Friday, 30 October 2009

CD Reviews (The Straits Times, October 2009)

BEETHOVEN Early Piano Concertos
Norrköping Symphony
Andrew Parrott, Conductor

Everybody knows and loves Beethoven’s five established piano concertos, however his first attempt at the form was at the tender age of 13. His Piano Concerto in E flat major (WoO.4) of 1784 is virtually unknown. This reconstruction by Dutch pianist Ronald Brautigam is worth listening to as it represents proto-Beethoven, before he became distinctive and distinguished. While the themes are the most part unmemorable, the piano writing is self-assured and traces of future greatness are discernable.

There is a quantum leap to the Piano Concerto in B flat major, which underwent several revisions before being published as his Op.19. A cheerful Rondo in B flat major, the original finale to the latter concerto, is also included. Brautigam, who also sports Beethoven’s wild hair, is most persuasive in all of these. This is ultimately fine chamber music, the promising beginning of an enduring legacy.
Cello Concerto No.2 / Cello Sonata
Munich Philharmonic / Marc Albrecht
RCA Red Seal 88697359612
Rating ****

While Shostakovich’s First Cello Concerto (Op.103) has firmly established itself in the concert repertory, its successor in G major (Op.126) from 1966 is virtually unknown. Its dark, death-obsessed and foreboding tone, paucity of memorable melodies and general lack of showiness render it a seriously tough nut to crack despite the championship of its dedicatee Mstislav Rostropovich.

Argentine Sol Gabetta’s effort attempts to smoothen the rough edges for hers is a rich and deeply sonorous voice, polished to a fine sheen. The only drawback: much of it sounds too polite, when there ought to have been shivers sent down the listener’s spine. With its shock value diminished, the composer’s keen sense of wit and irony is also blunted. No such worries for the earlier and far more congenial Cello Sonata (Op.40); Gabetta and Romanian pianist Mihaela Ursuleasa bring out the smiles and veiled scowls with equal alacrity.

Naxos 8.570787

As a composer of the piano, Tchaikovsky was most comfortable working with miniature forms. The Seasons, each depicting the twelve months of the year, was written serially as part of a subscription series for a magazine. Although he treated it as a dutiful chore, it contains some of his best music, including the melancholic Barcarolle (June), wistful Autumn Song (October) and the famous Troïka (November). None of these are too demanding for the fingers or ears, and the Siberian-born pianist Ilya Rashkovskiy has the exact temperament to bring out their Russian essence and understated charm. The Sonata in C sharp minor (Op.80) is an early work despite its large opus number. Not the most memorable of works, but it contains a scherzo which becomes the third movement of Tchaikovsky’s First Symphony. Well worth exploring.

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