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Tracing Magic and Mysticism Through Decades of French Piano Music

Pianist Christina Petrowska Quilico‘s latest album Sound Visionaries – streaming at Spotify – traces the most harmonically acerbic side of French piano music, starting with Debussy’s fix-Asian, then exploring Messiaen’s otherworldly universes, up to Pierre Boulez. It’s a frequently wild, entertaining, haunting and counterintuitive performance.

Quilico brings Debussy’s Brouillards – the opening segment of his Preludes, Book 2 – full circle, through tinkling Javanese mist, to a chillier rainstorm and back. Feuilles Mortes turns out to be a steadier, more increasingly phantasmagorical tableau: her restraint, where others go straight for the macabre, is a revelation. Then she flips the script, bringing the flamenco flourishes of La Puerta Del Vino front and center.

Les Fees Sont d’Exquises Danseuses is less an unbridled spritely dance-off than a prelude to one, with dazzlingly articulated hints of future fireworks. Likewise, La Terrasse des Audiences du Clair de Lune focuses on emphatic, expectant, darkly carnivalesque phrasing. And she finds unexpected unease within the rapidfire rivulets of Ondine, particularly via lefthand grit.

Quilico’s blend of legato and wry ragtime flourishes in Les Tierces Alternes is insightful, and a lot of fun. The fireworks finally coalesce and flourish in the suite’s coda.

Debussy’s gamelanesque, chiming harmonies give way to Messiaen’s icily reverent resonance in eight selections from Messiaen’s Vingt Regards sur l’Enfant Jesus. Messiaen is not known for his sense of humor, but Quilico finds it, in the music-box bounce of #4 and the jaunty ragtimish allusions in #11, dauntingly vast clocktower resonance and austere close harmonies notwithstanding.

The procession of prophets, shepherds and wise men march regally through #16, even as the rhythms grow more dissociative. Following with the Star of Bethlehem tableau of #2 is a neat bit of programming, turning the composer’s foreshadowing inside out. Angels are just short of frantic to get the show on the road in #14.

There’s a return to coyly playful gremlinish fun in #11’s view from above. Quilico’s final selection from the suite is very evocative of Jehan Alain’s iconic organ work Litanies.

Quilico concludes the program with Boulez’s Piano Sonatas Nos. 1 and 3. Both are rather doctrinaire if quirky and improvisationally-inspired twelve-tone works.

November 26, 2021 Posted by | classical music, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment