Evelyn Glennie has explored the Orient before, notably with her fine Catalyst album ‘Wind in the Bamboo Grove’ (5/96). Now she presents an intriguing programme by two Chinese (Chen is originally from Beijing; Zhou, her husband, from Ghanzhou/Canton far to the south) plus a Scot and an American of Scottish-Armenian parentage. Somewhere, deep within the Chinese, Celtic and Japanese traditions, is the link of the pentatonic system.
During the Cultural Revolution, Chen was sent to build fortifications in a remote area, where she studied the region’s folk music. Zhou also draws on ancient traditions. In Out of Tang Court he uses instruments (four-string lute, two-string fiddle, 21-string zither) dating back over 2000 years to create a highly effective synthesis of North Atlantic and Chinese music. Both Chen and Zhou make telling use of graceful Chinese melodies. Hovhaness and Musgrave continue Europeans’ centuries-old fascination with Japanese prints and poetry.
Glennie’s repertoire is already packed with pieces where the percussion parts are highly demanding. What always comes across, in recordings as well as in concert, is her appetite for fresh and exciting sounds as well as her energy and precision. The Singapore Symphony surrounds her with rich and powerful playing. The compositions are frequently pretty ferocious, though there is balancing subtlety, too: the washes of sound, the gradual expansion of the xylophone’s material and the blending of extreme registers in Hovhaness’ Fantasy; the mysterious opening bars of Chen’s Concerto and the setting of the vocal part (taken by Glennie) in the second movement; and Musgrave’s imaginative use of the marimba to evoke the special character of the seasons.