Gu Guanren: Opuses
HK Chinese Orchestra
Cultural Centre Concert Hall
Reviewed: March 28
Gu Guanren's music may not be big on innovation, but a well-crafted piece that shows off the beauty of Chinese instruments is a pleasure.
The concert, devoted solely to his music - bright percussion, reedy winds and "fine strings humming like lovers' whispers" - made for a dramatic and poetic evening.
The Galloping Horses (2nd movement of The Spring Suite) was a strong opener with sounds of whinnying and racing hooves. There was a medley of moods from broad and flowing to percussive and quick. The xylophone solo was particularly vivid.
Yu Lefu is the compelling soloist in the Hong Kong premiere of the gaohu concerto The Bauhinia.
The gaohu, highest of the erhus, has a human but oddly faraway voice. Under Yu, the occasional fast and high passages sounded a bit insecure but this didn't detract from the whole. The accompaniment was graceful, the pizzicato texture reminding me of Verdi. A high point was a twining melody where the erhu broke into passionate expression.
The pipa concerto is based on the story of Hua Mulan. Soloist Zhang Ying's seamless tremolo let the melodies shine. Gu is not shy about big melodies, and in this piece the orchestra sounded at its grandest.
Tension built as Zhang played harsh chords like "silk curtains being ripped with great force" in poet Bai Juyi's apt phrase. The ever-faster whirling figurations were held crisply together by conductor Yan Huichang.
Eight Sounds in Tune, my favourite piece, had the most original instrumentation. The flutes played a finger-tapping duet, the Chinese ocarina had a dove-like solo, the plucked strings sounded like a giant harp with cascades of scales and there was a fast yangqin solo. The percussion was fun, with portentous strokes on a huge drum and layers of drums and gongs.