Friday, 9 October 2009

CD Reviews (The Straits Times, October 2009)

SimplyCD-053 (4CDs)
Rating ****

Despite the cheap appearance of this super-budget boxset, do not turn your nose up at it. The three most accessible of Gustav Mahler’s nine symphonies make for a worthy “Mahler for Beginners” primer. Start off with the First Symphony, also known as the “Titan” with its rustic country dance and Klezmer-styled funeral march. Then enjoy the lightness of the Fourth Symphony, his shortest and least bombastic score, capped with a child’s angelic vision of heaven. The journey from death to life in the Fifth Symphony includes the famous Adagietto, ethereally scored for strings and harp.

The performances by the Frankfurt Radio Symphony Orchestra led by Eliahu Inbal are far more than serviceable. The fourth disc houses Mahler’s Songs Of The Wayfarer and Des Knaben Wunderhorn, German lieder filled with hope, sorrow and fantastical imagery, which are closely linked with these symphonies. No texts or translations have been included but there are brief and helpful biographical notes for the neophyte. Priced at under $20, this is Mahler without tears indeed.

RCA Red Seal 82876803182
Rating ****

Hands up all those whose first acquaintance of the flute was the silky, golden strains of Irish flautist James Galway. This double CD album is his “Greatest Hits” compilation, filled with popular favourites and some gems. The first CD is completely classical, and the usual suspects are there: Gluck’s Dance of the Blessed Spirits, Rimsky-Korsakov’s Flight of the Bumble Bee, Bach’s Badinerie (from Suite No.2) and Briccialdi’s Carnival of Venice Variations. The only seriously classical piece: French lady composer Cecile Chaminade’s wonderful Flute Concertino. Interestingly, the second CD of pops sounds more varied, beginning with James Horner’s Titanic theme My Heart Will Go On, the ubiquitous Annie’s Song by John Denver (one of Galway’s signature tunes), Elton John’s Can You Feel The Love Tonight? (from The Lion King) and closing with Londonderry Air. Sir James is a charmer as always, but if a lot of this sounds like elevator music, blame the hotels and shopping centres but not the performer!

Singapore Symphony Orchestra / LAN SHUI
BIS CD-1357
Rating ****1/2

The title here refers to the warm Mediterranean influence on 20th century French composers, whose concertante saxophone works within display a joie de vivre illuminated by sun and climate. The two major works are Jacques Ibert’s Chamber Concertino and Henri Tomasi’s Alto Saxophone Concerto, both in 2 movements, straddling the genres of concert music and popular forms such as jazz and movie music. Distinctions are blurred but the quality and craftsmanship of the music shines through. Paule Maurice is an obscure woman composer whose 5-movement suite of dances, Tableaux de Provence, is as pastoral as one can get. Ravel’s Pavane for the Dead Infanta and Milhaud’s Brazilian-flavoured Scaramouche are the popular makeweights. French saxophonist Claude Delangle plays with great √©lan and panache , and there is much to enjoy in this marvellous anthology.

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