ConNotations: works by Shostakovich, Berg and Saint-Saëns

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COMPOSERS: Berg,Saint-Saens,Shostakovich
LABELS: Orchid Classics
ALBUM TITLE: ConNotations
WORKS: Shostakovich: Concerto in C minor for piano, trumpet and string orchestra; Berg: Chamber Concerto; Saint-Säens: Carnival of the Animals
PERFORMER: Philipp Hutter (trumpet), Bartosz Woroch (violin), Mei Yi Foo, Ashley Wass (piano); Britten Sinfonia


‘They hide, I seek.’ That’s the idea behind Mei Yi Foo’s enjoyable new CD, which explores three composers who wove codes into their music. It’s not an original theme, but it’s imaginatively and playfully interpreted: when else would Shostakovich, Berg and Saint-Saëns appear together? The trio of concertos – each of which features piano plus another solo instrument – forms a surprisingly satisfying programme, with lighter, exuberant Shostakovich and Saint-Saëns framing Berg’s darker introversions.

Mind you, Mei Yi Foo has form when it comes to blending profundity and wit. Her debut CD, Musical Toys, winningly combined a childlike curiosity with a serious world premiere (Unsuk Chin’s Six Etudes) – the accolade of Newcomer of the Year at the 2013 BBC Music Magazine Awards was the result. The same lively intelligence is on display here, matched by the alert, colourful chamber-scale Britten Sinfonia.

Shostakovich has fun parodying other musical works in his lean First Piano Concerto. Mei Yi Foo’s sparkling touch and deft articulation is matched by wonderfully direct trumpet playing by Philipp Hutter, and although the strings could sometimes be atmospheric, that might be down to the recording itself. The music sinks into darkness, and the late (really late) Romantic world of Berg, who dedicated his Chamber Concerto to Schoenberg, and tucks away both their names – and Webern’s – into the score. Mei Yi Foo is joined by violinist Bartosz Woroch and 13 wind instruments (replacing the string-only sonority for Shostakovich); they get to the heart of Berg’s dense idiom. And then it’s time to laugh in Saint-Saëns’s Carnival of the Animals, which bustles and bristles with animal life – and is also a menagerie of in-musical jokes about French musicians and critics of the time.


Rebecca Franks