Sheng Miscellaneous Works

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Sheng Miscellaneous Works

  • H'un (Lacerations): In memoriam 1966-76
  • (The) stream flows
  • (3) Chinese Love Songs
  • My song

The name of Bright Sheng may be familiar to some readers as the man who stepped in to orchestrate Leonard Bernstein's Arias and Barcarolles when the composer/conductor began to sense that time was running out. In fact, Sheng's own music has been making quite an impact in the USA where he settled in 1982 after experiencing the horrors of the Chinese Cultural Revolution as well as the subsequent stop-go liberalization. It was Bernstein who assured him that Western music could incorporate Eastern culture and that all music—whether Haydn or Mahler—was 'fusion'. If the Bernstein influence is felt directly in H'un (Lacerations), it is surely in its very direct, emotional response to the human tragedy of Sheng's homeland. Unusually for him, there are no tunes. ''Melodies are beautiful, and when I think of the Cultural Revolution, I cannot think of anything beautiful.'' The runner-up for the 1989 Pulitzer Prize, H'un grinds away like a juggernaut before dying away in despair. It's sincerely felt and immaculately scored in a way that frequently suggests the sonorities of oriental instruments; some unorthodox Chinese percussion is in fact deployed. Varese, Shostakovich and Penderecki have been cited as models, but Sheng is very much his own man. The New York Chamber Symphony commissioned the work and they give a striking performance under Gerard Schwarz, though inevitably one wonders what Bernstein and the New York Philharmonic might have brought to it—they were scheduled to record it in December 1990.
If the rest of this New World programme is considerably less intense, the music is arguably the better for it. The stream flows for solo violin weaves eminently Chinese-sounding melodies into a Bartokian framework with impressive naturalness. The material reappears in the third of Three Chinese Love Songs—a delicate, ravishing set which echoes Ravel as much as any recent model. Finally, My song, a four-movement piano suite written for Peter Serkin in 1988, shows Sheng again bridging East and West but responding in a more conventional way to what will work pianistically. All this music is exquisitely wrought, superbly played, and recorded with real sensitivity. The New World packaging is excellent.
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