January 20, 2020. As we’re on the cusp of the Chinese New Year, what better choice for the week could there be than China’s premier classical ensemble, the Shanghai Symphony Orchestra, in its debut release, Gateways, on the Deutsche Grammophon label.
While Western listeners may not have had many opportunities to hear this orchestra on stage and on record, it has an impressively long history — having been founded in 1879, a whopping 31 years before our Fabulous Philadelphians.
In this recording, the Shanghai Symphony Orchestra’s Music Director Long Yu — nothing short of a living legend in Chinese musical circles — has paired up with violinist Maxim Vengerov to create a musical exchange of sorts.
Long Yu explains, “...we have a great Russian violinist playing a Chinese piece and a Chinese orchestra playing a Russian piece.” On one end of that exchange, we have La Joie de la souffrance (The Joy of Suffering), by composer Qigang Chen — a work, while certainly Chinese, also carries a French sensibility. That Chen was the last student of Oliver Messian in the 1980s and has been based in France makes that a fitting, culturally blended result which, I imagine, many listeners might find as unexpected as it is delightful. Vengerov is an important friend of this piece — he premiered it in 2017, with Long Yu again at the podium. He describes it as a piece in which “the soloist is challenged to listen attentively and fuse one’s colouring with the orchestra."
The second and final movements, “Solitaire” and “Un lueur de lumière," really give the impression of Vengerov doing just that.
The Russian half of this album comes in the form of Sergei Rachmaninoff’s Symphonic Dances. The orchestra delivers the goods — the finale has all the flash and splash that Rachmaninoff, master symphonic colorist, intended.
Listen to Vengerov with the Shanghai Symphony Orchestra and music director Long Yu in part of Qigang Chen’s La Joie de la souffrance (The Joy of Suffering):
And, more from the orchestra in the last movement of Rachmannioff’s Symphonic Dances: