Friday, 23 April 2010

CD Reviews (The Straits Times, April 2010)

Deutsche Grammophon 477 8618

Before Lang Lang, there was Ivo Pogorelich. It was 30 years ago when the Serbian pianist with movie star appeal shot to fame following his controversial elimination from the 1980 Chopin International Piano Competition, sparking off Martha Argerich’s famous walkout. This is a mid-priced reissue of his second recital disc, revealing an enviable facility but some questionable interpretive decisions.

Beethoven’s great final sonata in C minor (Op.111) was victim to self-conscious gestures and clipped phrasing, reducing a visionary masterpiece into parody and technical exercises. This striving for effect continued in Schumann’s Symphonic √Čtudes (Op.13), where some of the variations are stultifying in their slowness. No question about the spellbinding speed achieved in Schumann’s propulsive Toccata and a selection of three Chopin √Čtudes, thrown in for better value. Genius is an elusive quality, and Pogorelich has it albeit in stops and starts.

BRIGHT SHENG Spring Dreams
Singapore Chinese Orchestra / TSUNG YEH
Naxos 8.570601

Bright Sheng (born 1955) belongs to the generation of Chinese composers and musicians that spent its formative years under the thumb of the Cultural Revolution. Now an American citizen, his music bestrides both Western and Chinese cultures. Spring Dreams was originally a 2-movement cello concerto written in 1997 for Yo-Yo Ma, who performed it with the Singapore Symphony in 1999. In its violin version, re-written for Cho-Liang Lin, a Chinese orchestra is used. A more evocatively Chinese sound is established, as the violin resembles the erhu besides mimicking Beijing opera. Generous use of percussion also lends the music a festive feel. The Singapore Chinese Orchestra sounds like the perfect partner to Taiwanese-born violinist Lin’s overt virtuosity.

Three Fantasies and Tibetan Dance comprise shorter pieces, products of Sheng’s ethno-musicological research in China’s western provinces. Soulful lament and rhythmic dance-like numbers alternate, with the latter work scored also for clarinet. Sheng himself plays the piano part adroitly. It may be said that Sheng is the Chinese answer to Hungary’s Bartok and America’s Copland.

VERDI Requiem
Soloists with Santa Cecilia Academy Orchestra & Chorus
EMI Classics 6989362 (2CDs)

Every new recording of Verdi’s Reqiuem is a highly awaited event, and this latest one by American Italian Antonio Pappano ranks high alongside celebrated versions by Giulini, Toscanini, Muti and Abbado. With the music very much centred on the chorus, his Italian singers rise to the occasion with thrilling aplomb, not least in the joyous fugue that is the Sanctus. The quartet of soloists - soprano Anja Harteros, mezzo Sonia Ganassi, tenor Rollando Villazon and bass Rene Pape - is also a very balanced one, bringing heartfelt emotion and sufficient dramatics to what is sometimes referred to as Verdi’s greatest opera. The opening of the Agnus Dei, sung by soprano and mezzo in unison, has that beseeching spiritual quality that is hard to ignore. Also not neglected is the orchestra’s role. Seldom has the spewing hellfires of Dies Irae erupted with such vehemence and detail. All in all, a memorable outing that is irresistible at bargain price.

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