Risto Lauriala

Piano Works by Bloch & Busoni

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Piano Works by Bloch & Busoni Review

by Mike D. Brownell

The St. Michel String Orchestra, in its original incarnation as the Mikkeli, was formed in 1903 as an amateur orchestra in Finland. Over the course of its history, it has become a standing professional string orchestra. In this, its second CD release, the ensemble presents a delightful selection of the two Bloch Concerto Grossi, as well as the Busoni Berceuse and Concerto for Piano and Strings (written at the young age of 12). While the performance of these works is spirited and energetic, there are still some amateurish holdovers from the ensemble's days before achieving professional status. Keeping in mind that the Bloch concertos are frequently performed by advanced high school ensembles, the St. Michel String Orchestra comes across as a little rough around the edges to make this recording a viable alternative to the stunningly precise rendition given by Howard Hanson and the Eastman-Rochester Pops Orchestra. The string orchestra lacks some of the distinct clarity of articulation, flawless intonation, and excellent balance between the string sections that distinguish great performances of these works from averages ones. Pianist Risto Lauriala is by far the star performer on this album. His clean, effortless approach to the Busoni makes for an excellent introduction to this too-infrequently heard piece.

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