Magazine article Gramophone

Cheng and Friends Explore Light in the Two Composers

Magazine article Gramophone

Cheng and Friends Explore Light in the Two Composers

Article excerpt

Messiaen * Saariaho

Messiaen Preludes. Piece pour Piano et Quatuor a cordes (a) Saariaho Prelude. Ballade. Je sens un deuxieme coeur (b)

Gloria Cheng pf with (b) members of the (a) Calder Quartet

Harmonia Mundi (F) HMU90 7578 (67' * DDD)

A mixed programme of Messiaen and Saariaho piano and chamber music may present something of a shelving quandary. But the affinities are powerful, and they make for a revealing disc.

Cheng brings plenty of idiomatic colour to bear on Messiaen's early Preludes, with tempi a good deal tauter than in Peter Hill's extremely beautiful and interior accounts. However, the ecstatic essence of these pieces is hard to capture; and given that Cheng tends to substitute agitation for intensity, for me she falls just a little to one side. It's not just Yvonne Loriod's family connection but her peerless command of momentary nuance and broader ebb and flow that leads me to favour her 1988 recording. The four-minute Piece for piano and string quartet of 1991 is a characterful chip from the workbench but no more than that.

Two of Saariaho's solo piano pieces receive their first recording here. The Prelude of 2006 and the Ballade of 2005 are characteristically fluttery and fanciful. Though each has its surface attractions, neither suggests that she and the piano are a perfect marriage. Which is also to say that they pale beside her 2003 piano trio Je sens un deuxieme coeur. This reworking of material from Saariaho's second opera, Adriana mater, increasingly feels like one of the outstanding 21st-century achievements in this medium. …

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