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Decca 478 8168 (18 CDs)
5/5 stars

To commemorate the death centenary of Russian composer Alexander Scriabin (1872-1915), the Decca label has assembled a handsome box-set of every note he wrote and more. He was primarily a pianist- composer, whose pieces ranged from early Chopin- influenced miniatures to phantasmagorical dances, poemes and single-movement sonatas which characterised his dissonant, mystical and orgiastic late style.

New recordings by Vladimir Ashkenazy and Valentina Lisitsa have been commissioned to complement those by Gordon Fergus- Thompson, Sviatoslav Richter, Roberto Szidon and others. These are laid out on nine discs in order of Opus numbers and one can trace his progression from naive to carnal.

Scriabin composed five symphonies, represented by recordings conducted by Ashkenazy, Eliahu Inbal and Valery Gergiev. The last of these, Prometheus, The Poem Of Fire, was scored for piano, chorus and large orchestra. It laid the groundwork for his ultimate composition, Mysterium, which was to involve multi-media and be performed in a Hindu temple overlooked by the Himalayas. He died before these dreams could be fulfilled. It was left to Alexander Nemtin (1936-1999) to create a 160-minute-long Prefatory Action based on Scriabin's sketches. Ashkenazy's recording gives a clue to Scriabin's narcissism. Here is a worthy portrait of avisionary.

Chang Tou Liang


Hong Kong
Naxos 8.570610
4.5/5 stars

Bright Sheng (born in 1955) belongs to the generation of Chinese composers who lived through the ravages of the Cultural Revolution, spending time in exile in China's Far West where he absorbed and assimilated the cultures of its indigenous peoples into his compositions.

This album is devoted to works inspired by the ancient trade routes linking East with West. The Song And Dance Of Tears (2003), revised in 2013, is the composer's impressions of a visit to the Silk Road with substantial solo parts for pipa (played by Hui Li), sheng (Tong Wu), piano (Sa Chen) and cello (Trey Lee). If parts of its 23 minutes sound familiar, it is because Sheng shares common musical inspirations with Bartok in his Concerto For Orchestra.

Colors Of Crimson (2004) was written for percussionist Evelyn Glennie, a meditation on a love song from Qinghai province that finds a mellow but passionate voice on the marimba, performed by Pius Cheng. The Blazing Mirage (2012) for solo cello (with well-known Hong Kong musician Lee) and strings portrays the cross-cultural heritages of Dunhuang and its ancient cave temples in a dizzying display of virtuosity. The recordings here are world premieres. A more absorbing listen of contemporary Chinese music would be hard to find.

Chang Tou Liang


Forward Music

From the title of her third solo album, it is clear that Taiwanese singer-songwriter A-fu does not want to be pigeonholed. Instead of offering sappy sweetness, she is happy to mix in plenty of kook with her cute.

On Teng Da-fu Is A Cat, she imagines herself as a tom cat, gender change included (A-fu's surname is Teng).

Against a lightly jazzy accompaniment, she sings: "Da-fu's greatest love/Is to narrow his eyes and accompany girls."

In the electro-pop number Black Sheep, she turns the title on its head by urging in English: "You can fly, you can fight, you can be the light of the dark side/There's no one can hurt you anymore."

There are some radio-friendly numbers here, such as Stop At The Crossing Ahead, the above-average R&B duet with Hsiao Yu that has already climbed to the top of the UFO Mandarin Pop Chart in Taiwan.

But, sometimes, the quirkiness veers off-course. On the light-hearted Super Pig Head, she gets tangled in a love-hate relationship.

While the lyric booklet coyly prints it as "x.o", it clearly sounds like "a**hole". And it just sounds wrong when she chirps: "You are my super a**hole."

Well, at least no one can accuse A-fu of being predictable.

Boon Chan

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 15, 2015, with the headline '(No headline) - MUSIC15'. Print Edition | Subscribe