COMPOSERS: Tao; Ravel; Rachmaninov; Monk
ALBUM TITLE: Conrad Tao: Voyages
PERFORMER: Conrad Tao (piano, iPad)
CATALOGUE NO: 9344762
This 19-year-old Juilliard student has already won eight consecutive Morton Gould Composer Awards between the ages of ten and 18. The implication of the liner note seems to be that we should regard him as a composer-pianist in the grand 19th-century tradition: hence the unusual mix of repertoire. Meredith Monk’s Railroad is like watered-down Reich, and makes a pale opener for the Rachmaninov Preludes which are presented in a random order: they include three of the most popular, but only the first – Op. 32 No. 5 in G – purveys any poetry.
Tao says this album ‘took shape around the idea of images shifting and changing’ – hence the inclusion of the famously shape-shifting Gaspard. His ‘Ondine’ is charming but careful, and while his ‘Gibet’ swings ominously his ‘Scarbo’ feels like a work still in progress, and is far too episodic.
I wish I could write positively about the new compositions he presents, but I suspect his composing talent has been praised too often for his own good. Each piece has a portentous lower-case title – upon being, upon viewing two porcelain figures – but each is too derivative (of Debussy, Ligeti etc) to bear close listening and much too garrulous.
We are told that iridescence for piano and iPad was inspired by Brian Eno and Messiaen: it’s just spacey noodling, with echo effects.