CHOPIN: "4 Scherzi" Ivo Pogorelich, piano. Deutsche Grammophon. 289 439 947-2You never know what you're going to get with Ivo Pogorelich: a navel-gazing brat who cares more for his own whims than a composer's thoughts, or a supreme technician and musical mind who can get to the heart of the music just about better than anyone. Both pianists live inside him; either can surface, the jerk or the Olympian, on a given night or recording. Fortunately, this recording features the latter.
Pogorelich captures the rambling, jumbled and mercurial style of the Chopin Scherzi with astonishing, full-throttle finger work, but it is not just that. His understanding of the unique rhetoric, the way he weighs a phrase, emphasizes a turn, or articulates a note, launches the music skyward or makes it feint and dodge or explores its shadows, as need be. In virtuosic passage work, the difficulties aren't smoothed over -- every note is played clearly, but a listener can also feel the strain in playing them, as intended.
The B sections of these works -- quietly, rhapsodically lyrical segments during which Pogorelich delves into breathless, halting and feathery poeticisms -- are less successful. Despite the wealth of his ideas (or maybe because of their surfeit), the line sags. Never mind. It is a small quibble. So, too, might the length of this CD be (a mere 41:50 minutes) were it not for the fact that by the end you feel as if you have gotten your money's worth of great piano playing.
WYNTON MARSALIS: "At the Octoroon Balls": String Quartet No. 1; "A Fiddler's Tale" Suite
The Orion String Quartet; the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center; Wynton Marsalis, trumpet. Sony Classical SK 60979
Wynton Marsalis' "At the Octoroon Balls" comes out of jazz but is throroughly classical, a work somewhat in the tradition of the jazz-inspired classical music of Stravinsky, Ravel, Milhaud and Gershwin. The title refers to an old New Orleans tradition, dances "at which Creole men chose octoroon women for their mistresses." Though also dubbed String Quartet No. 1, the seven movement work, strictly speaking, is a stylized suite, with each movement carrying a programmatic title.
The work is engagingly rhythmic, colorful and rich in melodic idea. Particularly enjoyable are the far-flung harmonic progressions, which slip-slide all over the place like a dog sniffing out a lead, and the chordal voicings, which show a Stravinskian taste for stacking notes in acerbic and elegant combinations. As a result, "At the Octoroon Balls" goes down very easily -- flowing tunes, folksy, jazzy, bluesy grooves, all skillfully packaged to hide its skill. Marsalis perhaps betrays his classical inexperience by allowing the movements to go on too long; his essentially pithy ideas play out rather quickly and so, at 44 minutes, the music becomes redundant, though pleasantly enough.
The pairing is Marsalis' "A Fiddler's Tale" Suite, a riff on, tribute to, close echo of and cool take on Stravinsky's "L'Histoire du Soldat" with the same instrumentation. Wonderful fun, especially if you happen to know the Stravinsky original. (The complete version of "A Fiddler's Tale," including a narration by Stanley Crouch, is available on another new Sony disc.) The performances, by the way, are idiomatic and first rate, though in "A Fiddler's Tale" the playing sometimes seems a little too soft-edged.
The Orange County Register (Santa Ana, Calif.).