QIN Orchestral Works
From Debussy on, Western composers have sought inspiration from non-Western instruments. In the past couple of decades, this tendency has seen spectralist composers explore in detail the microtonal potential of ethnic instruments. Enter Wenchen Qin, one of China’s most eminent composers, who in two concertos on this disc combines spectralist harmonies and traditional Chinese instruments to create novel takes on the concerto form.
Echoes from the Other Shore (2015) is a single-movement concerto for zheng, an Asian plucked string instrument that sounds at times like a cimbalom. The hushed opening section, where sparse zheng sounds alongside gongs, bells and string clusters, suggests a ceremonial atmosphere. As things progress, we get a relatively conventional dramatic arc, as the soloist’s initially subdued utterances eventually battle against orchestral tumult. On the whole, Qin uses the orchestra in a restrained way and there are marvellous textural contrasts. Across the Skies (2012), a concerto for pipa, similarly brims over with mystery and imagination. The lute-like instrument’s violent gestures produce resonant harmonics, conjuring a backdrop of stacked perfect fifth chords on strings; these shimmering string harmonics in turn open a space in which, as the piece progresses, the pipa’s rhythmic strikes develop into a sonorous dance.
The composer’s aim in The Nature’s Dialogue (2010) for orchestra and tape is to inspire ‘reverence for nature and art’. After an opening fanfare of a series of quasi-spectral chords, the orchestra is joined by myriad electronic samples of chirps, croaks, cicadas and other natural phenomena. Shrill Sciarrino-esque wind and violin flourishes imitate these samples, creating an immersive forest canopy of sounds. In truth, such a literal description does no justice to the music’s imaginative magic. Lonely Song (1990/2015) for string orchestra, in its massed glissandos and clouds of pizzicato, is a more orthodox cousin of the late-1950s orchestral music of Xenakis and Cerha.
This is the second disc of Qin’s music to appear, after a Naxos release of some concertos last year. Qin is excellently served by the Vienna Radio orchestra, whose energetic renderings are vividly captured, and by the outstanding soloists.