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Coming down with the Chopin wobbles

August 03, 2003|Richard S. Ginell; James C. Taylor; Daniel Cariaga; Chris Pasles

Chopin: The Mazurkas

Andrew Rangell, piano. (Dorian) **

In his liner notes to this complete edition of the mazurkas, Rangell writes with understanding about Chopin's sometimes bizarre variations on the form, requiring "an almost perpetual modulation of tempo" from the performer. Then he proves his point with a brittle set that seems to lurch and stagger out of the piano. Dynamics are sometimes observed, sometimes not; the rubatos rarely make any organic sense. Although some of the pieces lend themselves to this often fractured playing, many others cry out for consistent pulse (after all, isn't the mazurka a dance, or is that just an idle rumor?). Rangell does expand the traditional number of the canon from 51 to 57, including some rarely heard juvenilia and even a lengthened alternate version of Op. 68, No. 4 (purported to be Chopin's last composition). But most of this two-CD set leaves the listener wobbly, even disoriented.

-- Richard S. Ginell

Phenom takes on a pair of masters

Tchaikovsky and Mendelssohn: First Piano Concertos

Lang Lang, piano. Chicago Symphony Orchestra. Daniel Barenboim, conductor. (Deutsche Grammophon) * 1/2

Disposable CDs by teen sensations are not just a pop music phenomenon. Classical labels have tricked more than a few customers into buying overproduced albums from "hot new talents" exhibiting music-making that is, at best, lukewarm. Those who rush out to buy DG's first disc featuring 21-year-old pianist Lang might well find themselves singing, "Oops, I did it again." This album offers star power and little else. Barenboim seems intent on making the blithe Mendelssohn concerto sound like Beethoven -- and Lang's celebrated technical skills can't overcome the faux seriousness. The Tchaikovsky is appropriately big and loud, yet surprisingly sluggish, given Barenboim's presence at the podium. Lang does provide a few virtuosic trills, but ultimately his interpretation of this famous piece feels as fresh and spontaneous as a television theme song.

-- James C. Taylor

Worthy pieces fittingly revived

Ignaz Moscheles: Piano Concertos Nos. 1, 6 and 7

Howard Shelley, piano and conductor. Tasmanian Symphony Orchestra. (Hyperion) ***

An eminent virtuoso pianist and composer in his day, Moscheles (1794-1870) wrote eight piano concertos, all of them now neglected. Shelley, the English pianist who has shown his versatility here in live and recorded performances, exhumes three of those worthy pieces by the Czech-born composer. They move from the Weberian formality of No. 1 to the Chopinesque figurations of No. 7. All are inventive, witty, exuberant and irresistibly melodious. Shelley plays with panache, vivacity and great charm. From south of the equator, the orchestra operates on an impressive international level.

-- Daniel Cariaga

A bracing effort whets the appetite

Chavez: The Complete Chamber Works, Vol. I.

Southwest Chamber Music. (Cambria) *** 1/2

This is the fascinating first issue in Southwest's projected four-volume edition of the complete chamber works of Carlos Chavez. It contains three examples of his innovative non-repetitive approach to composition, a declaration of independence from serial or aleatoric theories. In the three Inventions recorded here, Chavez sought to write music that would never repeat itself. How he nevertheless kept the results coherent and unified is discussed by Southwest music director Jeff von der Schmidt in the program notes, but a listener can trust his or her own reactions to this fresh, bracing music. The disc also contains the lovely Suite for Double Quartet, derived from the music Chavez wrote for Martha Graham's "Dark Meadow," and the bewitching "Upingos for Oboe." The performances are strong and whet the appetitive for the remainder of the series.

-- Chris Pasles

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