Eastern and Western styles meet, to heady effect

Yang Jing: Singing Strings – Identity

The Strad Issue: May 2024

Description: Eastern and Western styles meet, to heady effect

Musicians: Yang Jing (pipa) Festival Strings Lucerne Chamber Players

Works: Yang Jing: Singing Strings – Identity

Catalogue number: NEOS 12326

As both a term and a genre, crossover deserves much of the mud slung in its direction, but inventive minds may still make something fresh from a meeting of foreign cultures. Think of Ravel and Mahler, evoking Chinese gardens in Ma mère l’oye and Das Lied von der Erde. Yang Jing (b.1963) is their worthy successor in this flowing sequence of nine pieces written between 2001 and 2021, underscoring pentatonic melodies with assuaging tonal harmony, and waterfalls of fluid pipa figuration with swirling string-quartet pools.

Yang grew up during Mao’s Cultural Revolution and is now based in Switzerland; she studied the pipa as a child and joined a Chinese orchestra before founding and composing for an all-female Chinese quartet of pipa, erhu, yanqqing and yanzeheng. She has since toured with jazz musicians as well as Festival Strings Lucerne, and in Singing Strings and Sunset over Northern Heights she sets the scene for an improvisatory dialogue between pipa and strings. Yang allots herself some elaborate breaks and cadenzas, but gives individual string players a turn.

Several pieces spring surprises too good to spoil. One ends with a sneeze, another with a melting Brahmsian chorale. Both the playing and occasional vocal contributions (more surprises) are vividly captured in a close studio acoustic. If you’re looking for something different, this is it.