Friday, 9 April 2010

CD Reviews (The Straits Times, April 2010)

LISZT Transcendental Études


Deutsche Grammophon 477 8362


Deutsche Grammophon may have lost Lang Lang and Li Yundi as exclusive artists, but the German recording label has unveiled Yuja Wang and now Alice Sara Ott, a 19-year-old keyboard sensation of German and Japanese parentage. For DG’s first complete recording of Liszt’s terrifying twelve Transcendental Etudes in many decades, she displays fire-breathing virtuosity and power to equal degree, with musical sensibilities to match.

These miniature tone poems tax the pianist to the utmost of range and endurance. The legend of Mazeppa - a wild horse-ride through the steppes – is driven with frightening intensity, while the delicate Feux Follets (Will-o’-the-wisp) display a gossamer lightness that dazzles and enchants. In the slower and more meditative pieces, Paysage (Landscape), La Ricordanza (Remembrances) and Harmonies Du Soir (Evening Harmonies), her sense of poetry and emotional depth are uncanny for someone this young. And rarely has the final study, Chasse-neige (Snow Drift), been dispatched with such spine-chilling control. If this review sounds O-T-T (over-the-top), do not just take my word for it. Listen to Ott for yourself, and be amazed.

SCHÖNBRUNN Summer Night Concert 2009

Vienna Philharmonic / DANIEL BARENBOIM

Deutsche Grammophon 476 347 5


This is the summertime counterpart to Vienna’s annual New Year’s Day concert, held at the Habsburg royal palace grounds of Schönbrunn. There is nothing more familiar than Mozart’s G Major Serenade, better known as Eine Kleine Nachtmusik. Without pretence to authenticity, this “big band” version sounds fresh and unmannered. Less satisfying is Spanish nationalist Manuel de Falla’s piano concerto Nights In The Gardens Of Spain, where Barenboim conducts from the keyboard. Despite his virtuosity, the orchestra sounds out of sympathy with the idiom; instead of full-blooded atmosphere one feels sluggishness.

Mussorgsky’s Night On Bald Mountain in its original version is diffuse in ideas, heavy in brass and percussion. However the sheer raucousness makes Rimsky-Korsakov’s slick orchestration sound tame in comparison. Light music closes the evening, with Argentine Mariano Mores’ tango The Arabesque and the obligatory Johann Strauss. Enjoyable nonetheless.

Hyperion 67723 (2CDs)

The complete music for violin and piano by the iconic Russian composer Igor Stravinsky (1882-1971) is encapsulated within a slender 88 minutes. The only work that was originally written for this medium, the Duo Concertant, is a neoclassical suite of five dances including two Eclogues (a pastorale) and concluding with the Dithyrambe, an impassioned hymn sung in honour of Dionysus. The other major works are the transcriptions of music by Pergolesi (later to become his Suite Italienne) and Divertimento, more dance music adapted from ballets Pulcinella and The Fairy’s Kiss.

Filling up this enjoyable double-CD (priced as one disc) are various recycled odds and ends, including the droll Tango, an arrangement of the French national anthem La Marseillaise, and yet more ballet movements. The most familiar of these are the heel-kicking Russian Dance from Petrushka and the Lullaby from The Firebird. The duo of Anthony Marwood and Thomas Ades (the latter a renowned composer) give winning performances that are idiomatic and vibrant. Stravinsky does not usually come this light!

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