Subject: I have found a CD that I think you would enjoy
The Hugo Masters: An Anthology of Chinese Classical Music
Genres: World Music, Jazz, New Age, Pop
Chinese classical music is a much larger field than Western classical music. It covers a huge geographical area as well as a time frame of thousands of years. Although some of China's musical instruments have changed ve... more »
Chinese classical music is a much larger field than Western classical music. It covers a huge geographical area as well as a time frame of thousands of years. Although some of China's musical instruments have changed very little in hundreds or thousands of years, others were adapted to Western standards under the influence of Russian musicians during the middle of this century. In some cases, frets were added to non-chromatic instruments and tonalities standardized. The liner notes of The Hugo Masters: An Anthology of Chinese Classical Music contain extensive documentation of the various instruments used in Chinese solo and orchestral music, with descriptions of their history and modifications, as well as an essay to help Western listeners understand the background of Chinese classical music.The instruments fall into four categories, each constituting a separate compact disk:
Volume One: Bowed Strings
Volume Two: Plucked Strings
Volume Three: Woodwinds
Volume Four: Percussion
These disks are available individually or as a collector's series in a beautifully designed silk boxed set. The music itself is highly varied and richly emotional. The music paints pictures of China's people, their culture and homeland, and their dreams and their despair. The Hugo Masters: An Anthology of Chinese Classical Music is a joint effort of the Hugo and Celestial Harmonies labels to bring this definitive anthology to listeners worldwide. This is the first time these recordings have become available to audiences outside of Hong Kong. For listeners unfamiliar with Chinese classical music, these works are a powerful and emotional awakening.
Fasacinating, intense, joyful, profound---a delight
(5 out of 5 stars)
"These four CDs survey the best of Chinese traditional music, focusing on the four types of instruments: plucked instruments, bowed instruments, wind instruments, and percussion. The variety and range keeps this set from ever getting dull, and the music touches every conceivable emotion. This is a set to be experienced. My only regret is that there aren't more volumes in the series. If you are hesitant about this sounding like Chinese restaurant music, don't worry. This seems to be the genuine article, not influenced by Western music or muzak. Some of the instrumentalists on these CDs take your breath away with their technical proficiency and power. If you think you'd like to try some authentic Chinese music, this may be the only set you'll ever need."
A Rare Masterwork
Gerry Scott-Moore | Santa Ana, CA USA | 02/26/2006
(5 out of 5 stars)
"The man who put this together, Aik Yew-goh, did it with very older artisans that were directly of the Chinese traditional music prior to the 1911 revolution. He is a musician as well as an engineer and producer and used exceptional equipment to record these master recordings, traveling all across China carrying tons of equipment with the intent of documenting it's breadth. He succeeded.
As others indicate this is amazingly accessible to Western ears, because of it's cross-cultural qualities of obvious skill and musical scope. Great notes too. If there were a to be a single collection of Chinese music for the novice it would be this one. They slipped out of print and now apparently are back. One can only hope more offerings from the Hugo label will see the light of day."
No more accomplished musicianship than this!
Greenlight | Vermont | 01/08/2009
(5 out of 5 stars)
"Well, this review will just be to register another vote of confidence, based on a lot of personal listening time with the Hugo catalogue, which I had the opportunity to look back into recently. It's the better part of two decades now, after stumbling onto the early Hugo releases while living in China. I don't speak as a newcomer to these now better known recordings.
A number of the early Hugo discs (particularly the abandoned Lotus imprint) are no longer available anywhere in the world, so they are certainly worth finding. Don't worry too much, of course, as there have been reissues (even acquisitions of performances from before Hugo Aik's days). But the reissues haven't been entirely regular ones, and a fair number of the Hugo recordings are likely to languish (again, until they're forgotten) simply because there isn't the spare operating cash for a reissue by a small label.
Aik Yew-Goh's recordings for at least a decade served as the lone fertile oasis for traditional musicianship in a slapdash mainland Chinese marketplace. At that point in the mainland music biz, the mindset was 'karaoke ... or else.' There were a few good 'approved' state-label pressings of some national troupes. (I take that back about 'pressings': 95% were actually flimsy cassette manufactures at the time.) And then, here and there, in tiny, tucked away alley shops, you might happen upon a single disc from this wonderful label. Somehow it found its way up as an import (at the time) from Hong Kong. And it generally would sit on the shelf, too expensive, and moreover pointless to almost any buyer, since CD players were still an unaffordable luxury. No one paid them any mind at all in the mainland record stalls. That should tell you something about the state of the recording industry when Hugo was first on the scene.
Today, there are some 'new age' releases on the Hugo label to steer away from, but even the slightest attention paid to the program on the disc will tell you instantly whether you're looking at one of them. If you're on this page, rest assured, you're on the right track. In fact, you've definitely come to the right place in looking into this anthology. It's a superb jumping-off point for any other Chinese music you might want to track down later on.
As you'll have read by now, the traditional performances on the Hugo label are always by the real virtuosi of the diverse mainland and Canton traditions. There is sometimes a bit of 'reconstruction' going on in the arrangements, yet it's done using scholars' best judgment. These are pieces whose roots can sometimes date quite far back -- literally as long as seven centuries (or even more) -- and there is no 'correct' way to transcribe the arrangements, particularly as the earliest scoring is taken down from oral traditions that preceded, and thrived alongside, efforts to preserve a score. Sometimes too, what is called 'classical' is actually mid-twentieth century. All of it is really worth the listening.
While it's important not to make blanket generalizations about who is performing, it is fair to say that Hugo Aik sought out the elder virtuosi, and increasingly, many of them are gone. Was it all about preserving fading repertoires? At the time, maybe. Today, in a more broadly prosperous China, it's becoming slightly less necessary to think in those terms. But, like the Buena Vista venture, these recordings were intended to restore respect to the profession. The Hugo Production label has been a fitting tribute to a whole generation of professionals who had up to then rarely recorded under ideal conditions, and very seldom had the chance to perform for Chinese diaspora abroad where the music had a dedicated following. (Take the time to watch 'From Mao to Mozart: Isaac Stern in China', a documentary shot in the early 1980s, to get a feel for just how 'distant' the country's top musical academies had become from any notion of a public audience for their performances.)
Even that doesn't begin to tally up hardships the older performers had privately experienced in their long careers. Although musicians weren't directly singled out, anyone who had a profession that couldn't be mainstreamed into a work unit (danwei), and who was remotely intellectual, had a potentially very fragile career path. These performers might have led lives where the occasional, outrageous period of persecution was visited upon them, anytime during the two decades between the post-Hundred Flowers period of the 1950s up through the Cultural Revolution (1966-76). Yes, it actually could even have included months of confinement and, in extreme instances, torture, since that was considered good social medicine once you were already in a category under ideological suspicion. The musicians who were administratively relocated to the western frontiers just gave up for good any shot at continuing to perform with a strong ensemble, as they were also ethnic outsiders for the first two decades of exile. (For a clearer insight into the political mayhem and personal ramifications of China's lost decades, make time to watch Zhang Yimou's most wrenching film, 'To Live.') While it was a good decade after Deng's reforms that this Singaporean entrepreneur really started investing heavily in producing these recordings for his audiophile label, it really was a significant change of fortune in the Chinese classical repertoire. Let's hope these gigs also paid good money! At a minimum, the sessions were a taste of long overdue public recognition for those involved.
Finally, know that you really won't 'get' anywhere close to 100% of what you hear.
If you're looking for something in the vein of Tan Dun's score for 'Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon,' you'll find an abundance of real poetry here. At the same time, it's important to be aware you'll also hear some other, completely non-Wester, pre-modern 'folk' traditions that "are what they are." In some of these folk repertoires, the music is jarring (even painful to hear at first), but exposure to these sessions is always full of unforgettable surprises and musicianship. There are no stronger roots than the village, regional, and minority traditions that you'll hear throughout the Hugo catalogue. You'll laugh when it's put this way, but it's worth remarking on: At a variety of points in these sessions, you'll hear something so transfixing that you'll find yourself in an eager state to get to the bottom of "all that ancient Chinese wisdom."
My hat is off to you, Mr. Aik! You're one of those modern visionaries who actually did it -- who actually showed that the "the real China" is still "the ineffable China," the sort of storied space that the scrappy, bustling mainland public rarely senses has a role in their midst."