Lucid Culture


CD Review: Gloria Cheng – Piano Music of Salonen, Stucky and Lutoslawski: World Premiere Recordings

As has become almost paradigmatic in piano music programming, the compositions on this cd are as diverse as can be. The segues may be jarring, but what sets this apart from so many predictable jack-of-all-trades recordings is Gloria Cheng’s characteristically fearless yet spotlessly fluid attack on the keys. Whether she’s taking a starkly dramatic staccato approach to one of the Esa-Pekka Salonen works here, or gliding warmly through one of the cascades in an early Lutoslawski work – one of the four world premieres on the cd – there’s a playful brightness in her approach. Another way to describe it would be to say that an awful lot of this cd is pure fun, a delicious antidote to the sterility that sadly hasn’t disappeared yet from the world of solo piano. The compositions here give her plenty of opportunity to indulge.


Two brief suites by Stephen Stucky, Four Album Leaves and Three Little Variations for David bookend the cd, the opening partita using the theme in the closing work as a stepping-off point. The high point of both is a murkily beautiful, rubato section in the former, with a considerable debt to Satie, Cheng stretching it out suspensefully for all it’s worth. Then toward the end there’s a fortississisissimo passage where it sounds like she’s trying to break the keys. Contrast duly noted!


Witold Lutoslawski’s Sonata for Piano, a 1934 student work, gets short shrift from Stucky in the cd’s liner notes. Sure, it’s hardly the Lutoslawski that he and Salonen and plenty of others draw so deeply from: it’s an almost bizarrely pretty, consonant, high Romantic three-part piece, its second section, the Adagio, offering an intriguing glimpse of what was to come later in the composer’s career with its portentous dissonances.


Esa-Pekka Salonen has two compositions here. The world premiere is Three Interludes, which begin somewhat predictably icy and macabre, but deliver a payoff if you stick with them. The other work, Dichotomie divides itself into Mecanisme and Organisme, but the contrast is vastly subtler than the titles would indicate, the stately minimalism of the first mutating more with melody than with actual dynamics. Props to both the pianist and the label (Telarc) for having the imagination to pull all this out of the archives in such rewarding fashion.

February 15, 2009 - Posted by | Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , ,

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