Xiaogang Ye: Winter. © 2021 BIS Records AB

CD Spotlight

Sorrow and Gratification

GEOFF PEARCE listens to music by Xiaogang Ye

'... a fitting reflection of the work of this fine composer.'


Xiaogang Ye (born 1955, Shanghai), perhaps not known to many, is an important composer, well known within China, and his music has been showcased internationally. This is the second disc of his music I have reviewed and he does not fail to impress.

The opening work is based on four poems by monk, poet and artist Li Shutong, who was an important figure in twentieth century China. This work, completed and first performed in 2012, is dedicated to the soloist in this recording, Shenyang, and is entitled The Song of Sorrow and Gratification.

The first, 'On a sailing boat at dusk', is a sad piece in which the poet reflects on the changes and disintegration of his native land. Shenyang is a very fine bass baritone, and his timbre refects the sombre mood. The orchestral accompaniment is restless but fairly slow and reminds me somewhat of music of the early part of the twentieth century, in that it is not tonal in the traditional sense, but revolves around tonal centres, and the orchestration is, at least to my ears, perhaps influenced by composers such as Schoenberg and Berg.

In 'Qingming Festival in Tianjin' (composed after hearing a song on a sailing boat), the poet is in another region and is missing his home region a lot, so he is quite reflective and sad. The music, whilst in a similar vein to the first song, has snatches of melody which emerge from the texture, and is perhaps a little less sad. At times it is quite tender.

Listen — Xiaogang Ye: Qingming Festival in Tianjin (The Song of Sorrow and Gratification)
(track 2, 2:37-3:26) ℗ 2021 BIS Records AB :

'Revisiting Xiaolan Pavilion' reminds me of the third song of Mahler's Das Lied Von der Erde and is a bit more lighthearted. The poet muses how there has been a bit of a cold night, but that he always has things to keep him busy. This is probably the most optimistic and playful of the songs and is quite delightful.

Listen — Xiaogang Ye: Revisiting Xiaolan Pavilion (The Song of Sorrow and Gratification)
(track 3, 0:02-0:46) ℗ 2021 BIS Records AB :

Finally, 'Seventh Evening of the Seventh Moon' is a little mixed in mood, as at first the poet reflects on his past life, but he feels all is vain, and thinks he will not be able to capture the feelings of his past happiness again, because of the troubling situation in his homeland. The first half of the song is more optimistic, but it becomes darker and more reflective as it progresses, and dies way to some sad tones of a tubular bell.

Listen — Xiaogang Ye: Seventh Evening of the Seventh Moon (The Song of Sorrow and Gratification)
(track 4, 3:36-4:26) ℗ 2021 BIS Records AB :

December Chrysanthemum, conceived after the death of the composer's young infant daughter, was written in 2006 and features the flautist Sharon Bezaly. The work is interesting and goes through various emotional states, including anguish and despair, and yet there is some hope and tenderness there too in spite of the bleakness. The flute writing is challenging and the flautist has to employ a number of extended techniques, but it is never gimmicky and colours the overall mood of the work. Sharon Bezaly is a magnificent soloist, capturing the overall character of the work and also making the formidable technical passages seem effortless.

Listen — Xiaogang Ye: December Chrysanthemum
(track 5, 6:23-7:08) ℗ 2021 BIS Records AB :

Winter (1988) reflects the mood of the composer, having just moved to the United States. It must have seemed strange and unsettling at first, and the music is quite gloomy and disturbing in places. There are moments where it is almost static, and the strangeness is palpable, as well as the feeling of the cold. There are also moments of heightened emotion and almost brittle fragility. There is also a section where the texture becomes busier and overlapping, perhaps evocative of peak hour traffic. I tend to think of it more along the lines of the composer's emotional state, rather than the painting of a scene.

Listen — Xiaogang Ye: Winter
(track 6, 10:10-10:48) ℗ 2021 BIS Records AB :

The Brilliance of Western Liang is named after a fifth century kingdom in Northwest China and was the composer's graduation piece from the Central Conservatory of Music in Beijing in 1983. It features violinist Wei Lu as soloist and is in one movement. It has two main inspirations, firstly some ancient musical scores found in caves along a part of The Silk Road, and also the secretive smiles on some of the Buddha statues of the region. This evocative work, lasting some sixteen minutes, makes extensive use of the violin soloist along with some powerful orchestral writing, revealing, once again, the composer's fertile imagination and mastery of orchestration.

Listen — Xiaogang Ye: The Brilliance of Western Liang
(track 7, 7:40-8:25) ℗ 2021 BIS Records AB :

Starry Sky was written for the opening ceremony of the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games, and the concert version was performed in January of the following year. The work illustrates a positive view of China looking forward with optimism. Scored for orchestra, piano and children's and womens' choirs, it is melodic and tonal, has passages of great beauty and inspiration and is a great piece to end this fine disc. It is unashamedly romantic and stirring as befits the occasion.

Listen — Xiaogang Ye: Starry Sky
(track 8, 4:28-5:13) ℗ 2021 BIS Records AB :

I found this disk enjoyable and a fitting reflection of the work of this fine composer.

Copyright © 24 August 2021 Geoff Pearce,
Sydney, Australia







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