Friday, 29 January 2010

CD Reviews (The Straits Times, January 2010)

HAYDN Piano Sonatas Vol.2
Hyperion 67710 (2 CDs)
Rating *****

This recording has unusually received the most diametrically polarised of reviews, raving praise in Gramophone but panned in International Piano. But which is right? Firstly, the French-Canadian pianist Hamelin is better known in technically complex repertoire but he does not regard Haydn as anything less. Even the “facile” Sonata No.35 in C major, bane of children learning the piano, is never academic fodder in his hands. Here it sounds like fun.

Next, there is no pretence to scholarship or so-called authenticity; instead he goes to the heart of the music. Haydn’s skittish humour is ever present and the slow movements display a lovely singing tone. Two of Haydn’s great late sonatas, No.48 (C major) and No.49 (E flat major) get the regal readings they deserve. In addition to the 9 sonatas, Haydn’s masterly Variations in F minor and Fantasia are also included. Hamelin shows how and why Haydn should never be neglected.

RACHMANINOV Trio Elegiaque No.1
Deutsche Grammophon 477 8099

The big news is Lang Lang’s recorded début as a chamber musician, and there is no more appropriate repertoire than this. The Rachmaninov is an early single-movement work, heavily influenced by Tchaikovsky, not to be mistaken for his second and better known trio. The Tchaikovsky has been recorded many times, with a wonderful set of variations as its middle movement.

The potent mix of Slavic melancholy and digital virtuosity inherent both scores are eminently suited for Lang’s temperament. He is well matched by violinist Vadim Repin and cellist Mischa Maisky, old hands in chamber repertoire. For their big techniques and egos, there is never a sense of one-upmanship, instead they forge a common ground to make these overwrought works sound fresh and relevant. Like the legendary “Million Dollar Trios” of the last century peopled by the likes of Rubinstein, Horowitz, Heifetz and Piatigorsky, this threesome is destined for greatness.

Hyperion 67703

The violin works of Polish composer Karol Szymanowski (1882-1937) are finally getting the attention they deserve. Most celebrated are the three Mythes, based on Greek mythology, which blend achingly beautiful melodies and perfumed harmonies with impressionistic hues. The shimmering textures in Fountain of Arethuse and eroticism of Narcissus are musical ambrosia, culminating with the ecstatic dance of Dryades and Pan. Even earthier is the Nocturne and Tarantella, alternating mystery with an exuberance bordering on violence.

The Sonata in D minor is more conventional but no less enjoyable. As a curiosity, three of Paganini’s Caprices are treated to Szymanowski’s quite ingenious piano accompaniment. The young Russian violinist Alina Ibragimova coaxes a beautiful ethereal sound for most part, possessing the full measure of this music’s overt sensuality and subtle nuances. French pianist Cedric Tiberghien – well known for his Debussy – is a most perceptive partner. Heartily recommended.

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