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Salonen, Stucky, Lutoslawski / Gloria Cheng

Release Date: 07/22/2008 
Label:  Telarc   Catalog #: 80712   Spars Code: n/a 
Composer:  Steven Edward StuckyWitold LutoslawskiEsa-Pekka Salonen
Performer:  Gloria Cheng
Number of Discs: 1 
Recorded in: Stereo 
Length: 1 Hours 12 Mins. 

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Notes and Editorial Reviews

R E V I E W S:

"A recording of six contemporary piano pieces, four written during the last 10 years, may sound like an intimidating program. But Gloria Cheng’s new release of works by Esa-Pekka Salonen, Steven Stucky and Witold Lutoslawski is consistently exhilarating. It’s not just that Ms. Cheng plays these daunting pieces with such commanding technique, color and imagination. She has brought together works that fascinatingly complement one another."

-- Anthony Tommasini, New York Times [July 6, 2008]

STUCKY Album Leaves. Three Little Variations for David. LUTOS?AWSKI Read more Piano Sonata. SALONEN 3 Preludes. Yta II. Dichotomie Gloria Cheng (pn) TELARC 80712 (71: 41)

To paraphrase Lynn René Bayley ( Fanfare 31:4, p. 299), now you’re talking my kind of contemporary music! I found this disc a delight from start to finish, both for its exciting, evocative, and beautiful compositions, and for the exceptional pianism of Gloria Cheng, who animates each score with consummate artistry and comprehension. Although a fan of new music and experimentation in all its forms, I confess a predilection for works that are more consonant than dissonant, “natural” in profile rather than angular, random, or deliberately “ugly.” That’s not to say that I shun dynamism, ferocity, or dissonance, and I don’t cower at serial, stochastic, pointillist, or electronic manipulation. I suppose in the end it comes down to what appeals to one’s taste. Doesn’t it always?

From a historical standpoint, the Lutos?awski Piano Sonata offers listeners a chance to sample a “lost” work by a young composer who was just beginning a career that would culminate in his donning a legend’s mantle. Often French in sound and style, the Sonata bears more than a passing resemblance to Ravel in mood and gesture. In the second movement, this French influence flirts with a Polish sensibility, and brief episodes in the third hint at Scriabin. It’s a highly attractive piece, sure to win a place in the repertoire through Gloria Cheng’s ardent advocacy. It also places the Stucky and Salonen pieces in perspective, as both composers confess to an affinity with Lutos?awski, crediting him with being their musical forefather. I find it fascinating to trace the tendrils of Lutos?awski’s vision as it takes root and flourishes in the very different sound worlds cultivated by Salonen and Stucky.

Stucky’s Album Leaves is contemplative and gently sonorous (“Contemplativo, tempo rubato” and “Sereno, luminoso”)—individual tones hover in the air as they move slowly upwards—or rapid, perpetual motion flurries that, although fast, don’t extend to frenzy (“Meccanico”). Playful accentuation and a hint of Prokofiev flit through the fourth leaf, “Presto giocoso.” Three Little Variations for David consists of humorous and cleverly wrought settings of a famous birthday tune, written as a gift for David Zinman. These small gems are characterized by splashes of color, a fine sense of sonority and line, and in the third variation a fleeting reminiscence of Villa-Lobos. Great fun as well as a great way to end the recital. Before that moment arrives, however, Salonen’s pieces have their turn to enchant and seduce the ear, with their shimmering filigree, streams of notes, and often-gentle aura. Not all Salonen’s pieces, however, are of one character. “Mécanisme” (the first part of Dichotomie ) has a vigorous, toccata-like opening, with transient “robotic” tendencies that alternate with a definite dance-like esprit. In the first prelude, “Libellula meccanica,” a mechanical dragonfly lazily drifts on a hazy summer’s day before darting hither and yon with more vigor. The steady rhythmic motion of the second prelude, “Chorale,” seems to grow out of the even pacing of traditional chorales but also has its quicker moments. The French influence, which was clearly Ravelian in the Lutos?awski, is in Salonen’s works, as in Stucky’s, less definable, but perhaps no less real. I could invoke the usual clichés—clarity and elegance, Ravel’s lapidary technique, Debussy’s artful portrayals of natural phenomena, as well as Messiaen’s bird portraits—and indeed they apply. But the best way to appreciate where Salonen, Stucky, and Lutos?awski fit into the French continuum is to listen to their music.

Gloria Cheng’s piano-playing is of the highest attainment. She has exquisite control of dynamics, pacing, and color, an instinctive understanding of each composer’s thought, and plays with the rapt concentration that can hypnotize, even heard at one remove, on a compact disc. I encourage anyone with an interest in contemporary music and exemplary pianism to hear this CD. The sound is very good, accurately reproducing a piano tone that’s beautiful at all levels without being forced. Steven Stucky’s notes are as illuminating about the compositions as they are about the aesthetic comradeship linking the composers, and complete a superb release. As if you couldn’t guess, enthusiastically recommended.

FANFARE: Robert Schulslaper
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Works on This Recording

Album Leaves (4) for Piano by Steven Edward Stucky
Performer:  Gloria Cheng (Piano)
Period: 20th Century 
Length: 7 Minutes 11 Secs. 
Sonata for Piano by Witold Lutoslawski
Performer:  Gloria Cheng (Piano)
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1934; Poland 
Length: 26 Minutes 1 Secs. 
Yta no 2 by Esa-Pekka Salonen
Performer:  Gloria Cheng (Piano)
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1985; Finland 
Length: 6 Minutes 54 Secs. 
Preludes (3) for Piano by Esa-Pekka Salonen
Performer:  Gloria Cheng (Piano)
Period: 20th Century 
Length: 9 Minutes 6 Secs. 
Dichotomie by Esa-Pekka Salonen
Performer:  Gloria Cheng (Piano)
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 2000 
Length: 17 Minutes 22 Secs. 
Little Variations (3) for David by Steven Edward Stucky
Performer:  Gloria Cheng (Piano)
Period: 20th Century 
Length: 3 Minutes 30 Secs. 

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