Shuya Xu: Nirvana

Shuya Xu: Nirvana: Radio-Symphonieorchester Wien

Unlike the Schubert also reviewed this week, this is not easily accessible and should be approached with caution. You need some expertise in the handling of classical music to deal with it, and probably gloves. This is modern music, and as discordant, erratic and as dramatic as you might wish.
Xu Shuya graduated from Shanghai Conservatory of Music in 1983, before winning an art scholarship from the French ministry of foreign affairs in 1988. There, he won the Excellent Prize of the senior composition class of the École Normale de Musique de Paris, going on to win various other prizes.
His previous works include music for a contemporary ballet, a couple of operas, a musical, a large-scale magic show (Monkey King, 2008) and a symphonic poem, World Expo Imagination, which we’d guess was a commission. So we’d guess he writes music that’s dramatic and, in many cases, written to go along with a performance, or at least evokes the physical.
Opening piece on here Insolation was inspired by an ancient Chinese myth, Kuafu Chasing the Sun, which tells of the giant Kuafu and his wish to catch and tame the sun. The piece was written to express the bravery and determination of primitive man’s attempts to conquer nature.
The second work is Cristal au Soleil Couchant (Crystal Sunset): sunset holds a fascination for Xu, particularly that moment just before the sun vanishes beyond the horizon. The orchestra is divided into three groups for this piece, and the music reflects this three-part structure.
Echos du Vieux Champ (Echoes of the Old Country) reflects the composer’s nostalgia for his homeland while he was studying in France, and presents a series of contrasts, such as hard and soft, dark and light and of course yin and yang.
Nirvana is based on the Buddhist state of perfect nature, flavoured by the Tibetan landscape. The CD closes with Yun, inspired a Chinese folk song.
Musically, it never settles, attempting to capture, as it does, fluid concepts, such as moods, myths and nature.
The overall title of the CD Nirvana suggests that the roots of the work on here lie in Buddhism. Buddhism says that nothing is fixed or permanent; everything is subject to change, and existence is a continuous becoming. Similarly, Xu’s music never settles; there are no easy points of reference and it’s constantly moving.
If you want a simple comparison: imagine an arty martial arts movie in which the hero is moving through a bamboo field surrounded by supernatural enemies: the bamboo is constantly being shaken by unseen, mysterious forces and the music for the film would reflect that. If you want more of that unsettling, dramatic music, this is for you.
Out now on Naxos (8.570617).

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