The Free-Reed Review
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CD Review: King's Harmonica Quintet
HO Pak-cheong: treble harmonica
CHAN Shu-keung, Kenneth: treble harmonica
LAU Chun-bon: tenor harmonica
LOK Ying-kei, Rocky: tenor harmonica
KUAN Man-hou, Johnny: bass harmonica


Heitor Villa-lobos: Quartet No. 1
Johann Sebastian Bach: Suite No. 2 in Bm (Minuet and Badinerie)
Dmitri Shostakovich: Golden Age Ballet Suite (Polka)
Gabriel Faure: Pavane Op. 50
Antonin Dvorak: String Quintet in Eb major, op. 97
Georges Enesco: Romanian Rhapsody No. 1

total time: 68:19
released: 1997

label: King's Harmonica Quintet (KHQ CD 003)

Review by Henry Doktorski:

King's Harmonica Quintet was established in 1987 by five young harmonica enthusiasts in Hong Kong who were determined to create a revolutionary form of harmonica performance aiming to exploit the capabilities of the instrument to the fullest extent. The Quintet transcribes classical string quartet pieces for two treble chromatic harmonicas, two tenor chromatic harmonicas, and one bass chromatic harmonica.

The group won first place in the Group Category of the 1997 World Harmonica Festival which was held from October 15 to 19 in Trossingen, Germany, the birthplace of the Hohner company. I was impressed, as were the judges in Trossingen. Their technique is good, their tone quality is for the most part pleasing, and their musical arrangements are excellent. Each piece seemed to me to be a faithful translation of the composer's original intention.

The Quintet's repertoire embraces three centuries of musical development, both in Eastern and Western cultures. Their works range from the music of Bach, Vivaldi, Haydn, Mozart, Schubert, Dvorak, Elgar, Borodin to contemporary composers such as Shostakovich, Myaskovsky, Virgil Thomson and Komei Abe, as well as Chinese music such as the Butterfly Lovers' Concerto and the Spring Festival Overture.

This CD features a repertoire spanning 200 years: from J.S. Bach's Minuet and Badinerie dating from the 1730's to Dmitri Shostakovich's Polka from the Golden Age Ballet Suite (1934). In my mind, the most successful pieces are the gentle legato pieces, such as the Villa-Lobos cantilena and the larghetto from the Dvorak quintet. Their phrasing is sensitive and their tone is beautiful; really nice playing. The Shostakovich Polka also deserves special mention; it's comic boisterousness is superbly captured by the Quintet.

I was disappointed that -- although the King's Harmonica Quintet are undoubtedly very good players -- they tend to take on pieces which are just slightly beyond their reach. The fast sections are sometimes sloppy; at times in the Romanian Rhapsody the bass and the rest of the ensemble are simply not together. In addition, the arpegiated accompaniment to Faure's Pavane sometimes sounds out of tune. Of course, the group makes no claims of being professionals; they wrote (in their website), "We are a unique group of five amateur harmonica players, trying to push the limit of the art of harmonica playing."

About this statement, I agree wholeheartedly, and I, with few reservations, recommend this CD for all classical free-reed lovers.

The program notes, written in Chinese and English, present an excellent biography of the ensemble, as well as descriptions of the pieces. The sound quality of the recording is good.

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