Mirror Of The Past is a specially priced DSD EP from Our Recordings that is based on 4 Tang Dynasty Poems. It features guitarist Lars Hannibal with Stephen Yeseta (Counter Tenor), Xu Ziling (Erhu), Michala Petri (Recorder) and Gert Mortensen (Percussion).
The poems of ancient China have fascinated and inspired western composers and as far back as the 1830s when Carl Loewe (1796-1869) first set verses from Goethe’s Chinesisch-deutsche Jahres- und Tageszeiten. This love affair would culminate most famously in Mahler’s Das Lied von der Erde. While nowhere near as ambitious as Mahler, Hannibal’s settings of Tang Dynasty poetry in Mirror of the Past do inhabit a similar emotional world as Mahler’s autumnal masterpiece, the contrapuntal interplay of percussion, voice, guitar, recorder and erhu sounding as if an ancient painting has been brought to life. From the wistful melancholy of My Delayed Departure to the tolling of evening bells in The Dale of Singing Birds, Hannibal and friends take you on a fabulous journey through time and sound vividly captured in DXD by Preben Iwan.
Lars Hannibal says “In 2006, a Chinese colleague in Shanghai gave me a wonderful bilingual book of poems from the Tang Dynasty (618-907). These poems have as a common theme: Man’s wonder at and deep dependence on nature. In their apparently naive form, they explore the reverence humans used to have for nature, and give perspective to the distorted relationship we have today.”
Lars Hannibal – Guitar
Michala Petri – Recorder
Stephen Yeseta – Counter Tenor
Xu Ziling – Erhu
Gert Mortensen – Percussion
TracklistPlease note that the below previews are loaded as 44.1 kHz / 16 bit.
Total time: 00:16:14
|Original Recording Format|
|Release Date||November 4, 2022|
This new EP stems from a book of Chinese poems from the Tang dynasty (618-907) given to the composer, Lars Hannibal, in Shanghai. In looking back at these poems, Hannibal saw a purity in the relationship between humans and Nature in those far away times. Certainly poems such as these have inspired composers such as Carl Loewe and, most famously, Gustav Mahler in his Das Lied von der Erde.
There is a purity of intent here that goes well with the innocence of the settings, perfectly pitched using the mix of instruments (percussion, voice, guitar, recorder, and erhu), placed in the perfect recording space. That intent is to return us to an earlier time, to perspectivize our currently very troubled times and our relationship with Nature (hence, presumably, the “mirror” element of the title). The choice of instruments is important, not least that it is a quartet: the number four is important in Chinese philosophical thought, not least around the seasons. The guitar contribution, performed by the composer, remains a central component.
The recording process is interesting: this is a live performance, but because of the Covid virus, one of the performers (Xu Ziling) could not be physically present so her input was streamed in. At times, Hannibal uses distancing effects in his music, to reflect the ancient Chinese act of lovers from different villages singing across valleys and mountains.
Atmospheric percussion opens “The Bamboo Hut” (Wang Wei), at once Oriental and timeless before Hannibal’s own guitar, perfectly caught in the recording, teases the ear. But most astonishing is the singing of countertenor Stephen George Yeseta, whose voice is completely pure, and interacts perfectly with Xu Ziling’s haunting erhu. Nice, too, that here is sufficient time left on the track for the music to resonate properly in the silence.
Even after “The Bamboo Hut,” the sheer purity of Yeseta’s counter-tenor voice in “The Spring Morning” (Meng Haoran) comes as a surprise. The opening is again timeless: Hannibal’s use of percussion is remarkably attuned, Gert Mortensen the finest exponent. A gentle song of awakening, “The Spring Morning” murmurs its way through to the voice’s entrance. To my ears, there is almost an Irish folksong lilt to the music but encased in finest jade. The third song, “The Dale of Singing Birds.” (Wang Wei) finds the music itself awakening slowly with birds, Hannibal’s gentle guitar sounding against distant chimes. Hearing Michala Petri recorder as part of the mix, in dialogue with Xu Ziling’s erhu, is pure magic. The idea of a “conventional” cadence at the end which then melts (rather like one of Dali’s clocks) is both unexpected, and unexpectedly powerful.
The final movement, “My late departure” (Zhang Yue) is timeless, almost, and certainly hypnotic. Ushered in by a gentle gong stroke answered quietly by percussion, as if opening a ceremony, it shifts to quiet chanting and haunting melody above quietly repeated phrases. At one point a “monk’s choir” is heard, which was sung by the entire studio crew (including the video crew).
It is important to notice that while pentatonicism is prevalent, this is not hackneyed music in any way, and Hannibal tends to deliberately “ground” the music. A beautiful set of songs. Hannibal’s settings do the poignant texts full justice, and he has the finest of musicians and engineers.
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