Conrad Tao: Voyages
‘Conrad Tao has already accomplished more than most musicians do in a lifetime,’ proclaims EMI’s website. To demonstrate Tao’s eclectic gifts on this, his first album, the 18-year-old American (born to Chinese parents) appears as both pianist and composer.
That he’s gifted is immediately apparent and his approach to the Rachmaninov Preludes is both technically expert and unselfconsciously musical. Yet for all that, they’re slightly dispassionate readings: he makes less of the character of each piece than Steven Osborne. Turn to Rachmaninov’s own selection (RCA) and everything else pales by comparison.
Meredith Monk suits Tao better and the upfront recording is more convincing here than in either the Ravel or the Rachmaninov. In the case of Gaspard it is perhaps this that lessens the sense of mysterious withdrawal that is so crucial to this piece. But again, in terms of characterisation, he lacks the detailed response of the finest proponents. At the un peu en dehors in ‘Le gibet’ his management of the plaintive melody is less subtle than that of Bavouzet or Osborne, and it is these pianists who make ‘Ondine’ sound more dangerously seductive. Tao is still a teenager, but so was Benjamin Grosvenor when he set down his Gaspard: by contrast, you can already hear a magnificent pianistic mind at work in an interpretation of endless subtlety as well as impact.
Tao’s vestiges proves a good vehicle for his own pianism without necessarily having a particularly strong personal voice as yet. iridescence for piano and iPad is what the composer describes as an ‘organic engagement with technology’ and again, while the effect is aurally pleasing, it’s hardly a work of groundbreaking iconoclasm in the manner of those great experimenters of previous decades.