Monday, December 22, 2014

Landscape of the Highlands: String Music from Vietnam

This is a beautiful recording, issued as part of the Latitudes series of world music recordings by Music of the World, a North Carolina-based label, of five pieces on the dan tranh, a sixteen-stringed zither, performed by Tran Quang Hai.  Anyone familiar with the Chinese cheng, Japanese koto and Korean kayagum will recognize the beautiful and uplifting resonance of this gorgeous instrument, which also has some resemblance in places to the sound of the western harp, though the movable wooden bridges of nhan give that distinctive eastern "bent" sounds as the bridges are moved to moderate the notes.

Tran Quang Hai plays with emotion, sensitivity and virtuosity on the songs, the shortest of which is four minutes, while the others are roughly eight and nine minutes in length.  He makes great use of space, allowing the atmospheric nature of the instrument develop an environment that enhances the rich sound it can produce.  At the same time, he can utilize his prodigious technical abilities to hypnotize the listener with the cascades of ringing tones that the zither provides.

Tran Quang Hai is the fifth generation of musicians in his family and went to Vietnam's National Conservatory of Music in Saigon as well as studied with his academically-affiliated father.  In 1961, with his country in growing turmoil, he moved to France, which was the colonizer of Vietnam for decades before the French were defeated by Viet Cong forces in the mid-Fifties.  Expert on more than a dozen Vietnamese instruments, he has had a wide-ranging career composing, performing, writing and even acting and is still very busy as he moves into his seventies.

Landscape of the Highlands is a gorgeous recording, sure to please those who enjoy Asian music and, hopefully, one to entrance anyone seeking an entry to one aspect, string music, of this part of the world.

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