Friday, 13 August 2010

CD Reviews (The Straits Times, August 2010)

MICHEL BÉROFF, Piano et al
EMI Classics 695590 2 (2 CDs)

The Russian iconoclast Sergei Prokofiev (1891-1953) composed a substantial volume of piano music, including nine Sonatas. The six most popular sonatas are included in this album. The first three combine his hallmark “toccata” style - driving motor-like rhythms – with angular melodies, and are short, flashy showpieces. The Sixth to Eighth Sonatas, composed during the Second World War, represent his mature best. The percussive tendencies remain, violence is heightened, but tinged with a certain bitterness. Veteran French pianist Michel Béroff is suitably brusque but idiomatic in five sonatas, while the young Russian-Israeli Boris Giltburg finds a softer edge for the paradoxically lyrical Eighth Sonata.

The fillers are Prokofiev’s delightful transcriptions from ballets Romeo & Juliet, with Navah Perlman (violinist Itzhak’s daughter) who is surprisingly low key, and Cinderella from the excellent Vladimir Ovchinikov. Four Études (Op.2) played by Roustem Saitkoulov, more sewing machine music and competition fodder, rounds up the interesting anthology.

Giuseppe Verdi Symphony & Chorus
Marco Armiliato, Conductor
Decca 478 1533

For the casual opera lover, verismo is almost synonymous with Puccini, whose characters Tosca, Mimi and Manon Lescaut lived true-to-life and often brutal scenarios. Soprano Renée Fleming’s gripping anthology introduces some of the lesser lights of verismo, including Leoncavallo, Mascagni, Catalani, Giordano, Cilea and Zandonai from the Giovane Scuola (Young School), whose heroines were no less sympathetic. Does anyone know Ruggero Leoncavallo’s now-forgotten La Bohème? Here are just 4 minutes from it, with Fleming portraying both Mimi and Musette with great relish.

Also from Leoncavallo is Zaza, which yields a touching 10-minute scena Angioletto, Il Tuo Nome, contrasting Fleming’s enormous range with a young child’s voice, spoken by Emma Latis. Riccardo Zandonai’s Conchita, also set in Spain, makes Bizet’s Carmen sound chaste by comparison. To these roles in this well-filled disc, Fleming invests an emotional energy that is invigorating, touched with sensitivity and sincerity. A must-listen.

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