Of greatest interest on this disc is Out of Peking Opera by Tan Dun, a 17-minute work for violin leavened with traditional Chinese instruments. To quote the composer: “The first three bars of this piece are a direct quotation from the ‘jing hu’ fiddling tradition of Peking Opera. This is the seed of the work as it unfolds, becomes increasingly abstract, increasingly expressionistic, and develops power, beauty, and longing.”
He also comments on the dilemma facing all 20th-century composers, that of serialism. As he says: “I wrote Out of Peking Opera with ambivalence by confronting serialism, being attracted to it yet doubting that it was the way for me. I would grapple with this issue until 1994, when I finally let it go.” The work was written in 1984 and as far as I can tell, it is well played.
The two fine old potboilers need no introduction. The Mendelssohn is arguably the world’s most popular violin concerto, and Bruch’s is up there with the best. It is the better played of the two. However, with due credit to the soloist, Lu Siqing, who plays beautifully, I found it all a bit ordinary. Comparison with the brilliant recording made by Isabelle Faust last year on Harmonia Mundi, shows up this local product. Siqing keeps within the conventional style we are used to, whereas Faust refreshes the piece with more attention to period instrument techniques. As well, the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra can do better than this, and the recording is a bit flat.