Friday, 24 April 2009

CD Reviews (The Straits Times, April 2009)

Hyperion 67598
Rating *****

British pianist Stephen Hough’s concept albums over the years have been a total pleasure because they unite magnificent pianism with the joy of discovering new and unexpected repertoire. 40 minutes of this anthology is devoted to original unhyphenated Mozart, including two Fantasies (K.475 and 396, both in sombre C minor) with the contrastingly cheerful choice of Sonata in B flat major (K.333). These are tasteful and non-idiosyncratic readings. The inveterate pianophile will seek the Mozart-inspired pieces and transcriptions. These bring to light Ignaz Friedman’s elaborate dressing-up of a Minuet), a homage by J.B.Cramer and three of Hough’s own “transformations” in the piquant style of French composer Francis Poulenc. Fireworks come in the form of the Liszt-Busoni Fantasy on The Marriage of Figaro – a veritable showstopper. Simply irresistible.

Violin Concerto in E minor
Piano Trio No.1 / Violin Sonata in F
Deutsche Grammophon 477 8001 (CD & DVD)
Rating *****

This year marks the 200th anniversary of the birth of Felix Mendelssohn-Bartholdy (1809-1847), the German composer celebrated for his prodigious facility and memorable melodies rather than originality. Who needs to be an avant-garde when one can write tunes as beautiful as those in his E minor Violin Concerto (Op.64)? This is Anne-Sophie Mutter’s second recording, one that builds upon her teenage effort (with Herbert von Karajan) by having acquired a fuller tone with maturity. Her musical sensibilities remained undimmed and her present partners - Mendelssohn’s own Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra with Kurt Masur – are excellent.

In the D minor Trio (Op.49), Mutter is partnered by cellist Lynn Harrell and hubby André Previn, whom at 80 remains amazingly dextrous as he steals the show with its scintillating and virtuosic piano part. Mendelssohn’s Violin Sonata in F major (1838) is a rarely heard but enjoyable makeweight. This premium-priced issue also includes a DVD of all three “live” performances and a 18-minute documentary on Mutter’s musings on Mendelssohn.

Renaud Capuçon, Violin
Jerome Ducros, Piano
Virgin Classics 3740872
Rating ****1/2

Despite the album’s Italianate title, there are no Paganinian showstoppers. Instead it is an oblique reference to Elgar’s charming little trifle La Capriceuse, a lilting salon piece. This is a winning collection of encore pieces, mostly transcriptions of songs, including German Lieder (Schubert, Schumann and Mendelssohn all feature here) and dances. The best items are also the least heard pieces: Karol Szymanowski’s haunting Roxana’s Song from the opera King Roger, Erich Korngold’s Garden Scene from the movie score Much Ado About Nothing, Josef Suk’s Un poco triste, and the rapturous Waltz from Richard Strauss’ Der Rosenkavalier. French violinist Renaud Capuçon has a seamless and lovely tone that serves the music well. An enjoyable romp.

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