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Thursday, January 15, 2015

Stephen Yip, Dark Side of the Shadows

Hong-Kong born composer Stephen Yip comes to us today in a judicious anthology of chamber works entitled Dark Side of the Shadows (Ablaze 00016).

There are six recent works represented, composed between 2008-2013. All are post-serial modernist in style, with a prominence given to event-gestures and sound colors in a tonal framework that is sometimes at the edges, other times within a kind of quasi-archaic ritual primality.

The disk opens with the work for which the album is named, for bass clarinet, cello and piano. It is colorful, craggy and has a charm born of advanced tone production and an excellent sense of aural space.

"Color Valley" takes solo cello as its means of expression and does something similar.

"Yugen," for flute, bass clarinet, violin, cello and piano stays a bit more around a key center and dramatically gives forth with music that has the pacing and feel of traditional Chinese classical yet also is firmly based in modernism. That Yip can do this with real torque and vibrancy of color is an example of his brilliant ingenuity. This work glows with character.

"Cloud Color II" brings violin and cello to the forefront with double stops and an almost ritualized sense of sound and silence. Once again sound color is a central aspect of the work, with full use of various ways of sounding the instruments integrated into a dramatically gestural syntax.

"Distant Voices" for string quartet begins in a way where "Cloud Color II" leaves off, with primal voicings articulating focused aural color. It has a meditative deepness to it that certainly forms an important part of what Stephen Yip is all about in these works.

"Postlude: Etenraku" utilizes a wind ensemble for a short finale to the program. It has a sound panorama that is the most expansive given the fairly large group of instrumentalists. It unfolds with a beautifully conceived use of percussion to punctuate and the winds to articulate fans of chordal color that are fascinating to hear. Rather brilliant!!

Stephen Yip has an extraordinary way of creating a post-Darmstadtian modernism that incorporates his Chinese roots with a subtlety that gives us a vivid experience of the inner colors of an advanced spatial sense. It leaves us with a feeling of focused tranquility. He is a genuine voice in new music today. Those who embrace the new will want to savor this volume. The performances are first-rate and the music original and excellent.

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