Salonen: Helix for Orchestra

Helix for Orchestra; Piano Concerto; Dichotomie for piano solo
Yefim Bronfman (piano); Los Angeles Philharmonic/Esa-Pekka Salonen
Catalogue Number:
477 8103
BBC Music Magazine

Funny business, first impressions. When I first heard Esa-Pekka Salonen’s Piano Concerto at the 2007 Proms it seemed one of his finest achievements to date. Hearing it for the third time, I don’t think it’s even the strongest piece on this disc.

The driven and dazzlingly colourful Helix matches all the Concerto can offer in less than a third of its length. The surging syncopated lyricism of the opening (strikingly reminiscent of the American Martinu) seems a more natural contrivance than the melody Salonen places at the heart of the Concerto’s slow movement, and still more so than the latter movement’s Gershwinesque apotheosis.

The manic varied repetition that drives so much of the Concerto certainly keeps you listening, but the technique works better in the truly compelling solo piano Dichotomie, where the basic motor-motivic material is more sharply defined. Certainly the recording doesn’t
help. The piano is placed in with the principal orchestral instruments, but the ‘in your face’ effect can leave the ears yearning for a bit of aural perspective.

Fortunately Helix and Dichotomie are better presented, and the disc is worth having for these two pieces alone. It almost goes without saying that Yefim Bronfman’s playing and Salonen’s direction are exemplary – but even then, a mixed overall impression. Stephen Johnson

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