Friday, 12 February 2010

CD Reviews (The Straits Times, February 2010)

Decca 478 2116 (2 CDs)

All good things must come to an end. For the revered pianist and scholar Alfred Brendel’s sixty years on stage which came to a grand close in December 2008, this handsome tribute celebrates his musical loves. Mozart is represented by a sonata (K.533) and the early Piano Concerto No.9 in E flat major (K.271), his longest work of the genre. With the Vienna Philharmonic directed by Sir Charles Mackerras, this performance captures all its elegance, grace and ebullient wit. From the final recital in Hanover, Haydn’s Variations in F minor in his hands exude a freshness that is ever-rejuvenating.

The second disc houses Beethoven’s Sonata in E flat major (Op.27 No.1), an underrated masterpiece with its sublime hymn-like slow movement, alongside the final Sonata in B flat major (D.960) of Schubert. These are great and unshowy performances which underline Brendel’s superior musicality and humanity. Having conquered Mussorgsky, Stravinsky and Balakirev in his younger years, he had risen to “higher” things, ideals also espoused in his encores: a Beethoven Bagatelle, a Bach-Busoni chorale prelude and the song-like beauty of Schubert’s Impromptu in G flat major. At mid-price, this album is one for keeps.

Christopher O’Riley, Piano
Janine Randall, Piano
Telarc 80744

Another year, another child prodigy turns professional. The 16-year-old American violinist Caroline Goulding’s début recording is an enjoyable mix of Fritz Kreisler lollipops – including the lesser known but delectable Gypsy Caprice and Berceuse Romantique - and unashamed Americana. The latter is varied enough, beginning with the Paganini-inspired Red Violin Caprices by John Corigliano, adapted from his score for the Oscar-winning movie.

Popular American folk and dance movements are relived in Paul Schoenfield’s Four Souvenirs, including the samba, tango and square dance. A suite of familiar songs from Gershwin’s opera Porgy And Bess get the Heifetz treatment, while the Belgian Henri Vieuxtemps’ Yankee Doodle Variations is pure tongue-in-cheek. The idiomatic and resourceful Goulding completes her coast-to-coast musical tour with Gaelic fiddling in two dances from Cape Breton in Canadian Nova Scotia. Do try this!

MAHLER Symphony No.9
Royal Stockholm Philharmonic

The young American conductor Alan Gilbert began his tenure as Music Director of the New York Philharmonic last year, which included an Asian tour that swung by Singapore. This recording of Mahler’s last completed symphony (1908-09) with the Royal Stockholm Philharmonic, where he was chief conductor from 2000 to 2008, shows why he was so highly fancied. Under Gilbert’s leadership, the Swedes play like they own the work, from the opening movement’s world-wearied trudge to the finale’s catharsis of quiet resignation and mortality. In between, the music swings from the banalities of a Ländler (Austrian country dance in 3/4 time) gone demented to the crazed slashings of the vehement Rondo-Burleske, all imaginatively characterised without resorting to hysterics or caricature.

There are more famous recordings by Karajan, Bernstein, Walter et al but this expertly-judged reading more than holds its own among the finest. Its 82 minutes, opulently recorded with BIS fabled sound, is contained within a single disc, rendering it an excellent bargain as well.

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