This is such a wonderful piano disc and I cannot recommend it enough! First of all, Gloria Cheng is one our greatest interpreters of contemporary music with many such recordings to her credit. She plays with amazing sensitivity to the style and a flawless blend of touch, phrasing and technique. Second of all, this is a creative and highly attractive program coupling two of Messiaen’s earliest “mature” masterworks with two works by the brilliant Kaija Saariaho, whose music bears some resemblance to the post-Impressionist French milieu.
Kaija Saariaho is one of Finland’s – and the world’s – most brilliant composers, known for operas and vast, sonically enthralling orchestral works. Her Prelude is one of her first usages of the piano as an almost “keyboard orchestra” with its intense harmony, rumbling under currents and vast technical demands. The Ballade is a commission from Emmanuel Ax who asked several living composers for one of a series of “ballades” much as Chopin wrote. The Saariaho Ballade is written in a series of swirling, dark melodies that seem to fall into the deepest range of the piano before being hurled upwards, temporarily. The range and tone is predominantly dark, low and foreboding.
Je sens un deuxième cœur (I sense a second heart) is an arrangement of five scenes from her opera Adriana Mater, a very emotionally involving story about a young woman dealing with atrocities toward women – at a horrifying key moment; toward herself – in the context of the atrocities of war. This trio for piano, viola and cello captures much of the atmospheric terror of the opera, particularly the impending assault from a drunken soldier as well as the utterly poignant moment of the woman carrying an unplanned child (the “deuxième cœur”). The choice of cello, viola and the prominence of the lower portions of the piano takes the piece into the darker, hyper-realism that the opera portrays. This work even without the context of its derivation is dramatic, tense and foreboding. For those unfamiliar with the music of Saariaho, this provides a good beginning.
Gloria Cheng and the members of the Calder Quartet perform with style and conviction and all music on this disc is spectacular. This is really one of the best recent contemporary piano releases I have heard!Daniel Coombs, www.audaud.com, 6/14/2013