Hanzhi Wang: On The Path to HC Andersen

review wang x1 cong

We’re not often taken aback in the Review Corner (at least not in a good way) but such an event has occurred with this new programme of accordion music.

We usually associates the accordion with Last Of The Summer Wine tweeness, or of pirates with one parrot and fewer legs, or Cajun or, in more classical forms, with the tango.

But Hanzhi Wang, a Chinese accordionist who developed her chops in Copenhagen, (hence an album dedicated to Hans Christian Andersen), brings new depths to the accordion, at least to western ears. On The Path to HC Andersen features four atmospheric works by contemporary Danish composers, and in Wang’s hands the accordion becomes a source of mystery and atmosphere, ideal for portraying fairy tales. It’s the soundtrack to a really cool Tim Burton animation.

She said in an interview we read that the Chinese have developed the accordion for many years, so perhaps her sound is only revolutionary to western ears. (The accordion is known as “the people’s instrument” in North Korea and all teachers are expected to learn it).

The sound is hard to describe: like an accordion but different. It’s clearly a wind instrument but in certain sections — such as Passing — where she uses the high notes quietly, or plays rapidly alternating notes, it could be electronic. She plays crisply, so the notes are distinct and there’s often little of the breathing sound you might expect — you could take it more as some sort of wheezy upright keyboard instrument.

It’s slow and thoughtful, evoking well the slightly scary but slightly exhilarating fear of magical tales when you’re little. There’s nothing jarringly modern about it, though Jabberwocky is suitably evocative of a big monster leaping about.

The best recommendation is that we managed to write this down fairly quickly, being immediately taken with it, but have contained playing the CD since (and on and on). A delightful collection of music. Out on Naxos, 8573904.

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