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The Edge Of Light / Gloria Cheng, Calder Quartet


Release Date: 03/12/2013 
Label:  Harmonia Mundi   Catalog #: 907578   Spars Code: n/a 
Composer:  Olivier MessiaenKaija Saariaho
Performer:  Gloria Cheng
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Calder String Quartet
Number of Discs: 1 
Recorded in: Stereo 
Length: 1 Hours 7 Mins. 

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Notes and Editorial Reviews



MESSIAEN Preludes. Piece for Piano and String Quartet 1. SAARIAHO Prelude. Ballade. Je sens un deuxième cœur 1 Gloria Cheng (pn); 1 Calder Qrt HARMONIA MUNDI 907578 (67:04)


This album, titled The Edge of Light, combines the piano music of Read more Olivier Messiaen and Kaija Saariaho. The Messiaen Preludes are, in fact, his first acknowledged compositions, written in 1929 at age 21. The liner notes indicate that they have no announced religious text or subtext, even though the first of them— “La Colombe” or “The Dove”—was his first of many musical portraits of birds, though it also claims to be a portrait of his mother, Cécile Sauvage. Unlike much of Messiaen’s later keyboard music, particularly his organ music, there is little or no darkness here, no sinister-sounding crushed chords or other “black” musical references. All is light and openness, and although I felt that pianist Cheng was a shade more forceful here than I would have liked, her performance does indeed capture the mood well. The remaining preludes, titled “Song of ecstasy in a sad landscape,” “The light number,” “Defunct moments,” “The impalpable sounds of the dream,” “Bells of anguish and tears of my farewell,” “Calm lamentation,” and “A reflection in the wind,” likewise have a bit more jangle in their rhythms that I would have liked, but also quite haunting moments of floated reflection to offset them. Peter Sellars’s notes claim that these pieces, “personal, private spaces for exalted grieving,” create “a state of loss that verges on spiritual transcendence,” but I also hear many moments of joyfulness in them as well. I believe that Messiaen was reflecting on both his mother’s spiritual nature and the great happiness she inspired in him.


The brief 1991 Pièce pour piano et quatuour à cordes, on the other hand, is one of his last works, one might almost say a valedictory farewell to a life lived entirely in the service of a muse that came and went as it pleased. A sharply etched motif by the strings begins it, then a four-bar piano interlude, then the strings return and continue their dialog with the piano. Interestingly, it is the piano that has the lyrical music, the strings that have the more biting, pungent notes, and even when the music becomes busy it is the keyboard instrument that continues to sparkle and sing, while the strings continue to “bite.” Eventually, the piano restores quietude before the strings once again intrude and provoke an impatient response to their brusque music.


The pieces included here by Saariaho are unusual ones for her, particularly as the piano was never her instrument and her writing for it is sporadic at best. The 2005 Ballade came about as a commission by Emmanuel Ax to provide ballades from living composers; this is its first recording, as it is of the 2006 Prelude. The latter is a busy piece, similar in style to some of Messiaen’s preludes, yet with a different melodic form and harmonies more closely related to one another. In addition, Saariaho develops her music more fully in the second half, creating a busy, swirling mélange of notes that spiral upward before a pause, which then returns us to the complex but quieter mood of the opening section—though it ends on a crashing downward piano glissando. The ballade is, surprisingly, no less disturbing in mood or busy in its virtuosic demands on the performer; in fact, it sounds like a close cousin of the prelude. The pianist’s right hand goes into the extreme upper reaches of the keyboard and back again, also using downward passages (here, 16th-note chromatics rather than glisses), while the left hand rises chromatically in pitch as well as intensifies in mood and volume. Eventually, it trails off in a soft upper-register tremolo.


Je sens un deuxième cœur was a reduction of some of the material from Saariaho’s second opera, Adriana Mater, into a trio for piano, viola, and cello. It is far from a conventional piano trio, however, as the strings slither around sinuously and menacingly while the piano part is reserved, in the beginning at least, to low crashing chords and notes. The viola slithers up its range, very high up into the violin stratosphere, to end the first movement (“I unveil my skin”). The second, “Open up to me, fast!,” is a nervous, tense piece built around jagged 16ths for the entire trio, but it is the piano that “knocks” on the door. The third movement, “In her dream, she was waiting,” is based (the notes say) on a section of the opera in which the lead character’s sister dreams that war breaks out, imagining a “world of surreal atrocity that transforms a city at war.” The music, like the dream, combines tenderness and fear, watching at a distance the horrors of battle. The fourth movement, also taking its cue from the opera, represents the girl’s drunken boyfriend who has joined a militia wanting to come in her room so he can go to the roof and defend the neighborhood; she refuses, so he breaks down the door and rapes her. Needless to say, the music’s almost incessantly violent mood conforms to this scenario. The last movement bears the title of the entire suite (“I feel a second heart beating next to mine”), representing the woman carrying a child. According to the notes, “she decides that her voice will help shape this child,” who will thus be “a loving, whole, sane and valued human being.” Thus we come full circle to the birth cycle of Messiaen himself, whose mother was a poet who “willed” her child to be an enlightened being; in a sense, the record can then be played over again to hear the music produced by such a being. The music here is not, however, lovely or warm-sounding, but rather juxtaposes rhythmically and thematically the idea of two separate entities entwined into one.


In the Saariaho suite, the playing of violist Jonathan Moerschel and cellist Eric Byers of the Calder Quartet is simply outstanding in every way, and in fact this music is far less a “showcase” for pianist Cheng than a three-way conversation in which the piano is just a contributing voice to the whole. All in all, this is a remarkable disc.


FANFARE: Lynn René Bayley
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Works on This Recording

1.
Preludes (8) for Piano by Olivier Messiaen
Performer:  Gloria Cheng (Piano)
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1929; France 
Date of Recording: 12/2011 
Venue:  American Academy of Arts & Letters, New 
Length: 34 Minutes 13 Secs. 
2.
Piece for Piano and String Quartet by Olivier Messiaen
Performer:  Gloria Cheng (Piano)
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Calder String Quartet
Period: 20th Century 
Written: France 
Date of Recording: 02/2012 
Venue:  Zipper Hall, Colburn School Of The Perfo 
Length: 3 Minutes 28 Secs. 
3.
Prelude for Piano by Kaija Saariaho
Performer:  Gloria Cheng (Piano)
Period: 20th Century 
Date of Recording: 12/2011 
Venue:  American Academy of Arts & Letters, New 
Length: 5 Minutes 53 Secs. 
4.
Ballade for Piano by Kaija Saariaho
Performer:  Gloria Cheng (Piano)
Period: 20th Century 
Date of Recording: 12/2011 
Venue:  American Academy of Arts & Letters, New 
Length: 5 Minutes 59 Secs. 
5.
Je sens un deuxieme coeur by Kaija Saariaho
Performer:  Gloria Cheng (Piano)
Date of Recording: 02/2012 
Venue:  Zipper Hall, Colburn School Of The Perfo 
Length: 16 Minutes 0 Secs. 

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