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CD Review: Favourites of Traditional Chinese Instrumental Music Series
Sheng Masterpieces Performed by Sheng Masters

Xu Chaoming, Mou Shanping, Weng Zhenfa, Mou Nan: sheng soloists

Traditional Chinese Musical Instruments Ensemble

Xia Feiyun, conductor


Li Zuoming: Spring Song on the Xiang Jiang River
Yan Haideng: Shanxi Tune
Xiso Jiang and Mou Shanping: Riding a Bamboo Pole
Mou Shanping and Miao Jing: Hanging Up Red Lanterns
Xu Chaoming: Moon Night in Linka
Mou Shanping: Lotus Flower Above the Water
Liu Yu: Butterflies Love Flowers
Xiao Jian and Mou Shanping: Weaving Fishing Nets
Xiao Jian and Mou Shanping: Boat song on Weishanhu Lake
Gao Yang and Qingchen: The Reservoir attracts the Phoenix

total time: 53:31
Released in 1994
Review date: January 2000

Label: China Record Corporation, Shanghai (CCD-94/376)

Review by Henry Doktorski:

From the very first notes to the very last, this CD took my breath away. It is an incredible joy to listen to and provides a wonderful introduction to the beauty of traditional Chinese music as well as a brilliant showcase for the amazing virtuosity of the Chinese sheng. I cannot praise this CD highly enough. It makes me want to visit China and hear these marvelous performers in person!

The sheng is the oldest of Chinese reed instruments and was widely used as early as the Zhou Dynasty (11th century B.C. to 249 B.C.), as a solo instrument and in orchestral ensembles. It is constructed of three sections: the base, the pipes and the reeds. To see a photo of a modern sheng go to The Free-Reed Review: Mouth Organs, East and West.

Although the compositions on this CD are written by 20th-century composers, the works have a traditional and timeless feeling. The Chinese people have a natural love of nature, and this is beautifully expressed in the music on this CD. The music is easily recognizable as Oriental due to the various pentatonic scales, modes and parallel fourths used in the composition. Many of the pieces portray a natural setting and the music gives one a feeling of peace and contentment; unlike much of 20th-century Western classical music which so often is permeated with great anguish and pain.

And the sheng soloists! They play they most difficult music with effortless technique. For instance: independent two part counterpoint, amazingly rapid passages, pitch bending up to a minor third, and a very beautiful technique similar to the bellow-shake of the accordion in which the sheng player rapidly changes direction of the breath from inhalation to exhalation repeatedly. I would faint from hyperventilation if I tried to imitate this technique!

In America, the sheng is virtually unknown, but in China it is an instrument with literally three thousand years of tradition. The performers on this CD are all recognized virtuosi. Xu Chaoming majored in traditional instruments in the Shanghai Conservatory in 1967. He is now associate professor of the conservatory. Mou Shanping is associate professor of Shandong College of the Arts. He was a member of the Shandong Music and Dance Ensemble at the age of 20. Weng Zhenfa is a soloist of the Shanghai Film Studio Orchestra and the winner of many domestic competitions. He has also performed in Japan and other countries. Mou Nan began his sheng lessons with his father Mou Shanping, himself a sheng master, at age 12. He was admitted to the Shanghai Conservatory of Music at the age of 17 and has taught at the Shandong College of the Arts since 1981.

The conductor, Xia Feiyun, is the first professional conductor of Chinese traditional music who has received regular music education. Born in 1936, he was admitted to the Shanghai Conservatory Middle School as a violin student in 1953; he studied conducting at the Conservatory Traditional Music Department from 1956 and graduated with honors in 1961. He has been on the faculty ever since.

In my opinion, this CD should be in the music library of every classical free-reed lover. I give it my very highest recommendation.

The CD booklet notes are written in Chinese and English.

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