight, choosing a life in the business world rather than either an academic post or the feast-or-famine cycle of a freelance career. His choice may be regrettable in terms of musical output, but at least it’s preserved a certain mystique. For those who’ve never before encountered the Shanghai-born composer in performance, these premiere recordings may well generate the same sort of excitement many of us first heard more than a decade ago in Bright Sheng’s H’un or Tan Dun’s Ghost Opera.
If Ge displays neither Tan’s wealth of musical ideas nor Sheng’s orchestrational craft, his music does reveal a far more fluid connection between the two. Chinese Rhapsody (1992) manages to fashion from the triumvirate of musical vocabulary – pitch, rhythm and timbre – a Western modernist piece that, with its battery of additional percussion and accelerating rhythmic structure, remains recognisably Chinese. Wu (1986), subtitled vaguely ‘for piano and orchestra’ rather than being formally labeled a concerto, is at some times a study of extended piano techniques, at others an orchestrational tour de force worthy of Stravinsky or Villa-Lobos at their most dazzling.
Ge’s Six Pentatonic Tunes for Orchestra (2003), a newly orchestrated version of a set of folk-inspired piano preludes from his student days in Shanghai, offers an intriguing juxtaposition balancing the thrill of a young composer just finding his voice with the grace of a musical veteran fully in control of his craft. Although the booklet-notes could have stood a bit of fact-checking, the performance and recording quality offer the best introduction a composer could hope for.