Tuesday, 11 May 2010

CD Reviews (The Straits Times, April-May 2010)

BARTOK Concertos for
Viola, Violin & Two Pianos
London Symphony / Berlin Philharmonic
Deutsche Grammophon 477 7440

The Hungarian composer Bela Bartok (1881-1945) wrote eight works which he designated as concertos. Here are the three least familiar ones. The Double Piano Concerto (1942) was adapted from the Sonata for two pianos and percussion (1937). The orchestral adds little more to the textures dominated by the two keyboards acting as further percussion instruments. It is a rowdy rollicking affair, but pianists Pierre-Laurent Aimard and Tamara Stefanovich achieve the right blend of virtuosity, and sensitivity in the quiet “night music” segment.

The First Violin Concerto was rediscovered in 1957, having been composed five decades before. Its two movements contrast lyricism (inspired by an infatuation with a lady violinist) and folk-like gawkiness. The Viola Concerto (1945) was left uncompleted at Bartok’s death and reconstructed by Tibor Serly. It is a dark and forbidding work which finds occasional rays of sunshine. Violinist Gidon Kremer and violist Yuri Bashmet provide gripping performances that surpass the pioneering efforts by Yehudi Menuhin. With better recorded sound, these are firm recommendations for today.

SUMI JO, Soprano
DAVID FIRMAN, Piano & Conductor
Deutsche Grammophon 476 3306

Subtitled Love Songs From Around The World, this is a ravishing anthology from the Korean superstar in crossover mode. Her voice is silky-smooth, always sensitive and sounding comfortable in languages including Swedish, Norwegian, Russian, Greek, Spanish, French, English and her native Korean. She is joined by tenor Alesandro Safina in De Curtis’ Neapolitan canzonetta Non ti scordar di me and the familiar Besame mucho, blending quite perfectly together.

The unifying theme here is longing and nostalgia, from simple songs like Henry Bishop’s Home, Sweet Home and Stephen Foster’s Beautiful Dreamer to dance numbers like Argentine Carlos Gardel’s Por una cabeza (tango) and Erik Satie’s Je te veux (waltz). She reserves her most treasured Korean song Mother, Sister for the end. This is pure aural candy, and unabashedly so.

BIZET Carmen
French Radio Philharmonic
Decca 475 7646 (2CDs)


Only marketing hype, which places the name of Andrea Bocelli topmost on the album cover, will have you believe that the sight-impaired Italian tenor is the glory of this production. Bocelli gives a credible account as Don José, with his big Flower Aria (La fleur que tu m’avais jetée) ringing in the Euros. Stealing the show, however, is mezzo Marina Domashenko’s Carmen who is both commanding and seductive in her full-throated role. So why isn’t she given top billing instead?

Even soprano Eva Mei’s childlike innocence as Micaela is distinctive, as is baritone Bryn Terfel’s brash cameo as Escamillo in the Toreador Song. The choir is excellent in the crowd scenes but the orchestra sounds manically driven when playing on its own. At $50 this 2005 recording is an expensive pop. There are better Carmens at a far lower price.

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