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Wondrous Colours

Alessio Bax and Lucille Chung play
Schubert, Ravel and Stravinsky,
reviewed by BILL NEWMAN


Shortly after he won the Leeds Piano Competition in 2000 I heard Alessio Bax perform Brahms Piano Concerto No 1 in D minor with the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra under Petr Altrichter. I was impressed both by his quiet authority and tonal strengths in a work that demands sadness and respect without too much panache and outgoing virtuosity. To my regret, I lost touch with his concert going and recordings in a world chock full of talents and brilliant achievement, hoping to renew acquaintance with his all too obvious gifts that made me sit up and listen afresh. His Korean partner Lucille Chung, born in Montreal, resembles -- in her playing -- something akin to a ball of fire with arms and hands rising in perfect proportions from the keyboard, perfectly geared to provide the required expressive touch and brilliance which music demands with no problems whatever. Theirs is a marriage of wondrous colours and dextrous aplomb, subtly balanced to make the musical performance sound as one.

Alessio Bax. Photo © 2004 Warner Classics/James McMillian
Alessio Bax. Photo © 2004 Warner Classics/James McMillian

Schubert's late masterwork for piano four hands is his Fantasie in F minor D940, in particular for its poignant qualities sustained over a four movement, continuous whole. Until the advent of Anton Bruckner and his nine symphonies I used to think that Bach and Brahms were his two main rivals in this respect, but Schubert imposes on performers an extra commitment of understanding exactly how to phrase his melodic spans -- starting often as an understatement of holding back before quickening the motion, then turning the upward thrust of the tune with loving grace allowing the tempo to right itself as it descends for its completion. I asked the famous duo Isabel Beyer and Harvey Dagul about this and their answer was typical, based on 'her' following 'him' over many glorious performing years: 'We feel it should be exactly that way', and Alessio and Lucille likewise. Despite some accentuation in the treble range during the height of the development -- to counter the hall reverberation, this was every way as worthy as Tal and Groethuysen who have performed and recorded everything that Schubert wrote for this combination.

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Copyright © 7 May 2007 Bill Newman, Edgware UK


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