Quartet – Tiếng Sáo Thiên Thai

I rarely listen to Vietnamese instrumental albums simply because most of them seem to be recorded for restaurant’s background music. Occasionally there’s an exception, like the most recent Tiếng Sáo Thiên Thai, which is an elegant interpretation of Phạm Duy’s timeless classics from a nameless quartet: pianist Vũ Hồng Khanh, violinist Nguyễn Tạ Thiện, violist Bùi Anh Sơn and cellist Võ Đing Kuân.

Even though the quartet places heavy emphasis on Phạm Duy’s gorgeous melodies and hardly deviates from the written notes, it has dynamic moments of interaction. Vũ Hồng Khanh opens “Kỷ Niệm” with a short, classy intro before diving into the lovely melody. His solo is slow but full of confidence. Nguyễn Tạ Thiện joins in for a brief piano-violin duo. Half way into the tune, Nguyễn Tạ Thiện and Bùi Anh Sơn play in unison while Võ Đing Kuân anchors the beat. Together they painted a nostalgic picture. In “Nghìn Trùng Xa Cách,” Bùi Anh Sơn starts off the low notes on the viola and Nguyễn Tạ Thiện takes over on the high notes creating a magnificent contrast that suggests ocean apart. In “Chiều Về Trên Sông,” Nguyễn Tạ Thiện’s violin soars like songbird flying on the river in a melancholy evening.

Although the ten tracks on Tiếng Sáo Thiên Thai have been covered endless of times from countless singers, the wordless, instrumental versions, which have a wide range of tones, stand out on their own.

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