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From East to West and back again by Richard Todd
From Ottawa Citizen
Was it East to West, or West to East? Actually, the Ottawa Chamber
Music Festival's programming flowed both ways yesterday.
The Shanghai String Quartet gave a noon-hour concert that began
two Chinese works and ended with Maurice Ravel's String Quartet in F.
Then, at 8 p.m., a program at Dominion-Chalmers -- called Crossings: A
Musical Journey from West to East -- featured the Gryphon Trio and a
"cast of thousands."
The Shanghai program got under way with selections from China
set of folk tunes arranged by Yi-Wen Jiang from his childhood memories
of the Cultural Revolution. They are about as nice a fusion of
traditional Chinese music and the western classical tradition as
you're likely to hear.
<>Achingly beautiful, the songs take the source material and expand
it extensively without making the results sound contrived or awkward,
and the Shanghai renditions were luminous. Apparently the Cultural
Revolution did achieve at least some good.
Next came three poems from Tang by Zhou Long, inspired by
the golden age of Chinese poetry in what westerners would call the 8th
century. They have such charming titles as Li Bai's Hearing the Monk
Xun Play the Qin and Du Fu's Song of Eight Unruly Tipsy Poets.
Golden-age poets, and Du Fu in particular, were unabashedly fond of
their wine. They are more remote and sophisticated than the folk-song
arrangements, but solid and engaging in every way. Once again, the
playing was terrific.
The western part of the program consisted of Ravel's Quartet in
popular work around the world. The Shanghai rendition of it was never
less than pleasing, and often arresting.
The first movement was taken a bit quickly and was a little short on
sensuality. But on the other hand, the slow movement was more
leisurely than usual and hauntingly atmospheric, and the finale was
thrilling as it always is when it's well played.
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