It's not often that a western-style concerto for a non-western instrument works as well as Su, written by the South Korean composer
The sheng is a kind of ancient Chinese mouth-organ. Visually, it's a foot-high nest of upward-striving tubes - imagine someone tore off a corner off the Sagrada Familia and stuck in a mouthpiece. It sounds like a harmonica - but also, when played with Wu's virtuosity, like almost any other instrument too. It emerges seamlessly from the violins, traces long arcs of reedy breath like a clarinet, tremolos like a mandolin, or makes sudden, percussive mini-explosions. In Chin's concerto, which holds the serious and the playful in fabulous balance, we can barely tell where the sheng stops and the orchestra begins. The music hangs in the air, or dances in a frenzy, but all the time it seems the other instruments are tracing the aura the sheng leaves in its wake.
At the end, the sheng was echoed by strings playing from a box on the far side of the hall, and as their pulsing lost speed it felt as though the sound waves themselves were slowing down. Wu played brilliantly, as he did in his encore, his own Dragon Dance, which began with an ecclesiastical chant and sounded at times like a bonkers organ voluntary.
Framing the Chin was Debussy's La Mer, conjuring ocean swell more than surface glitter, and
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