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Master of the Chinese Dulcimer

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A salvo of yangqin music from Xu Pingxin, one of the early post-Cultural Revolution players of the instrument in China, and now a roving musician based in Canada. Pingxin touches on a series of different styles for this, probably the most modern instrument in the arsenal of Chinese classical music. The album opens up with a basic sort of piece, a pastoral. From here, he moves into the first of two core pieces from the Jiangnan Sizhu repertoire (classic silk and bamboo music, largely from the Shanghai area), and displays intense speed in some of the passages. With the first diversion to the western realms of China, he explores music from the Xinjian region that holds some mysterious parallels with Eastern European dulcimer music as well — with more cultural autonomy over the ages, the Uighurs (and other ethnic groups) have explored and kept different stylistic elements than have the main Han groups. A couple of pieces from the Cantonese repertoire are presented, with more of a pensive mood to them and a very full sound. Maintaining the whirlwind tour of styles, Pingxin touches down in the Manchurian style for a couple of tunes, with its emphasis on different playing techniques — tremolos, trembling strokes, etc. These techniques form some of the connective tissue between the relatively modern and foreign yangqin and the older, classical instruments such as the qin, with its heavy use of tension techniques in playing. A stray Sichuan piece emulates the Shanghai style in some ways, and more music from the Xinjian regions provides a rare Chinese example of the Arab maqam idea, with a long and careful exploration of the scale as one might do on the santoor, but with a higher pace and insistence on melody characteristic of Chinese music. After a couple of additional regional pieces, the album closes with a modern piece, based on the opening of a canal during the Cultural Revolution. The composition is a bit more modern, with some stylistic similarities to elements of the jazz and show tunes of the day in some ways, but still indelibly rooted in the classic playing of the yangqin and its multitude of influences. Overall, an excellent album primarily for the vast range of regional styles and influences that Pingxin touches upon. The playing is excellent throughout, and any small slips can be forgiven in favor of the breadth.


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