02 Cheng DuoPortrait
Cheng² Duo (cello; piano)
Centrediscs CMCCD 33223 (cmccanada.org/product-category/recordings/centrediscs)

The internationally acclaimed Canadian siblings, cellist Bryan Cheng and pianist Silvie Cheng – the Cheng² Duo – having thrillingly recorded French, Spanish and Russian repertoire, here revisit their Chinese and Canadian roots, including commissions from four composers of Asian ancestry, three of them Canadian Juno-winners and nominees.

Portrait of an Imaginary Sibling, says Dinuk Wijeratne, describes “a young person of precocious and mercurial temperament,” the cello wandering aimlessly before joining the piano in driving rhythmic abandon. Vincent Ho says his music often reflects the Canadian Prairies’ “gusting winds, birds, lakes, even the stillness of winter.” His Horizon Images begins with Prairie Song, the cello lyrically expansive over intermittent piano splashes. In Soleil différé, the cello disturbingly evokes what Ho calls “vocal wails and sighs” over irregular piano punctuations. Windstorm’s aggressive propulsion requires – and receives – extreme rapid virtuosity from both musicians.

Two short pieces by Alexina Louie – Pond Mirrors Bright Sky and Wild Horse Running – feature raucous, abrupt accents, the “horse” bucking continually until finally galloping off. American Paul Wiancko’s 23-minute Cello Sonata No.1 “Shifting Baselines,” by far the CD’s longest work, somewhat outlasts its sparse, repetitive materials.

The CD includes two 20th-century Chinese standards. The Chengs’ arrangement of Hua Yanjun’s lament, Moon’s Reflection upon a Spring, employs bent notes, glissandi and sonorities imitating traditional Chinese instruments, while their breathtaking arrangement of Huang Haihuai’s Racing Horses, replete with headlong hoofbeats and screeching whinnies, should become (if not already) the fabulous duo’s signature encore piece.

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