EMI Classics Digital Debut Series (downloads only) = Paul Appleby, tenor; Sean Lee, violin; Conrad Tao, piano [iTunes]

by | Apr 9, 2012 | Classical CD Reviews

THE JUILLIARD SESSIONS:  Paul Appleby – BRITTEN:  Seven Sonnets of Michelangelo;  SCHUBERT:  Three Songs – Alinde; Die Taubenpost; Nachstruck – Paul Appleby, tenor/ Brian Zeger, piano – EMI Classics Digital Debut [available from iTunes] 32:00 ****:
THE JUILLIARD SESSIONS:  Sean Lee – RICHARD STRAUSS:  Violin Sonata  – Sean Lee, violin/ Sean Chen, piano –  EMI Classics Digital Debut [available from iTunes] 27:20 ****:
THE JUILLIARD SESSIONS:  Conrad Tao – DEBUSSY:  Two Preludes:  Book 1 – No. 7 Ce qu’a vu le vent…; Book 1 – No. 11 La danse de Puck;  STRAVINSKY:  Three Movements from ‘Petrushka’ (1921):  Petrushka’s Cell;  Russian Dance;  The Shrove-tide Fair;  TAO:  Three Songs (2010): I Cocoon;  II Smoke;  III Catharsis – Conrad Tao, piano –  EMI Classics Digital Debut [available from iTunes] 34:13 *****:
It’s good to see even in these difficult times that labels continue to encourage young and new talent.  EMI Classics Digital Debut, available as download only, have been released in Medium Play length at attractive prices; the nostalgic will remember Decca’s LW 10” LPs which were the forerunner of this programme length.
Paul Appleby has already carved out an international career and seems much in demand.  In addition to being in the Metropolitan Opera’s Lindemann Young Artist Development Program and Opera Studies Program at the Juilliard School of Music, he’s appeared in operatic roles extensively in the US, and has, among upcoming engagements, two involving Schubert’s music, one with the St. Paul Chamber Orchestra under Thomas Zehetmair, the other his Alice Tully Hall debut with Die Schöne Müllerin accompanied by Brian Zeger, the fine pianist on these recordings.  Listening to his Schubert lieder it’s not difficult to hear why he is in such demand.  With excellent diction and depth of interpretation these performances make rewarding listening.  Britten’s Seven Sonnets of Michelangelo are entirely successful, deserving to be an alternative to Pears himself.
Sean Lee and his pianist, Sean Chen, offer a single work, Richard Strauss’s Sonata for Violin and Piano, whose performance gives the impression of the depth of thought both players gave in preparation for the recording of this piece.  How refreshing, too, not to get the usual debut fare of well-known fireworks, but an extensive and not often recorded piece.  And again, listening to him it’s not difficult to understand why he won the 2009 Juilliard Concerto Competition, nor that he’s currently a teaching assistant to Itzhak Perlman, who with Ruggiero Ricci was one of his teachers.
Conrad Tao, not yet 18 years old, is already a seasoned performer and composer, his first piano concerto dating from 2007.  He has a quite alarming list of prizes won since he was still a small boy and, yet again, listening to his playing in this varied selection, it’s really not difficult to accept this without question.  I listened to all three musicians’ recordings before I read about their already extensive careers and in Conrad Tao’s case I felt immediately I was listening to a particularly good account of both the Debussy and Stravinsky.  The Debussy Preludes are thoroughly in his bones, but the Stravinsky I must say is given a breathtakingly good account.  Technically faultless and interpretively mature, this is a knock-out.  I’d like to hear more of his compositions, too.
After recovering from listening to Tao, I then read his biography to discover he was the recipient for three years of violins from the Stradivari Society.  And then the penny dropped.  Like Julia Fischer, he is so supremely talented he gives both a piano concerto and violin concerto in the same concert, most recently the Mendelssohns: the iolin in E minor and the first of the piano concertos. Recording quality is uniformly excellent, with just the right balance between intimacy and a palpable acoustic space.  WAV files were supplied for audition.
All three releases are well worth investigating; Conrad Tao’s should be.
Peter Joelson

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