Monday, 30 March 2009

CD Reviews (The Straits Times, March 2009)

RACHMANINOV Symphony No.2 / Vocalise
Singapore Symphony Orchestra / LAN SHUI
BIS SACD-1712 / Rating ****1/2

Rachmaninov’s Second Symphony has been a staple of the SSO since the Choo Hoey era. Its Slavic melancholy, melodic wealth and surging climaxes have always suited the orchestra to a tee, and with Lan Shui’s direction, the music takes on added lustre and visceral excitement. SSO’s recent success in its tour to China and Taiwan were founded on this hour-long blockbuster, performed without cuts. One however needs to get past the many portamenti, slurs of intonation or what singers call “scoops”, which often connote cloying sentimentality, particularly apparent in this reading. Do these enhance or detract from the music? Can these withstand repeated listening? You be the judge, but do not ditch your favourite Previn, Ashkenazy or Pletnev recordings just yet.

In commemoration of SSO’s 30th anniversary, the cover art captures a decorative pillar from Victoria Concert Hall by Singaporean photographer Collin Tan – a very appropriate symbolic touch.
Orchestra La Scintilla / Adam Fischer
Decca 475 9077 / Rating *****

Maria Felicia Garcia (1808-1836), better known by her married name Maria Malibran, was the world’s first diva, a singing superstar who attracted adulation and scandal in equal measure. This magnificent (and copiously illustrated) tribute by mezzo Cecilia Bartoli reflects an extraordinary versatility from a time when there were no distinctions between lyrical or dramatic roles, sopranos or mezzos. Bel canto reigns supreme here, with arias from Vincenzo Bellini’s La Sonnambula, I Puritani and Norma. From the latter opera, Bartoli’s intimate and sensuous take on Casta Diva seems a world away from the searing intensity of Maria Callas. Elsewhere, Bartoli delights in the flamenco rhythms of a song by her father Manuel Garcia, yodels effortlessly in Hummel’s Tyrolian Air and Variations, and simulates a one-woman band in her own onomatopoeic Rataplan. Malibran was certainly a character, and Bartoli gloriously relives a bygone era.
20th Century Classics
EMI Classics 2068602 / Rating ****

The name of Sergei Prokofiev (1891-1953), once considered Russia’s enfant terrible of music, should no longer send shivers down the necks of concert-goers. His penchant for shock effects like grinding discordances and percussiveness is only matched by a rare gift of melody. This 2-CD budget-priced compilation of full-length works performed by a host of classical music’s luminaries attests to this fact.

The loud and violent Scythian Suite (conducted by Sir Simon Rattle) is soothed by the Haydnesque propriety and wit of the Classical Symphony (Efrem Kurtz) This propensity for lightness continues in the rarely heard Sinfonietta (Riccardo Muti) and the quirky sextet which is the Overture on Hebrew Themes (Michel Beroff et al). For a combination of instrumental virtuosity, lyricism and dissonance in equal measure, little comes close to the scintillating Violin Concerto No.1 (Franz Peter Zimmerman) and coruscating Piano Concerto No.1 (Martha Argerich), both early works. Another rarity: the Cello Concerto in E minor (Janos Starker), albeit in a much-excised version. Although Peter and the Wolf does not figure here, this introduction to one of the 20th century’s most approachable composers goes down as easily as ABC.

No comments: