Piano Dance: A 20th-Century Portrait
For sheer entertainment value, it's hard to find a classical CD that will beat this one. Gloria Cheng has chosen an astonishing variety of 20th-century piano music with nothing in common except brevity and dance origins. The disc is full of familiar pieces (Debussy, Scriabin, Ravel, Prokofiev) and entertaining novelties (Albright, Martinu, Poulenc, Ginastera). Donald R. Davis's exercise in creative plagiarism, "Illicit Felicity," rates a special mention for its ingenuity. But really, unless you're allergic to Philip Glass, there isn't a loser on the entire program. Cheng plays brilliantly, with appropriate special emphasis on the dance rhythms of the music, and Telarc's sound engineering is typically realistic. It ain't profound, but this is still a marvelous program. --Leslie Gerber
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Despite their brevity, the pieces on this album deserve to be truly listened to -- not to just be on as background music. Not that all of the music is difficult or esoteric. There's a nice balance between pieces that are very accessible (such as Martinu's "Polka in E major" and Ornstein's "Waltz #7") and pieces that take a while to understand and warm up to (such as Hindemith's "Shimmy" and Norgard's "Tortoise's Tango"). For understanding the more difficult pieces, the liner notes are very helpful.
Well known composers of the 20th century make an appearance on this album (think Bartok, Stravinsky, Ravel), but they are also joined by less familiar names. I particularly enjoyed being exposed for the first time to the music of Federico Mompou and Miguel del Aguila. Mompou's "Cancion y Danza, No. 6" was lush and lovely. Aguila's striking piece entitled "Conga" was fascinating to listen to.
My favorite piece on the album, however, would have to be Stravinsky's "Tango." The sultry feel of the tango is represented perfectly, which surprised me since the piece is for solo piano. I thought I would have missed the bandoneon. Gloria Cheng executes it magnificently.
A very definite positive about this program is that almost every selection was new to me. After all, how many of us are familiar with works like Miguel del Aguila's "Conga," Philip Glass's "Modern Love Reel," or Paul Hindemith's "Shimmy"? I mean, really! So there is much Joy of Discovery afforded by this CD; but with all but one piece running under 5 minutes (and that one at 9:26), a certain cloying factor creeps in after a while, and perhaps I should recommend this be played in small sections.
But all in all, what a treasure-trove of little-known pieces.
Ms. Cheng's playing is phenomenal, and I also enjoy her earlier CD of works by John Adams and Terry Riley. Both CD's show off her rich tone and appealing style, but the dance collection is the most entertaining. If you buy this CD, you'll probably find yourself listening to it frequently.