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Friday, March 22, 2013

Gloria Cheng and Calder Quartet, The Edge of Light: Messiaen, Saariaho

Pianist Gloria Cheng and the Calder Quartet embark on a interesting program divided between early mature piano & chamber works by Messiaen and the piano/chamber music of Kaija Saariaho.

Messiaen's "Huit Preludes" and the relatively brief "Pièce pour piano et quatuor à cordes" get sensitive, rhapsodically concentrated readings by Ms. Cheng and the Quartet. These bear the unmistakable composing hand of the master, but tend to a bit more romantic and a tad less rhythmically advanced than his later work, the piano preludes especially, but they are charming and very good to have. The performances are all you could ask.

Kaija Saariaho, who is among our living exponents of modern music, gets to be heard in the second half of the program with her "Prelude" and "Ballade" for piano, modern and flowingly rubato in a post-Scriabin zone, and the chamber work "Je sens un deuxième coeur" in five parts.

The latter work has mystery and in turn a dark sort of lyric ponderousness, agitation and motor excitement, a balladic broodingness, and a dynamic expressiveness, all in expanded tonal territory. It's a very personal modernism on display. On its basis we have someone to reckon with, a composer of consequence.

In the end the Messiaen and the Saariaho balance each other well, both with a searching quality but very much in their own ways. Cheng and the Calder Quartet play the music like they were born to it.

Anyone who favors the advanced and the deeper sorts of modernist music will find this release much to their liking. It is a compelling and tightly arrayed fit of artists, composers and works.

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