Missing Moon… Staccato Beans… Herd boy’s Song… Blue Nun… Red Wilderness… Ancient Burial… Floating Clouds… Sunrain… Those eight musical vignettes are the components of Tan Dun’ enchanting 8 Memories in Watercolor (2002 version), a little collection of piano miniatures, some as brief as a minute and a quarter, others a still-brief three minutes in length.

In Tan Dun’s compositional language less is more, as delicately wrought depictions of natural phenomena – rain, clouds – alternate with moments sparingly charged with emotion – a burial – and brief passages of elegant humor – jumping beans.

Tan is a master of the understatement – a hallmark of the ancient culture of China – and a musical artist whose eclectic aesthetic admits works like thee homage C-A-G-E (In Memory of John Cage), a piece in which a series of four pitches that spell the last name of composer John Cage are treated in a number of whimsical ways through the use of a prepared piano that the protean pianist Ralph van Raat plucks, hammers away at, and pounds massive chords on only to alternate with: ostinato repetitions,  and a number of variations that subtly allude to some of the musical gestures of ancient theatre and ritual Chinese music: fast repetitions of a single pitch, an absence of melody, harmony, and or counterpoint and a blunt refusal of any and all western structure.

In Film Music Sonata, seven lengthier pieces show the Chinese master in an unabashedly Romantic mood. The intriguingly-titled The Mask, After Tonight, Sword Dance, Only for Love, Traces, The Fire, and Blue Orchid come from several of the Chinese American composer’s film scores: Don’t Cry, Nanking; Fallen; Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon; Hero; and The Banquet.

The simply titled NAXOS release Memories in Watercolor features pianist Ralph van Raat in sixteen selections by Chinese American composer Tan Dun. The results are magical.

Rafael de Acha © 2022

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