Friday, 31 July 2009

CD Reviews (The Straits Times, July 2009)

From Bach to Bartok
BIS CD-1744

This unusual recital disc profiles the partnership of the violin and piano through the ages of time, from the Baroque into the 20th century. The works on display are also unconventional, beginning with the pseudo-Baroque of Fritz Kreisler’s Praeludium and Allegro on a Theme by Pugnani, full of Romantic exhibitionism, before settling on J.S.Bach’s E major Sonata (BWV.1016), not the most obvious of choices. British violinist Tasmin Little plays with great ardour and spirit throughout, unafraid of exercising generous vibratos regardless of period instrument conventions.

After the gentle classicism of Mozart’s C major Sonata (K.296), she champions Grieg’s little-known Sonata No.2, a totally enjoyable outing that is less overtly nationalistic than its famous successor. Tchaikovsky’s Melodie (from Souvenir d'un lieu cher) is one of music’s most lyrical utterances, and justly receives it due. The 20th century segment is however under-represented with Bartok’s folksy and un-modern Romanian Dances. Anything by Debussy, Ravel, Stravinsky or Szymanowski would have been preferable, but there is little denying this album’s totally listener friendly approach.

Violin Sonatas & Songs
EMI Classics 2344502

It is one of the strangest quirks of history that Charles Ives (1874-1954), an insurance broker by day, is considered the “father” of modern American music. As a young man, he experimented with dissonances and atonality independent of European modernist movements. His music also freely used popular American melodies commonly heard in fairs, festivals, church services and marching bands, albeit in short snatches and sometimes distorted and wittily parodied.

The Piano Trio (completed in 1911) is one of his most characteristic works, its riotous middle movement humorously titled TSIAJ, short for This Scherzo Is A Joke. It is akin to a game of spotting as many songs you can in a melange of apparently random sequences. His violin sonatas are more accessible essays; No.4 is titled Children’s Day At The Camp Meeting and quotes Christian hymns. These performances by musicians of the New York Philharmonic with pianist Israel Margalit are idiomatic and enjoyable. Seven Ives songs – all short and pithy – also get sensitive readings by soprano Deborah Voigt and pianist Brian Zeger. Well worth the acquaintance.

HAYDN Keyboard Concertos
Freiburger Barockorchester
Harmonia Mundi 2961854

The keyboard concertos of Haydn fall chronologically and stylistically in between J.S.Bach and Mozart, exhibiting qualities of both a solo and ensemble instrument. Performances on harpsichord and modern piano are common, but the early pianoforte comes closest to the music’s spirit. Light, lithe and bubbly describe Haydn’s three most popular keyboard concertos; the G major concerto (No.4) sparkles from start to end, contrasted with the understated elegance of the F major concerto (No.6).

The best known and most demanding is the “Hungarian” Concerto in D major (No.11) published in 1784, which concludes with an ebullient Hungarian-styled Rondo, now thought to be of Croatian origin. Andreas Staier who performs on a copy of a 1785 Walter pianoforte and supplies his cadenzas does not underplay its brilliance, which was the last word in virtuosity until the arrival of Beethoven. Even if Haydn’s star has been eclipsed in recent times, his music remains hugely entertaining.

1 comment:

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