PRISM QUARTET AND MUSIC FROM CHINA
Antiphony (Innova) — Apart from the fact that both were founded 25 years ago, you wouldn’t think that the Prism Quartet (a saxophone quartet) and Music From China (a New York-based ensemble of traditional Chinese instruments) would have much common ground. Their collaborative CD, Antiphony, proves otherwise. The groups teamed up to commission works from five Chinese or Chinese-American composers, and the results are stunning. If mention of a saxophone quartet evokes memories of cheesy foursomes with careening vibratos, you haven’t been keeping up with Prism, whose purely modulated tones are so meticulously blended that they can seem computer generated, as in the tonal shadings in “Yuan for Saxophone Quartet,” by the emerging notable Lei Liang. Works by Wang Guowei and Tan Dun (an early piece of his from 1984) build mostly on Chinese folk style, while a fascinating and very smart suite by Ming-Hsiu Yen, titled “Chinatown,” alludes to the hypersensitive edge where racist overtones once informed Tin Pan Alley’s evocations of Chinese culture. Major works come from Chen Yi and Zhou Long, a married couple who are among the most consistently admirable composers working in the United States today. Zhou’s is the beautiful title track, and both its forces (erhu, daruan, percussion, and saxophone quartet) and its musical ideas exemplify the new reality of musical worlds that used to seem infinitely distant but today are merging into a unified future. It may stake a place as a masterpiece.