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Reviews of new classical music releases

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BACH AND LISZT "Piano Works" Lise de la Salle (Naive Y 5006) Grade: A-

Yikes! The pianists keep getting younger and younger. Lise de la Salle is only 16, and this isn't even her first major-label CD.

It's supremely impressive, though, and most of this music is not what you'd expect a young artist to excel in.

The French pianist devotes the first half to Bach and hyphenated Bach. She plays big works like the Chromatic Fantasy and Fugue with an enormous range of color and touch, without ever stretching it out of shape. The big D Major Toccata sounds terrific, too. Perhaps the only complaint is that the A minor Fugue (in Liszt's transcription) lacks something in rhythmic definition. But perhaps de la Salle is just emphasizing a romantic take on the piece.

Two of the Liszt pieces are late and lugubrious. De la Salle plays one of the sonnetti di Petrarca with all the passion you could wish for, and then finishes up with a virtuosic Mephisto Waltz.

Probably the right response isn't "Yikes!" but "Wow!"


BRITTEN "String Quartets 1-3" Belcea Quartet (EMI 57968) Grade: A

Benjamin Britten wrote so much music for the voice - and not just in his operas - that it is easy to forget just how much strictly instrumental music he composed. The first two of his string quartets come right at the beginning of his artistic maturity. They show a debt to late Beethoven in overall structure, but more to baroque masters in their minute-to-minute texture. They're full of beautiful things, including the long slow movement in the first and the even longer final chaconne in the second.

Like his contemporary Shostakovich, Britten didn't change his style much in terms of general sound or amount of dissonance over the course of his career. The third quartet his final work does have a beautiful fluidity to the instrumental writing. It's partly a debt to his final opera, Death in Venice. Once again, the final passacaglia is the most interesting movement.

The England-based Belcea Quartet plays these pieces with delicacy as well as passionate conviction.


(c) 2005, The Dallas Morning News. Distributed by Knight Ridder/Tribune News Service.

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