Cheung Explores “Cycles and Arrows”

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CYCLES AND ARROWS / CHEUNG: The Real Book of Fake Tunes (for flute and string quartet) / Claire Chase, fl; Spektral Quartet / More Marginalia / Atlas Ensemble; Artjom Kim, cond / Assumed Roles / Maiya Papich, vla; International Contemporary Ensemble; Karina Canellakis, cond / Bagatelles / Winston Choi, pno; Spektral Quartet / Après une lecture / Ernest Rombout, ob / Time’s Vestiges / International Contemporary Ensemble / New Focus Recordings FCR 215

Like many modern composers, Cheung’s music is edgy and spiky, more a linkage of progressive harmonic movement than any real attempt to present a lyric line, but unlike so many others he understands musical development. Thus, even in the startling opening section of The Real Book of Fake Tunes, there is musical substance beneath the effects. In the second piece, the flute is pitched in its lower register, creating a haunting effect as the strings play around it. The music continues to progress this way through each of the five pieces in the suite.

The problem I had with the next piece, More Marginalila, is that it still sounded like the preceding five pieces, which made me wonder if Cheung had anything more to say than this spiky but similar style. This is a trap that many modern composers fall into: once they’ve found acceptance and praise for sounding “edgy,” it’s all they have to say.

Taken on its own merits as a sort of hard-edged background music, however, the album is interesting. Cheung’s music is intellectually fascinating, if a bit narrow in scope, although he does present us with some slower tempi in the Bagatelles, and Après une lecture is a fascinating oboe solo piece. The finale, Time’s Vestiges, is more complex than many of the other pieces, using counterpoint in an interesting way as well as string portamento effects.

In short, a fascinating disc, worth hearing at least once.

—© 2018 Lynn René Bayley

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