Words by Charlie Cawood
The Chinese zither finds a home from home: in Italy
The Mountain and the River is the debut recording by Yuan Deng, an Italy-based female virtuoso of the guzheng (21-string zither). This instrument has its origins in ancient China and has gradually evolved in its construction and technical range to become one of the primary solo instruments in Chinese traditional music. In spite of the instrument’s antiquity, the majority of the pieces on this recording were composed or arranged in the 20th century, albeit based on themes derived from older repertoire. The sources of these arrangements are diverse, drawing from minority dance music, fisherman’s songs and Tibetan folk, as well as more canonical Chinese string and wind music.
The variety of intricate techniques and ornamentations available to the performer beautifully serve the highly impressionistic nature of the material. One of the album’s particular strengths is the presence of pieces originally composed for other instruments. ‘High Mountains and Flowing Water’ and ‘Heroic Sisters on the Prairie’ are taken respectively from the repertoire of the guqin (seven-string zither) and pipa (lute). This allows Yuan Deng the opportunity to show off the flexibility and range her instrument offers, from soft, aqueous pitch-bends to piercing tremolos. Yuan Deng’s playing has an exuberance, maintains dynamism across this solo recording, and showcases a simultaneous delicacy and opulence to the guzheng. This recording serves as an impeccable introduction to this instrument and the unique sound-world it occupies.