CHEN / HE: The Butterfly Lovers Violin Concerto (Cheng-wu Fan/ Kovan Goh/ Shanghai Conservatory Symphony Orchestra/ Takako Nishizaki) (Naxos: 8.554334)
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The Butterfly LoversConcerto
Chen Gang & HeZhanhao
The ButterflyLovers was written by HeZhan-hao and Chen Gang in 1959 while they were students of the ShanghaiConservatory. Musically, the concerto is a synthesis of the Eastern and Westerntraditions although the melodies and overall style are derived from the operaof Shanghai. The original version of the concerto (presented here) has a markedtraditionally oriental colour. In the spirit of the Shanghai opera, theconcerto, as a whole, conveys on a musical level aspects of a traditionalChinese painting in its light and calm mood.
Chen later revised theoriginal score in an attempt to intensify the dramatic power of the music byfurther contrasting both the tempi and the dynamics of the concerto. The resultis that the later version sounds far more Western and further removed from theShanghai opera which inspired its antecedent.
Although the concertois written in sonata form it is also strongly programmatic. The narrative isbased on Chinese folklore and tells the story of the lovers Liang Shan-po andZhu Ying-tai. Liang Shan-po has been studying with Zhu Ying-tai, disguised as aboy, for many years during which Ying-tai has fallen in love with Shan-po whois ignorant of her true gender. One day, Ying-tai is summoned home, where herfamily has arranged for her to marry a wealthy neighbour. She is, therefore,forced to part from Shan-po, in a tender scene by a bridge. After a time,Shan-po, greatly missing his companion, attempts to visit Ying-tai's housewhere he finds out from a servant that Ying-tai is a girl and about to bemarried. Only then does he understand what Ying-tai had so often tried to tellhim, and in his bitter despair he falls ill and dies. On learning of the deathof Shan-po, Ying-tai visits his grave and in her grief begs his tomb to open.
There is a clap of thunder, the tomb breaks open and Ying-tai leaps into thegrave, from which the two lovers emerge as butterflies and flyaway together,finally reunited.
Techniques of theChinese string instrument, the er-hu, are used by the violin in this concertoand this serves to emphasise the Chinese character of the work.
arr. Yan Huichang
San Bang Gu ('drum with three sticks'), popular in Hunanand Tianmen, is a kind of traditional folk art form. The theme of StreetMusician is based on the melody of San BangGu, depicting the bitterlife of folk musicians. The introduction provides a background of misery andthe sad tune played by the cello expresses the wretched fate of the musicians.
The technically demanding violin cadenza is followed by a cry of anguish at theunfairness of life. In a quicker section the main theme re-appears, indifferent speed and rhythm, as the music reaches a climax.
Love in Spring
Love in Spring was specially written for the Japaneseviolinist Takako Nishizaki. By using various folk-songs and operatic themesfrom the North and South of China, the composer attempts to show the greatbeauty of Chinese melodies transcribed for the solo violin. The orchestralintroduction, its shifting harmonies recalling the changing colours of spring,leads to a tender and sensuous theme for the solo violin. The melody suggeststhe transience of spring or perhaps a dream of the past, the dialogue of soloistand orchestra like that of spring breezes and the willow. In conclusion thetheme appears in fragmented and poignant form. There is an orchestralcrescendo, leading to a climax, in a work that conveys the character of spring,something beyond words, a love that embraces the whole earth.
Parting of the NewlyWedded
Zhu Xiaogu & ZhangXiaofeng
Zhu Xiaogu and ZhangXiaofeng wrote Parting of the Newly Wedded in 1980, basing it on a poemof the same name by the famous Tang Dynasty poet Du Fu. It tells the tragicstory set in the period of the Rebellion of An and Shi, in which a newlymarried couple are forced to part. The piece shows the tragic scene in whichthe bride bids her husband farewell, as he is enlisted in the army.
Parting of theNewly Wedded is in threesections. The first of these, The Wedding, is based on a work by a wellknown Song Dynasty poet. The graceful melody depicts the shy gesture of a girlwaiting to be wed, followed by the loud sound of wedding gong and drum. Thedialogue between violin and cello, with the glockenspiel, shows the deep loveand gentle feelings of the couple, the beauty of the nuptial chamber. Thesecond part, Surprised by the Change, is introduced by an ominous drumroll, the Chinese operatic "reckless beat" combined with the freemelody of the solo violin, serene harmony totally disturbed. There is strongdramatic conflict, as officers come to seize the bridegroom and take him awayto join the army. The bride weeps, as they part, beating her breast andstamping her feet. The "rapid beat slow singing" of opera shows thevulnerability of the characters. In the third part, Farewell, theprincipal theme re-appears, slow and heavy. The weeping melody represents thehelpless sighs of the bride, now her husband is going to his death. The rapidcadenza speaks of the girl's indignation, and in conclusion the orchestra playssad and grieving music, representing the great tragedy that has taken place.