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Sep 202013

A thoroughly Italianate vocal line distinguishes the first selection, Hương Xưa (Aria All’antica), elaborate scena con recitativo which constitutes an idyllic hymn to pre-war Vietnam, from its three companions. The last one of this first group, Hoài-Cảm (Secrèters Langueurs), with it well-contrasted opening and middle sections, the first a Largo doloroso in C-minor, the second a swaying valse lente in the parallel major key, has always been a favorite with the Vietnamese young ladies who want to graduate from Chopin’s Waltz in A-minor into something even more congenial. On the other hand, our second selection, Nguyệt-Cầm (Selenemorphosa), has always kept its forbidding reputation. Both the poetry and the music are recondite. The title refers to the moon-shaped lute, a metaphor borrowed from a famous stanza by the Vietnamese neo-symbolist poet Xuân Diệu, mixed with the image of the Xunyang courtean alluded to in the poem Pipa Ballad by the High-Tang man of letters Bai Juyi (the same man whom Arthur Waley translated). The mysterious music, a Nocturne in E-minor full of Schubertian reminiscences, seem like a white exhalation of cold frost echoing through some vaguely phantasmagorical landscape. By comparison, the third piece on our CD, Thu Vàng (Autumnal Aura) is straightforward: a solfeggietto composed by the sixteen year old Cung Tiến (even at that early age easily the most learned of contemporary Vietnamese composers), it has earned some fame with its lilting sixths as the only coloratura vehicle (of the simpler variety) for Vietnamese sopranos.

Buy songs by CUNG TIẾN in “Vietnamese Romances” album