This CD is a very nice introduction to the recent music of Lei Liang. The selected compositions on this CD are very diverse in character as well as in instrumentation. Yet there is unmistakable a strong identity in all of the compositions. Liang’s music is sophisticated, complex at times, but never fails to be immediate in expressive meaning. This accessibility, together with the detailed craftsmanship makes his music special.
The first composition Serashi Fragments, is played by the Arditti String Quartet. A very bright performance, which puts in great profile a Chinese folk tune appearing in the middle. This is not just a quotation but rather a very meaningful moment: the expressionistic music in which it appears makes this timid melody very fragile and tender. And it also questions the previous music. These kind of questions often appear in Liang’s music and the great quality is that he leaves the mystery of the question open. There are possible attempts to an answer, but never a final one. This charming subtlety is a very strong characteristic of Liang’s music.
In Some Empty thoughts of a Person from Edo Liang achieves the formulation of a similar question through a very strong contrast. Heavy violence tries, but never succeeds in suppressing the subtle and tender music. Also, it must be said that the writing for harpsichord is excellent. Liang finds and uses with great effect the different timbral possibilities of the instrument.
Mastery of instrumental writing is equally found in Memories of Xiaoxiang for saxophone and tape. As an example: by using the mouth piece alone, an expressivity very close to the human voice is created. This brings another quality of Liang’s music to the fore: his music is always immediately understandable. The expressivity of his music always grasps the listener. This music is not only for intellectuals, or New Music aficionados, but for anyone who devotes themselves to careful listening.
In praise of Shadows is a little, marvelous work, like a piece of jewelry. It is extremely well written for the flute, and wonderfully performed by Paula Robison. The music just speaks for itself, everything is beautiful in a meaningful way.
My Windows,for piano solo, is different from the other compositions: this is a set of four short pieces, each of which opens a window to another aspect of Liang’s imagination. The four pieces explore a broad range, demanding quite some virtuosity of the performer. Aleck Karis seems to be the perfect person to play this music, not only is he a virtuoso, but he lets the imagination speak through his playing.
The final work on this CD is Brush-Stroke. A large ensemble piece, in which Liang’s technique of one-note-polyphony is clearly present. This technique is very personal to Liang, and he achieves a very delicate sound world with great imagination. The performance of this work by the Callithumpian Consort is excellent, and it is clear that they have a good understanding of Liang’s music.
The Chinese cultural background of Liang is always present, not superficially, but integrated in the expressive trajectory of each piece. Sometimes the presence is obvious, as in his string quartet. At other times it remains at a distance, a background against which the music unfolds, as for example in the composition for flute solo. The music of Lei Liang is strong and personal, and the performers absolutely do bring out the qualities of his music. Lei Liang is definitely a composer who found his own voice.