Friday, 4 September 2009

Piano CD Reviews (The Straits Times, August 2009)

Virgin Classics 2672912
Rating *****

A Carnegie Hall solo recital is probably the ultimate dream for any professional musician, usually the sure sign that he or she has “arrived”. French-Polish pianist Piotr Anderszewski avoids the virtuoso fodder of Chopin, Liszt and Rachmaninov, instead wisely opting for subtler alternatives. The result is spectacular.

Bach’s Partita No.2 in C minor has seldom sounded this free-spirited, without indulging in Gouldian idiosyncrasy. This love for counterpoint and polyphony is further explored in Beethoven’s late Sonata No.31 in A flat major (Op.110), which receives a magisterial yet tender reading. Schumann’s Carnival Jest In Vienna (Faschingsschawank aus Wien) provides the only outright bluster, balanced with the sinuous melodies and piquant harmonies of Bohemian composer Leos Janacek’s suite In The Mists. Even his encore has a touch of the exotic and esoteric. Bartok’s Three Hungarian Folksongs From Csik District is a total charmer.

Signum Classics CD153
Rating *****

Judging by the cover, Briton James Rhodes is not your run-of-the-mill conservatory graduate. A survivor of the “school of hard knocks” (read drugs and dysfunctional relationships), he proves to be as creative a musician as a would-be Brit Awards icon.

Bach is the focus of this début album. His French Suite No.5 in G major is cool, stylish and tastefully ornamented, and the Bach-Busoni Chaconne strong in architecture and drama. In Beethoven’s short Sonata in E minor (Op.90), a wellspring of Schubertian lyricism is found, while Chopin’s Ballade No.4 builds inexorably to a rapturous climax, surely the mark of a serious artist with a wide-ranging palette. The encores bring more smiles: Moszkowski’s scintillating Etincelles (Sparks), embellished with his own exuberant additions, and the sublime Bach-Siloti Prelude in B minor. The classical music industry could do with more of his kind.

This CD may be ordered at:

BIS CD-1655

Rating *****

The 12 Études of Claude Debussy (1862-1918) have suffered alongside his 24 Préludes because the former do not have the latter’s picturesque and oh-so-poetic titles. Mundane technical titles like For Five Fingers, For Octaves and For Compound Arpeggios, possessing subtler melodies and being formidably difficult to play also present great challenges to both performer and listener. These are also the French composer’s last and finest works, proof that his big pioneering steps had stridden well into the 20th century.

Japanese pianist Noriko Ogawa matches the laser-like brilliance of her compatriot Mitsuko Uchida’s famous recording (on Philips), yet possesses a velvet-edged touch that sounds warm and truly gorgeous. This being the fourth and final instalment of Debussy’s complete solo piano music, Ogawa also includes a further half-hour of odds and ends: the beguiling but rarely heard Six Antique Epigraphs, a 13th étude (Étude retrouvée) discovered in 1977, a movement from a teenage piano trio (Piano Trio in G minor), and Debussy’s last composition – the evocative 2-minute-long prelude Evenings Lit By Glowing Coals. Don’t miss this.

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