While the Davies Hall audience went into an unprecedented orgy of
endless standing ovations for Lang Lang tonight, the San Francisco debut
of soprano Luwa Ke employed a vehicle passing strange even beyond the
pianist's usual astonishing/annoying show.
The umlauted Chinese soprano sang 19th century European romantic music
interspersed with the shouts, shrieks and pings of 18th century Peking
opera, in an homage to Mahler with music reminiscent of Debussy and
Schoenberg of the "Gurrelieder" phase (and just a touch of Mantovani).
The premiere on the program of the China Philharmonic was Ye Xiaogang's
"Das Lied auf der Erde" - "from" or "about" substituted for Mahler's
"of" in his "Das Lied von der Erde." The 49-year-old Shanghai composer
exhibited mastery of genres from East and West, the work heard in an
impressive performance by the Philharmonic, under the baton of its
founder-director, the formidable Long Yu. (China Philharmonic, employing
musicians of Chinese broadcasting orchestras, came into being just four
The underfunded Chinese `Lied' is incomplete: additional commissions are
pending to make possible the setting of two Li Bai poems - "Lotus-Plucking
Song" and "Feelings Upon Awakening from Drunkenness on a Spring Day" -
to correspond to the fourth and fifth movements of the Mahler work: "Von
der Schonheit" and Der Trunkene im Fruhling."
Heard tonight, the "first edition" consists of music significantly shorter
than the corresponding Mahler songs, especially the first movement, Li
Bai's "Tale of Sorrowful Song," which lacks the bitter, sharp lament of
"Das Trinklied." The second movement, "Banquet at Tao Family's Pavilion,"
is a very abstract reference to "Von der Jugend," Li Bai's poem speaking
of "Winding path... quietude... tall gate... open pond."
Qian Qi's "Imitation of Old Poem: Long Autum Night" intends to parallel
"Der Einsame im Herbst," and two poems (by Meng Hao Ran and Wang Wei)
are combined to approximate the feeling of "Der Abschied." Wang Wei's
"Farewell" and Ye Xiaogang's music are effective in the quest, the former
with "Ask no more. Endless, the white clouds," the latter with the
work's best combination of European and Chinese music. A peculiar thing
about the work - certain to be intentional - is that although it is
written in an idiom reminiscent of a handful of European composers, there
is virtually no trace of Mahler in it.
Perhaps less intentionally, there was little Rachmaninoff in Lang Lang's
brilliant performance of "Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini," the young
artist's four (five?) hands flashing over the keyboard with the elegant
flight of a flock of birds, his incredible releases pushing the listener
to the brink of shouting with the delight in the middle of the piece.
But instead of Rachmaninoff, there was some Beethoven (in the Chopinesque
manner), a good deal of bebop, and the sounds of a Viennese cafe. The
first encore - Liszt's "Sonetto del Petrarca" - was again technically
impressive beyond measure but also more "musical." The second encore -
before Lang Lang took the concertmaster's hand and led him (and the
orchestra) off the stage - was the "Flight of the Mad Bumblebee on
Steroids"... great fun.
Long Yu, a conductor of very large gestures on top of micro-managing
every note, presided over fine, competent performances of the Rimsky-Korsakov
"Tsar's Bride" Overture, Wu Zuqiang's kitschy orchestration of Hua
Yanjun's "Moon Reflected on the Erquan Fountain," closing the generous
evening with Bartok's Suite from "The Miraculous Mandarin."
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