Howard Shore
Ruin and Memory: Concerto for Piano and Orchestra
Mythic Gardens: Concerto for Cello and Orchestra
Lang Lang (piano)
China Philharmonic Orchestra
Long Yu

Sophie Shao (cello)
21st Century Chamber Orchestra
Ludwig Wicki

Ruin and Memory recorded at premiere performance on 11 October 2010 at Beijing Music Festival; Mythic Gardens recorded on 20 April 2014 at KKL Lucerne, Switzerland
CD No: SONY CLASSICAL 88985348732
Duration: 54 minutes
Reviewed: March 2017

The Canadian composer Howard Shore (born 1946) is best-known for his successful film music, having written scores for over eighty films. As a consequence, and certainly on the evidence of these two Concertos, his concert music has a directness of utterance, being of the kind that would not offend an audience.

Ruin and Memory was composed for Lang Lang, who gives a wholly fine account of the solo part, quite well recorded at the world premiere in Beijing. It was written to mark the bicentenary of Chopin’s birth, and much of the piano writing is of a character not unlike that of the mid-19th-century. The title appears to have no discernible attachment to the music, but clearly has some significance for the composer. The work opens with an orchestral statement that would not have offended Saint-Saëns, though he may not have elected to develop the material at such length as Shore does. The piano writing is effective, and the recording, although not ideal, is well balanced.

Shore’s sense of design, his clear rhythms, the easygoing nature of the material and the assurance with which he handles the orchestra are all admirable characteristics. Lang Lang phrases most beautifully and clearly the music poses no challenges for the interpreter, but the inherent simplicity of the thematic material, rather than its technical ‘working-out’ – especially in the extended coda to the first movement – is most undistinguished.

The Mythic Gardens Cello Concerto is more sombre. Perhaps it is the result of a poor recording, but the cello is far too consistently threaded within the orchestral texture. Once again, the lack of distinguished, or even distinguishing, material – almost invariably bland and unoriginal – is a consistent drawback. The music may be naturally expressive, but lacks spontaneity rather than springing from the inner inspiration of a genuine creative figure.

The first movement ends a little too early: almost as if the composer felt he had said enough and ought to end the discussion; the pulse of the second movement is a shade too fast for the material. There may be a certain beguiling straightforwardness in the material, but it is too heavily threaded within a too-busy accompanying texture that hardly ever permits the soloist to take centre stage. At length, one longs for leaner scoring. The Finale shows a serious falling-off in thematic interest – the music only really comes together in the cadenza-like passage (much more lightly orchestrated) from around 3’15.

The work is not helped by a recording quality which is very poor: the balance is bad, the sound overall too close and heavily impacted, one of the worst recordings I have heard for some time, and the lack of clarity in the final chords of both works has a deleterious effect on one’s receptivity.

 

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