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Minimalism At Its Best

14 JAN 08 VIVIEN SCHWEITZER

Pianist Gloria Cheng demonstrates her affinity with two composers on the Telarc reissue Piano Music Of John Adams & Terry Riley, which should be in the collection of every fan of minimalism.

Cheng is a new music specialist and champion of Adams and Riley. The disc includes the world premiere recording of Riley's 1994 five-movement "The Heaven Ladder, Book 7" (which Cheng commissioned). She explores the eclectically contrasting segments with vigor and grace, including the energetic "Misha's Bear Dance" (inspired by the birth of Riley's twin grandchildren), the sultry and at times Chopinesque waltz-scherzo "Venus in '94" and the swinging "Ragtempus Fugatis" -- a witty mesh of ragtime and fugal techniques.

The mood shifts abruptly with the final two movements: "Fandango on the Heaven Ladder," which alternates between a melancholy chorale and lively dance rhythms, and the pianissimo variations of "Simone's Lullaby."

Cheng's crisply delineated touch, varied dynamic colorations and expressive, virtuoso playing render Adams' dazzling "Phrygian Gates" (1978) vividly kaleidoscopic, and the simpler, more delicate "China Gates" (1977) soulfully languid.

The disc also includes "The Walrus in Memoriam," (1991) Terry Riley's ragtime homage to John Lennon, commissioned as part of a series of recordings by the pianist Aki Takahashi of works based on tunes by the Beatles.