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In Chinese symphony's works, East vividly meets West

The Guangzhou Symphony Orchestra, founded in China in 1957, made an impressive Symphony Hall debut Monday night. The program brought three contrasting attempts by Chinese composers to bridge the styles of Chinese and Western music, and under the direction of Long Yu, a solid musician and sturdy conductor, the young musicians played with discipline and panache.

Two of the pieces sounded old-fashioned. Four movements from Ye Xiaogang's ''Suite on Cantonese Music" -- there are 20 in all -- were tuneful and well-orchestrated; the model was Brahms's ''Hungarian Dances."

''The Butterfly Lovers Violin Concerto" is probably the most popular piece in the Asian repertoire, and the success of a 1987 recording launched a major international label, Naxos. Chen Gang and He Zhan-Hao composed it in 1957, with help from the violin concertos of the standard Western repertoire. Because of all the influences at work in it, the music is sophisticated, yet it also has the appeal and limitations of naive art; the harmony is often amateurish.

The soloist was an important artist who doesn't seem to have played in Boston before, the French violinist Augustin Dumay. His recordings led us to expect the supremely elegant virtuosity he delivered.

His encore, fabulously played, was another cross-cultural piece, Ravel's tribute to gypsy music, ''Tzigane," which was a brilliant idea and a devastating one, because Ravel was a composer of genius, and the others in the program aren't.

The most talented by far is Chen Qigang, born in China in 1951; he went to France to study with Olivier Messiaen in 1984 and has lived there ever since. His ''Iris Devoilee" (''Iris Unveiled") is a portrait of the feminine mystique in nine movements (''Jealous," ''Chaste," ''Libertine," ''Tender," ''Hysterical," ''Voluptuous" are some titles). The score, written in a late-Impressionist style, is often ingenious and beautiful, and the prominent sounds of Chinese instruments give it color and plangency. So does the presence of a Beijing Opera singer alongside two sopranos singing in Western style. One of those sopranos, Huang Ying, star of the 1995 French movie ''Madame Butterfly," sang with lustrous tone that made a vivid contrast and complement to the piercing, sliding, and eloquent vocalism of Ma Shuai, resplendent in her towering scarlet Beijing Opera headdress.

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