The Free-Reed Review
Critiques of Compact Discs, Books and Music Scores

CD Review: The Yellow River Sheng
Chinese Folk Instrumental Music Collection

Tianquan Hu: sheng soloist

Orchestra of Traditional Chinese Musical Instruments


Xinghai Xian:Yellow River, 2nd & 4th movements
Hongde Dong: Ode to Jinggang
Tianquan Hu: Red Flowers Everywhere
Hongde Dong: Night in the Borderland
Tianquan Hu: Sketch of Jin Mountain Ridge
Tianquan Hu: Paean of Oil
Evening Song of Fishing Boats, arr. by Tianquan Hu

Total Time: 51:29
Date of Release: Unknown
Review Date: July 2001

Label: China Educational Publications Shenzhen
Import and Export Guanzhou Corporation

Order from The Classical Free-Reed, Inc. Online Gift Store. (Only one copy remains)

Review by Henry Doktorski:

This is the second CD I have heard featuring sheng since I first reviewed the ShengMasters CD in January 2000, and I must admit that I found The Yellow River Sheng just as exciting as ShengMasters.

If you recall, ShengMasters was an anthology of recordings of several sheng masters with traditional Chinese orchestras. The Yellow River Sheng, on the other hand, features only the sheng master Tianquan Hu with a traditional Chinese orchestra. I was unable to read the CD booklet notes, as they are written in Chinese, but I can tell you a little about the music.

You will hear some superb sheng playing by Tianquan Hu, obviously a master of his instrument. The unnamed Chinese traditional orchestra consists of a variety of bowed string instruments which sound exactly like the Western violins, celli and basses, as well as several plucked string instruments, wind instruments and a battery of percussion instruments, including Chinese bells, which seemed to have higher-pitched harmonics than the more mellow Western bells (orchestra bells and tubular bells). The music is always tonal, often with pentatonic melodies.

The first two tracks are the 2nd and 4th movements from what I assume to be a concerto by Xinghai Xian called The Yellow River. The second movement is a restful adagio in which the theme is stated by the cello and repeated by the sheng in its dark tenor register. The fourth movement is a lively allegro which opens (after the orchestral introduction) with a sheng cadenza. The conclusion features a mildly chromatic climax which is unusual in traditional Chinese music. I would love to hear the first and third movements as well.

The other tracks fill out the CD with beautiful Chinese music for sheng and orchestra. Three pieces are composed by the multitalented soloist Tianquan Hu, who also wrote the arrangement for the final traditional piece Evening Song of Fishing Boats.

This is an excellent CD for lovers of the classical free-reed. I would think anyone with a remote interest in the sheng and Chinese music would add this CD to their collection. The only fault I could find was in a couple places in the fourth movement of The Yellow River the strings were out of tune. Yet this in no way distracted me from appreciating the beauty of the piece.

According to my Chinese translator, there was no mention of the name of the orchestra on the CD booklet notes. Perhaps it was a community orchestra or perhaps it was a studio orchestra hired by Tianquan Hu. In any case, the CD deserves an A plus in my book. The CD booklet notes are written in Chinese, with English translations only of the track titles.

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