MUSIC / Somewhat lost in the translation: Stephen Johnson on Chinese musicians in concert on the South Bank - Stars of China: QEH, South Bank

WHERE does the culture-shock addict turn nowadays? The diversity of the world's cultures remains rich, but thanks to television and mass tourism it is no longer quite so strange. Even so, while the music and costumes of the traditional Chinese New Year celebrations seem almost familiar to sophisticated Westerners, there can still be surprises - Monday's 'Stars of China' concert, for instance.

The format was of a kind virtually extinct in this country: a collection of popular operatic numbers, sung here by an assortment of established and rising Chinese stars, with - to put it mildly - erratic piano accompaniments. Mixed with this were short balletic scenes, with dancers Ravenna Tucker and David Yow, and violin solos from Guo Chang - both rather better accompanied.

The strangeness was not only in the fusty formality of the programme, but in some of the performing styles. What did the largely Chinese audience's rapturous reception of Guo Chang and Chin-Yan Lau's performance of Sarasate's Carmen Fantasia indicate? Do different standards of phrasing and intonation prevail in China? For this Western listener, Guo Chang's playing was like thick glass - smooth and impenetrable. It was even more so in his Chausson Poeme. Guo Chang's gestures and facial expression were intense and concentrated - if only some of that had translated itself into music.

There was a similar feeling - or lack of it - about baritone Cao Qun's singing in numbers from Verdi's Ballo in maschera and Macbeth and Donizetti's Don Pasquale. Cao Qun's phrasing wasn't inelegant - far from it - nor was the sound unappealing, but any sense of involvement in the roles? It was more like watching a dignified demonstration of some decorative art, with nothing as messy as a real live human emotion allowed to intrude.

Against this stood the combination of warmth and musicality in the tenor Zhang Yalin's Puccini, Verdi, Leoncavallo and Bizet arias. Zhang Yalin is a poet as well as an attractive voice - shaping and shading could be subtle and affecting. His partner in the Carmen and Traviata duets was the soprano Nancy Yuen - recently a successful Butterfly with WNO and English National Opera. She too could phrase very persuasively, but there was one recurring problem - pitch. A few errant harmonies from the keyboard may not have helped, but then neither were they the cause.

As far as the dancers Tucker and Yow were concerned, there were no lapses and much to enjoy, even if watching segments of Don Quixote and La fille mal gardee to a distant piano accompaniment was strangely reminiscent of a colonial end-of-school concert. The idea that Chinese musicians cannot perform Western classical music has been eloquently disproved on a number of occasions - most recently by the violinist Xue Wei. For this critic, however, this was one of the oddest and most disconcerting evenings of music yet offered by London's adventure- conscious South Bank.

Suggested Topics
News
Northern exposure: social housing in Edinburgh, where Hassiba now works in a takeaway
books An Algerian scientist adjusts to life working in a kebab shop
Arts and Entertainment
Terminator Genisys: Arnie remains doggedly true to his word as the man who said 'I'll be back', returning once more to protect Sarah Connor in a new instalment

 

film review
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
Relocation, relocation: Zawe Ashton travels the pathway to Northampton
Arts and Entertainment
BBC Three was launched a little over five years ago with the slogan: “Three, is a magic number, yes it is.”

BBC Trust agrees to axe channel from TV in favour of digital move

TV
Arts and Entertainment
British actor Idris Elba is also a DJ and rapper who played Ibiza last summer

film
Arts and Entertainment

books
Arts and Entertainment
Armie Hammer in the new film of ‘The Lone Ranger’

TV
Arts and Entertainment

festivals
Arts and Entertainment

Final Top Gear review

TV
Arts and Entertainment

music
Arts and Entertainment
Pete Doherty and Carl Barat perform at Glastonbury 2015

music
Arts and Entertainment
Lionel Richie performs live on the Pyramid stage during the third day of Glastonbury Festival

music
Arts and Entertainment
Buying a stairway to Hubbard: the Scientology centre in Los Angeles
film review Chilling inside views on a secretive church
Arts and Entertainment
Jason Williamson, left, and Andrew Fearn of Sleaford Mods
musicYou are nobody in public life until you have been soundly insulted by Sleaford Mods
Arts and Entertainment
Natalie Dew (Jess) in Bend It Like Beckham The Musical
theatreReview: Bend It Like Beckham hits back of the net on opening night
Arts and Entertainment
The young sea-faring Charles Darwin – seen here in an 1809 portrait – is to be portrayed as an Indiana Jones-style adventurer
film
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Greece says 'No': A night of huge celebrations in Athens as voters decisively back Tsipras and his anti-austerity stance in historic referendum

    Greece referendum

    Greeks say 'No' to austerity and plunge Europe into crisis
    Ten years after the 7/7 terror attacks, is Britain an altered state?

    7/7 bombings anniversary

    Ten years after the terror attacks, is Britain an altered state?
    Beautiful evening dresses are some of the loveliest Donatella has created

    Versace haute couture review

    Beautiful evening dresses are some of the loveliest Donatella has ever created
    No hope and no jobs, so Gaza's young risk their lives, climb the fence and run for it

    No hope and no jobs in Gaza

    So the young risk their lives and run for it
    Fashion apps: Retailers roll together shopping and social networking for mobile customers

    Fashion apps

    Retailers roll together shopping and social networking for mobile customers
    The Greek referendum exposes a gaping hole at the heart of the European Union – its distinct lack of any genuine popular legitimacy

    Gaping hole at the heart of the European Union

    Treatment of Greece has shown up a lack of genuine legitimacy
    Number of young homeless in Britain 'more than three times the official figures'

    'Everything changed when I went to the hostel'

    Number of young homeless people in Britain is 'more than three times the official figures'
    Compton Cricket Club

    Compton Cricket Club

    Portraits of LA cricketers from notorious suburb to be displayed in London
    London now the global money-laundering centre for the drug trade, says crime expert

    Wlecome to London, drug money-laundering centre for the world

    'Mexico is its heart and London is its head'
    The Buddhist temple minutes from Centre Court that helps a winner keep on winning

    The Buddhist temple minutes from Centre Court

    It helps a winner keep on winning
    Is this the future of flying: battery-powered planes made of plastic, and without flight decks?

    Is this the future of flying?

    Battery-powered planes made of plastic, and without flight decks
    Isis are barbarians – but the Caliphate is a dream at the heart of all Muslim traditions

    Isis are barbarians

    but the Caliphate is an ancient Muslim ideal
    The Brink's-Mat curse strikes again: three tons of stolen gold that brought only grief

    Curse of Brink's Mat strikes again

    Death of John 'Goldfinger' Palmer the latest killing related to 1983 heist
    Greece debt crisis: 'The ministers talk to us about miracles' – why Greeks are cynical ahead of the bailout referendum

    'The ministers talk to us about miracles'

    Why Greeks are cynical ahead of the bailout referendum
    Call of the wild: How science is learning to decode the way animals communicate

    Call of the wild

    How science is learning to decode the way animals communicate