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CD Review

First Piano Concertos

Lise de la Salle, piano
Gábor Baldocki, trumpet
Lisbon Gulbenkian Foundation Orchestra/Lawrence Foster
Naïve V5053
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There are so many talented young pianists who regularly appear and disappear within the space of four or five years. Typically, they are winners of a major competition who tour the globe and make several highly-publicized recordings. But when public interest wanes, their concert appearances thin out quickly, their recordings disappear and they take a prestigious teaching post. With this Naïve release, we have one of two new recordings from the young French pianist, Lise de la Salle (b. 1988 in Cherbourg). She is the latest sensation. She already has four recordings to her credit and is the winner of several important competitions.

This recording is clearly about de la Salle, not the music – it is more about how she plays the three concertos rather than the three concertos themselves. And how does she do? Quite well. She has a formidable technique, a fine sense for the style of each of the three composers here, and an artistic maturity that reaches well beyond her twenty years.

The Shostakovich First is not quite in the class of the other two works here. Not that the Liszt and Prokofieff First Concertos are among their respective composers greatest works: it's just that both are well-crafted and pianistically dynamic, with the Liszt a concert staple and the Prokofieff hovering at the fringes of the standard repertory. Still, the Shostakovich has charm, despite the strange bedfellows of trumpet and piano. De la Salle's reading is sprightly and nuanced, catching the mixture of humor and half-serious darkness. Trumpeter Gabor Baldocki plays well throughout and Maestro Foster draws fine playing from the orchestra.

But it's the other two concertos, of course, that should draw our interest here: the Liszt gets a light and sometimes thoughtful treatment, while the Prokofieff is shown for all its color and wit, all its youthful spirit and bad-boy manners. It's the latter work, in fact, that seems to enkindle de la Salle's imagination: she imparts a little more energy and color to this music, seems more in tune with its spice and sass, its vernal sense of the epic: the big, self-repeating theme that brackets this single-movement concerto rarely sounded so warmly optimistic, and the lyrical theme in the Andante assai middle section seems to float arrestingly, almost mesmerizingly in de la Salle's hands until the stormy and powerful climax. Foster and company also provide spirited support in the Liszt and Prokofieff. The sound is vivid.

I can strongly recommend this CD then, but can't close this review without providing an answer to the question inherently posed in the opening sentences: will de la Salle have longevity to her career? On the basis of this recording and several other performances I've heard on the internet, I would say we'll be hearing her name for while, perhaps a long while.

Copyright © 2008, Robert Cummings