Norman Lebrecht Album of the Week 10 Jun

Conrad Tao album cover

Nineteen-year-old pianist and composer Conrad Tao's debut disc displays some accomplished playing for one so young, says Norman Lebrecht, but ultimately this musical voyage is going nowhere.

Rating 1

This album is an instant collectible. It marks the record debut of the last artist to be signed by EMI Classics before the label disappears. 

The artist is 19 years old, born in Illinois to Chinese immigrant parents and drawn to both piano and violin. At 14, he played concertos by Mendelssohn, one for each instrument, in the same concert. He also composes. 

Tao plays the pieces off pat, all the notes in place and mostly joined together

Here, he plays solo piano, opening with a winsome shard of minimalism by Meredith Monk, whom he claims as an influence. He follows with preludes by Rachmaninov, Ravel’s Gaspard de la nuit and some works of his own. It is all rather accomplished for a musician of his age. 

Regrettably, it is no more than rather. The playing in Rachmaninov and Ravel lacks signature or singularity. Tao plays the pieces off pat, all the notes in place and mostly joined together. He has nothing new to say. As for his own creations, which include a six-minute sketch for piano and iPad, they are little more than doodles, tiny ideas with nowhere to go. Tao has a definite musical facility that may develop over time. As the very last artist on EMI Classics, he turns out the lights with a mere whimper. 

Artist: Conrad Tao (piano, iPad)

Norman Lebrecht is a prolific commentator on music and cultural affairs and an award-winning novelist. See his blog Slipped Disc.