Alexina LOUIE (b.1949)
Piano Concerto (1984) [32:02]
Violet ARCHER (1913–2000)
Piano Concerto (1956) [18:34]
Larysa KUZMENKO (b.1956)
Piano Concerto (1995 rev 1996) [20:51]
Christina Petrowska Quilico (piano)
National Arts Centre Orchestra/Alex Pauk (Louie);
CBC Vancouver Orchestra/John Eliot Gardiner (Archer);
Toronto Symphony Orchestra/Jukka-Pekka Saraste (Kuzumenko)
rec. National Arts Centre, Ottawa 21 June 1986 (Louie); CBC Studio 1, Vancouver 13 November 1998 (Archer); Massey Hall, Toronto 10 October 1996 (Kuzumenko). DDD.

A big hurrah for this disk for it brings to us a major work by Alexina Louie, one of the brightest, and most exciting, composing talents to come out of Canada in recent years. Her music is full of the sounds of her Chinese heritage. She was born of second generation Canadians of Chinese descent, and she uses a full, rich and colourful palette in her works. Her language is modern, but one which speaks readily to an audience. This Concerto is a big virtuoso work, the piano taking the lead and the orchestra supplying a varied tapestry of sound to highlight the piano’s thoughts. There’s a lot going on in this work and it’s one of those pieces which really repay repeated hearings. The lyricism of the work might not be immediately apparent but it is full of tunes, and Louie works them out with a skill and grace which are typical of her music. Louie is a major composer who we should hear much more of, and I hope that this fabulous Concerto will win her many friends. The performance, conducted by Alex Pauk, Louie’s husband and a particularly sympathetic interpreter of her work, is very good indeed, and has the mark of authenticity.

Violet Archer’s Concerto comes as a shock after the hothouse of Louie’s work for here is very much a divertissement of a piece, the outer movements being sparkling and vivacious surrounding a rather more severe and serious slow movement. The ending is pure farce with big gestures, à la virtuoso vehicle being mocked and over-done. This is a pleasing enough piece, more than a bit of fluff, certainly, but despite Kenneth Winters’ assertion that “… it is a masterpiece …” it isn’t and doesn’t have the real quality sufficient to be a major contribution to the Piano Concerto literature.

Kuzumenko’s Piano Concerto begins in a very uncompromising manner with dissonance and a bravura cadenza for the soloist. That done, it turns into a neo-classical romp which, oddly, reminds me of Arthur Bliss’s Piano Concerto. The central movement changes style into a frozen northern landscape such as one which we have heard from Vagn Holmboe. The finale is a fast race and reminds one of Alan Rawsthorne. The problem, and I think you will have realised what I am about to write, is that this work, which is very competently written and everything happens just as it should do is lacking a really original voice. I don’t, for one minute, think that Kuzumenko is copying the composers whose names I have mentioned, rather she has happened onto the same sounds for which the others are known. Ironically, this work receives the best recorded sound – and it should be good considering that one of the engineers is the fabulous Stretch Quinney.

The sound for Louie and Archer is rather distant but an increase in volume can help this. Balance between soloist and orchestra is generally good and the notes, in English and French, will be of help to those unfamiliar with these composers. This issue is essential listening for anyone interested in new music and is particularly important for giving us the magnificent Alexina Louie work.

Bob Briggs