Saturday 26 September 2015

The Taiwan Philharmonic under Shao-Chia Lü are on great form in works by Gordon Shi-Wen Chin on a new release from Naxos

Born in1957 in Taiwan, the composer Gordon Shi-Wen Chin  is one of the most prolific and sought after composers in his native country. Chin earned his doctoral degree from Eastman School of Music studying under Samuel Adler, Warren Benson and Christopher Rouse. His compositions include four symphonies, a cantata, an opera, three violin concertos, a triple concerto, a double concerto, a cello concerto, a piano concerto, numerous choral works, chamber works, five percussion quartets, and various works for solo instruments.

Chin has received numerous commissions from major ensembles and institutions in North America, Asia and Europe. In 2008, Chin’s opera The Black Bearded Bible Man was premiered with the Taiwan National Symphony Orchestra under conductor Chien Wen-Pin and director Lukas Hemleb. In the season of 2009, Chin’s Romance for Cello and Orchestra was premiered by Santa Barbara Chamber orchestra with cellist Felix Fan and conductor Heiichiro Ohyama. Also premiered in 2009 was a single movement clarinet concerto A Clear Midnight. In 2010, Günther Herbig premiered Chin’s Piano Concerto No.1 with the National Symphony Orchestra of Taiwan and pianist Ms. Jia-Hui Lu. Another large scale work for soloists and chorus Running Memories was premiered by Taipei Philharmonic Chorus and Taiwan National Symphony Orchestra in 2011. In 2013 Chin’s Clarinet Quintet was premiered by the Japan Euodia Ensemble and his Triple Concerto was premiered by Taiwan National Symphony Orchestra.  

Chin currently serves as Music Director of Yin-Qi Symphony Orchestra & Chorus in Taipei, and is a faculty member of National Taiwan Normal University.

Following on from their 2007 release of Gordon Shi-Wen Chin’s Formosa Seasons and Double Concerto for Violin, Cello and Orchestra, Naxos have followed it up with a recording of his Cello Concerto No. 1 and Symphony No. 3. The Taiwan Philharmonic is conducted by Shao-Chia Lü with cellist Wen-Sin Yang.


Cello Concerto No. 1 (2006) was commissioned by the Chi-Lin education Foundation and premiered by cellist Felix Fan with the National Symphony Orchestra of Taiwan conducted by Ohyama Heiichiro at the National Concert Hall in Taipei, Taiwan.

Sudden orchestral chords open the Allegro before the soloist soon joins in an impassioned theme. There is subtle use of percussion that adds colour as the music builds to a climax. The cello and orchestra move forward creating a dialogue with each other. There are moments of intense passion and rapture offset by passionate outbursts out of which intensely lyrical episodes appear. There are further moments of dialogue between soloist and orchestra in a dramatic fast moving passage with cellist, Wen-Sinn Yang drawing some exceptionally fine tone from his instrument. A passage of orchestral drama arrives, running throughout the orchestra, before the mood suddenly lightens as the cello re-joins. There is a hushed, gentle, thoughtful passage before the tempo picks up to carry the music forward through passages that are passionate and often tender before leading to a dynamic coda. Overall the mood of this movement seems torn between sadness, passion and energy.

The second movement, Dreams trapped inside the Mirror opens with a fast driven, frantic theme for the orchestra. Woodwind take the lead in a swirling motif as the cello joins with a series of chords out of which a slow gentle theme emerges, first for orchestra, then cello. The opening re-appears with a variety of orchestral sections hurtling around as if looking for a way out. Soon the cello introduces a slow melody accompanied by orchestra with subtle use of woodwind evoking a Chinese flavour. 

Chin creates some lovely translucent sounds form the orchestra before Wen-Sinn Yang reaches a cadenza that is both virtuosic and full of passion and depth. The orchestra slowly and quietly joins with some exquisite moments from cello and flute before the soloist leads passionately on. There are little woodwind motifs before the music descends into a fragmented passage where the cellist brings an array of techniques including taps on his instrument. A whip crack precedes a hushed coda where gentle woodwind breaths can be heard.

Brass open After Great Pain with a light textured staccato motif to which the cello joins full of intense passion, pushing the music ahead, music that is full of anxious intensity. Soon there is a desperate orchestral passage pointed up by timpani followed by a slower melodic passage, full of deep sentiment.  This cellist brings out all of Chin’s strange subtle little details. The orchestra pushes the music ahead again, with the soloist joining in music of great anxiety and emotion, leading to an orchestral climax full of power and orchestral colour. A slow mournful cadenza arrives with drooping cello phrases to which a flute joins, flowed by other woodwind as the cello continues its mournful way.  The orchestra, pointed up by timpani rolls, suddenly brings an eruption. The cello joins with frantic phrases to bring about the sudden end.

There is much beauty and drama in this distinctive work. Wen-Sin Yang and the Taiwan Philharmonic under Shao-Chia Lü give a terrific performance.

Symphony No. 3, Taiwan was commissioned by the Vancouver Symphony Orchestra and premiered in 1996. In three movements, the symphony reflects Taiwan’s trouble history.

Timpani and side drums open Plunder as the orchestra moves quickly ahead. There are short, clipped phrases as well as a myriad of percussion to colour the orchestra. Chin conjures up a tremendous sense of uncertainty and drama before the music arrives at a dramatic, broad climax. This is brilliantly orchestrated music. The orchestra leads itself forward, slowing and quietening all the while. A flute motif appears as well as other sudden little instrumental motifs including one that is repeated like a bird call. Timpani bring back the dramatic orchestral theme but all quietens again. A horn sounds out followed by a myriad of woodwind before a steady rhythmic beat arrives with more woodwind passages and brass interventions. This leads to a riot of orchestral sounds showing more of Chin’s masterly orchestration. The music eventually falls away to a hush with a clarinet heard as the movement ends.

Dark Night opens with a hushed woodwind theme out of which a mournful clarinet melody appears. The woodwind create a lovely melody supported by strings but are soon overwhelmed by a brass outburst. An oboe continues the melody despite constant disruption from the brass. There are timpani rolls before a passionate string theme arrives. A muted trumpet sounds and there are more brass outbursts as lower strings push the music slowly ahead. The exquisite woodwind passages that emerge are full of intense yearning. Eventually the music rises in passion with tubular bells tolling in an impressive moment. There is further disruption and the music falls quiet but a whip crack moves the orchestra to rise up to a climax before fading away.

Fast, scurrying strings open Upsurge to which percussion and woodwind add texture and flourishes. Brass join as the music hurtles ahead with pounding timpani pushing the music forward until it falls quieter with little instrumental murmurings in the orchestra. The tempo picks up slowly with brass and timpani helping to drive it forward. The strings, then the whole orchestra push forward frantically in music of terrific drive, power and orchestral colour, superbly played by the Taiwan Philharmonic. A rather pensive, fast moving woodwind section arrives with lower strings and timpani adding heavy drama. All quietens to a lovely little moment for a blend of woodwind before the brass slowly mark the start of a dramatic section, strings swirl up and the orchestra again hurtles ahead with timpani and percussion. There is the briefest of respites before a riotous, angry conclusion.

Chin seems to have poured his heart into this turbulent and emotional work. The Taiwan Philharmonic under Shao-Chia Lü are on great form. 

Of all the Chinese music I’ve listened to lately this disc proved the most enthralling and worthwhile. The recording is excellent and there are authoritative notes from the composer.

1 comment:

  1. Err.. it'd be better to say Taiwanese music, especially if one considers Taiwanese people's suffering depicted in the first movement of Symphony No. 3 "TAIWAN."