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Mendelssohn's Variations sérieuses is a work that has steadily crept back into the romantic repertory following some of the silly critical comments of those who considered the devoted Felix too much the darling of Queen Victoria and Albert, her loving Prince Consort. The importance of these Royal rulers in matters of good taste shows them as superior to most of the stuffed-up effigies that constantly air their vapid views on TV screens. Mei's serious and dramatic view of the piece reminded me of that prized Cortot recording that caught the fancies of so many students in their choice of repertoire, and the inimitable way the Frenchman channelled his listener through a corridor sequence of finespun rhetoric of ever-increasing complexity until the final apotheosis calmly led back to an echoed restatement of opening measures.

No lesser imaginative skill came next in our soloist's own Infinity, a simple expression, perhaps, of childhood memories that constantly stay in the mind, couched in linear fashion by selected and varied notation that conjured up reply motives of harmonic imagery which suggested Eastern influences. Maybe Takemitsu is another case in point, but there are others like Chou Wen Chung in his orchestral And the Fallen Petals.

Ravel's Le Tombeau de Couperin is resplendent in his output for the solo pianoforte, yet one is always aware that the French musical painter is mainly parading the earlier master's facility for inventing dance tunes that suited the mood of his times. Ravel's penchant for re-vamping his source material, turning it upside down, sideways and inside out, and colouring it -- occasionally in absurdly original fashion -- with kaleidoscopic daring that haunts and delights, can be a stumbling block for pianists. No fear of that happening with our raven-haired beauty bedecked in black with high heels to match -- Miss Foo. You could have heard a pin drop throughout its six movements. I was waiting for a few wrong notes, or the unannounced blur of phrase intonation; instead I heard one of the most perfect realizations I am most likely to hear for some little while.

Afterwards, Noretta Conci told me that no one had any idea what they were going to hear. The element of surprise -- and this view was shared by Yonty Solomon -- generally adds up to star quality. So, I will leave it suitably registered with that in mind for all future occasions.

Copyright © 10 January 2004 Bill Newman, Edgware UK


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