I’ve been listening to Kayla Wong’s CD Allure incessantly in my car for the past couple of weeks.
Wong emailed me to tell me about herself and the recording. I listened to a couple of samples, deciding that yes this sounded really good. The CD not only confirmed that first impression, but has been a companion in my struggles with Toronto traffic. Who minds being stuck in rush hour when the piano can spirit you away?
Yes the title “Allure” is certainly appropriate, considering the smile on the cover, but Wong is more than a pretty face. The CD is recorded on her label Luminous Vine Records. And like Stewart Goodyear’s Beethoven set, Wong writes her own liner notes that are a personal response to the composers & their music.
But let’s talk about the music on the CD. There are four very different composers:
- Ernesto Lecuona
- Maurice Ravel
- Sergei Rachmaninoff
- Samuel Barber
We’re firmly situated in the 20th century, in a place requiring great technique and a romantic intelligence to match these composers. Because of the way the tracks are organized, it’s a CD I leave playing at its conclusion. Lecuono leads off with a decidedly Iberian flavour, followed by two contrasting touchstones of piano virtuosity. Barber to finish? It’s perhaps counter-intuitive, but the angularity of this sonata leads nicely right back to the soulful Cuban.
The Lecuono triptych make an impressive beginning, understated passions that catch fire in “Ante El Escorial”, “Aragonesa” and “Granada”.
The Ravel pair are an impressionistic pair, namely “Jeux d’eau” and “Miroirs: Une barque sur l’ocean”. These two are relatively understated, shimmering playing of great precision.
The six Rachmaninoff Moments Musicaux Op 16 are the largest part of the album, a wonderful series of compositions. Yesterday’s morning-after reflections that included the strange images of Lang Lang with his shiny jacket & hair are a contrast to performances like these, sincerely felt & thoroughly thought out. Where the big star virtuoso seems to come from the outside, with no connection to the music (and I wonder if he realizes how ridiculous he looks & sounds), Wong’s readings are as genuine as method acting, seeming to originate right in the music, rather than merely skimming the surface.
And to close, we’re in an entirely different place with the Barber. The opening movement’s herky-jerky rhythms are like a parody of ragtime syncopations, in combination with other angular shapes. The second movement Allegro vivace is a bit of oddball impressionism, more dissonant than what Ravel might offer yet every bit as shimmery in its gossamer surfaces, a bit like a Chopin etude with a hallucinatory waltz in the middle. The Adagio meanders slowly along vistas of emotional depth, a bit bemused with itself but never losing its way. And the closing Fuga is wonderful frenetic energy, jazzy and playful to bring it home.
If you’re listening allow the Fuga to proceed back to the first Lecuona track, a transition that feels remarkably logical, particularly because both pieces (the closing Fuga & “Ante El Escorial”) are in the same key. For further information go to Kayla Wong’s website.