SAN FRANCISCO CHRONICLE – Album review: Gloria Cheng, ‘Edge of Light’

The world of contemporary keyboard music has few champions as valiant and sensitive as the Los Angeles pianist Gloria Cheng, whose playing combines technical fervor with a wonderful mastery of color and tone. Her new release with the collaboration of the Calder Quartet, devoted to the music of Olivier Messiaen and Kaija Saariaho, offers a fine encapsulation of her artistry in both its ferocity and its tenderness. Messiaen takes up the first half of the disc with his early “Préludes,” a set of limpid piano pieces in which you can hear the young composer shaping the legacy of Debussy to his own creative ends. The forms and timbres of the writing are right out of the Impressionist playbook, but the rhythms and harmonic palette are already those of Messiaen’s later work. The Saariaho offerings begin with a pair of pallid, directionless piano works from 2005-06, but the disc takes off with “Je sens un deuxième coeur,” a vivid and fantastically dramatic treatment for piano quintet of music from her opera “Adriana Mater.” It’s a virtuoso display of instrumental color and theatrical flair, and the performers give it a superb rendition.

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