Esa-Pekka Salonen’s Piano Concerto … Helix … Dichotomie

0 of 5 stars

Piano Concerto

Yefim Bronfman (piano)

Los Angeles Philharmonic
Esa-Pekka Salonen

Helix recorded March & April 2007, Piano Concerto recorded May & June 2008, both in Walt Disney Concert Hall, Los Angeles; Dichotomie recorded November 2007 in American Academy of Arts & Letters, New York

Reviewed by: Peter Reed

Reviewed: April 2009
CD No: DG 477 8103
Duration: 61 minutes



accelerando over an increasingly fractured pulse. At the tip of the spiral, the music comes to an abrupt and climactic end. It makes a similar statement to Ravel’s Boléro or Honegger’s Pacific 231, a steady tightening of energy with an explosive conclusion, as well as being a showcase for a virtuoso orchestra. Salonen’s brass- and wind-writing is pungent and aggressive, the strings boast a glossy, all-American sheen. The texture seems to cram in as many notes as possible, and the superlative recording lets you hear every one of them. The ecstatic applause at the end of this live performance says it all about this blatantly visceral piece, which, at nine minutes, doesn’t outstay its welcome.

The main work is Salonen’s Piano Concerto. It was written in 2007 and dedicated to the indefatigable soloist Yefim Bronfman. Like Helix, it is a perfect storm of energy, with scarcely a moment of repose. Stylistic signposts flash up, including Stravinsky, Bartók and Ravel, but the most consistent inspiration is the percussive, moto perpetuo writing of Prokofiev at his most abrasively and densely written, with some hints of a Rachmaninov-style ‘big tune’, along with the seamless facility of Saint-Saëns and, in this most American of piano concertos, more than a nod to the ingratiating jazz-sound of Gershwin.

This is not to say the music is derivative, more that Salonen in his eclectic, hyper-energetic way manages to pay courtesy visits to the great composers of the first half of the 20th-century. He describes his music as a process of continuous variation, which, given the impulsive and improvisatory feel to some of the score, might also reasonably be described as note-spinning, with a few notable ‘events’ to give a sense of structure. The second movement includes a homage to the Polish science-fiction writer Stanislav Lem, with an attempt to create a sort of folk-music for bird-robots, but the listener would probably have had to read the booklet note first to pick that up.

You have to admire the sheer, reckless audacity of the music, the tireless virtuosity of Yefim Bronfman and the brash brilliance of the orchestral playing. But after the sleek, turbo-charged engine has finally come to a halt, you may well wonder ‘What was all that about?’ while enjoying the fact that Salonen, as a conductor, is a virtuoso composer for orchestra.

Yefim Bronfman also plays Dichotomie (for solo piano). It was written in 2000 and the first part is, again, ferociously active, with some dazzling piano effects. The second half is much gentler, and in the context of this programme as a whole, this comes as a relief.

The recording is bright and lively, with considerable presence; the many fortissimos are as clear as a bell and, unless you’re quick, you can get lost in the detail.

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