LUTOSŁAWSKI: Sonata; STUCKY: Four Album Leaves, Three Little Variation Pieces for David; SALONEN: YTA II, Three Preludes, Dichotomie. Gloria Cheng, piano. Telarc 80712. 72 minutes.
I'm a little late to the party on this, but I wanted to put in a good word for Gloria Cheng's disc of piano music by Witold Lutosławski, Steve Stucky, and Esa-Pekka Salonen.
Lutosławski's Sonata is a very early work, written in 1934 when the composer was only 21. The Sonata is a very skillfully composed, melodically rich piece in the Bartók-influenced style that marked Lutosławski's music until his encounter with John Cage. Some of the composer's musical trademarks are already present here: bright, ringing sonorities, free-flowing melodic expression, and rhythmic flexibility. Cheng's reading emphasizes these elements and reveals the Sonata as an important step in its composer's development and a worthy piece in its own right.
The character piece collections by Stucky and Salonen that make up the bulk of the program carry a debt to the mature Lutosławski. The Stucky I have heard has frequently reminded me of Lutosławski and the juxtaposition here underlines the similarities. I don't know Salonen's music nearly as well as I do Stucky's or Lutosławski's, but these pieces sound like they are descended from Lutosławski as well. They are well-written, idiomatic, and expressive.
It may be that Cheng's performances emphasize those elements that all of these pieces share, or it may be that I'm prone to hear similarities due to their appearing on disc together. In any case, Cheng's sensitive, probing, and exciting playing make this disc a rewarding experience, and fully deserving of the praise it has received.