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Double CD Review:

CD 1: Primitive Safari
Chinese Orchestral Works by QIAN Zhao-xi
Shanghai Film Chinese Orchestra
WANG Yong-ji, conductor
SHI Kai, keyed sheng


Primitive Safari
Searching for the West Lake In Dreams
Willows and Waves Playing With the Oriole
Ode to Plum Blossom
Tianshan's Rhapsody
Malaysian Dance

Total time: 58:39
Released 1995
Review Date: February, 2002

CD 2: A Spray of Flowers (HRP714-2)
Chinese Wind Instrumental Music Vol. 2
The Chinese Orchestra of Shanghai Music Conservatory
LUI Ying, conductor


A Spray of Flower
Great Country
Shandong Dagu
Phoenix at the Lakeshore
Liuzi Kaimen
An Unexpected Encounter
Entanglement of Fengyang Tune and Baban
Song of Green River
Beating Down the Date
A Rank-Seven Official
Rejoice at the Channel
The Joyful Lantern Festival

Total time: 53:48
Released 1989
Review Date: February, 2002

Label: Hugo Productions
Order from: The Classical Free-Reed, Inc. Online Gift Store

Review by Henry Doktorski

It was a great pleasure to listen to these two CDs from Hugo Productions. Readers may be familiar with this record label from our review of Yunnan Instrumental Music which appeared on these pages some time ago. Hugo Productions specializes in authentic Chinese music performed by virtuosi, and these two CDs are beautiful and superbly performed.

The first CD, Primitive Safari, showcases compositions by the award-winning Chinese composer, QIAN Zhao-xi. QIAN was born in 1936 in Huixian, Henan Province and joined a song and dance troupe as an oboist in 1949. From 1958 to 1970 he was principal violinist of Zhejian Symphony Orchestra. He studied composition with HUANG Yuan-luo and later with CHEN Zhi-ming at the Shanghai Conservatory of Music.

All the pieces on this CD feature traditional Chinese instruments -- such as gudi, erhu, dadi and keyed sheng -- with orchestra. Since this publication is concerned with the free-reed instruments, I shall limit my discussion of this CD to the piece which features the sheng: Tianshan's Rhapsody. (For more about the sheng, Click Here.)

Tianshan's Rhapsody (1990) was performed on this CD by SHI Kai, who was born in 1962 in the ancient city of Xi'an. SHI Kai studied at the Xi'an Conservatory of Music and later became a teacher there. He won second prize in the 1987 National Invitational Contest of Guandong Music.

Tianshan's Rhapsody (nearly seven minutes long) is a serious work for sheng and orchestra. The solemn introductory sheng statements are dramatically interrupted by large drums several times before the first theme is announced. The music presents hearty and joyous scenes and features displays of keyed-sheng virtuosity, such as ability to play chromatic scales, great contrast in dynamics, ability to play harmonies. This work also features the newly-developed technique of inhaling air and twisting the tongue. Of special interest to me was the jocular descending scale passage toward the end of the piece.

The second CD, A Spray of Flowers, features the The Chinese Orchestra of Shanghai Music Conservatory conducted by LIU Ying. This CD features Chinese wind instruments such as Suona, Kaxi, Bili, Koushao and Hulusi.

Of these five instruments, the Hulusi is a free-reed instrument, and it is truly an amazingly expressive free-reed pipe. I have never heard a free-reed instrument with such a voice-like quality. European free-reed instruments such as the accordion, concertina, bandoneon and harmonium, and even the Chinese sheng and Japanese sho, possess what I shall call a "wooden" quality. The timbre of the reeds is, for the most part, fixed and rigid. It is like a piano or organ. A performer really can't change much the quality of the tone, only the dynamics.

Hulusi from
The Hulusi is something completely different. The sound is incredibly expressive, with long graceful portamenti (sliding from one note to another) and such a mellow beautiful tone. The only Western instrument I can compare it to might be a soprano clarinet, but the Hulusi has a much larger portamento, perhaps as much as a perfect fourth. Most Western reed instruments cannot even bend a semitone.

Not only that, but the Hulusi player can perform two individual voice lines simultaneously, when more than two tubes are used! It is like the ancient Greek aulos which consisted of several pipes which were blown together and fingered separately to produce polyphony. I was flabbergasted after hearing this performance, by an anonymous hulusi player whose name was not even mentioned in the CD booklet notes (written in Chinese and English).

I should mention that the other tracks on this CD are equally amazing. Sometimes the other Chinese wind instruments resemble sounds like an electric guitar with distortion, a singing bird and a laughing duck! (Donald Duck, watch out!) Did I mention that the sheng is also featured several times in this CD? -- most notable was the sheng and suona duet in track 7: Entanglement of Fengyang Tune and Baban.

(To listen to a hulusi, go to

I sincerely recommend both these CDs for lovers of free-reed instruments. Truly amazing.

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