“Allure” – Music of LECUONA, RAVEL, BARBER & RACHMANINOFF – Kayla Wong, piano

by | Feb 1, 2015 | Classical CD Reviews

Allure = LECUONA: Ante El Escorial; Aragonesa; Granada; RAVEL: Jeux d’eau; Une barque sur l’ocean; RACHMANINOFF: Moments Musicaux, Op. 16; BARBER: Sonata for Piano, Op. 26 – Kayla Wong, piano – [www.kaylawong.net], 62:00 ***:

Canadian piano artist Kayla Wong (2013) offers an attractive palette of selected, favorite works on this disc, recorded at the Glenn Gould Studio in Toronto.  Wong opens with three pieces from Cuban virtuoso and composer Ernesto Lecuona, the first of which Ante El Escorial, depicts an imposing monastery in Madrid through massive block chords. The Aragonesa presents a musical portrait of a woman of the Aragon region, played a mite percussively for my taste. When Wong tones down the dynamics and eschews the Olga Kern brand of keyboard punishment, she can be quite persuasive.  When Wong over indulges the fff, the result reminds me of the Liberace form of virtuosity. The last of the Lecuona triptych, Granada, requires a diverse series of effects, including guitar strumming.  Wong quickly throws off the seductive allure of guitars for castanets and cymbals, trumpets and drums.

Wong’s hard patina, applied to Ravel, does provide a crystalline character to the hard rain drops of Jeux d’eau, brisk and incisive; but the innate percussion becomes mono-chromatic and thus, colorless.  The brilliance devolves into brilliantine, and we have not so much music as musical effects. The Barque sur l’ocean from the collection of Miroirs should refine the liquid sound, evoking swells, eddies, and sudden mysteries. When Wong allows the pedal to soften her contours, the effect once more persuades us that a diamond or emerald may lie beneath the anthracite. From her persistently etched sonority, I would put my money on Wong’s Stravinsky or Prokofiev.

Wong then addresses the 1896 set of Moments Musicaux by Serge Rachmaninoff, pieces that showcase melodic writing that embraces large spans and dense, chromatic textures. The Andantino with which the suite begins softens Wong’s temper a bit, enough to warrant our attention without involuntarily flinching at the variants that take their cue from Chopin’s etudes and Berceuse. Wong plays the 1940 revision of the Allegretto, itself an etude in triplets and syncopated articulation.  The unbridled passion in the piece appeals to Wong’s flamboyant nature. The Andante cantabile expresses a moment of dirge-like solemnity.  The tread becomes heavy mid-way through the reading, the bass sonorities gloomy, tolling bells.  Two notes in the treble play against a whirling left hand ostinato for the Presto, whose magical lightness Moiseiwitsch alone brought to the fore.  Wong makes it sound like a test piece based on a Chopin prelude of obsessive force.  The Adagio sostenuto wishes to proffer a barcarolle moment of relative serenity. Wong generates a nervous brilliance here, a flaw in the gemstone. Last, the thickly stratified Maestoso, in which both hands must execute whirlwind colors, has Wong thoroughly rapt. She plays it as Horowitz read Scriabin’s D-sharp Minor Etude, as a love-death.

Wong’s innate percussion finds a natural vehicle in the 1949 Piano Sonata, a Horowitz premier and a John Browning staple. The neoclassic, chiseled lines, the occasional atonal gesture, the alternation of diatonic and chromatic colors, all appeal to Wong’s explosive temperament. The angular, incisive patterns of attacks and runs rarify the writing of Ravel, while the melodic impulse softens the otherwise remote character of the Schoenberg 12-tone procedure in the Adagio mesto. The wily Allegro vivace second movement plays like an unruly perpetual-motion rondo in G that trails off in a wisp of smoke.  After the rather grim passacaglia third movement, Barber opts for more polyphony for the last movement, Fuga, set in four voices that showcase Wong’s wicked staccatos and sheer digital strength. If Wong would tone down the pyromania in her approach, she might allow poetry to participate in her concept of the alluring.

—Gary Lemco


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