Friday, 27 August 2010

CD Reviews (The Straits Times, August 2010)

Signum Records SIGCD185 (2CDs)

This is the sequel to Razor Blades, Little Pills & Big Pianos, by the conformity challenged British pianist James Rhodes. The arcane title comes from a quote by the late Canadian maverick Glenn Gould whose playing of Bach Rhodes worships. Thankfully he is no Gould clone and imbues Bach’s forward-looking Sixth Partita in E minor with much spirit and sensitivity, minus the eccentricity. The ear-piquing harmonies of the Sarabande come through most eloquently. Quite unlike Gould, he also has a thing for hyphenated Bach. The Bach-Busoni Toccata, Adagio & Fugue (BWV.564) receives a grandstanding performance which even tops the quirky Horowitz, with the Aria transformed into a grand procession. His view of Beethoven’s late Sonata No.30 in E major(Op.109), with its inventive and almost jazzy variations, is no less involving.

A bonus disc includes two short Chopin tracks (a Prélude and an Étude), excerpts from an interview, and a video of the sublime Marcello-Bach Adagio. Although Rhodes is fashioned to look like a cross between Jack Nicholson’s Joker and Phua Chu Kang with his yellow boots, here is an extremely serious artist with a lot to say.

STRAVINSKY The Rite of Spring
REVUELTAS Night of the Maya
Simon Bolivar Youth Orchestra
Deutsche Grammophon 477 8775

This is an unusual but totally logical coupling, one which revels in primal and intoxicating dance. Silvestre Revueltas (1899-1940) was the most original Mexican composer of his time, whose all too short life of genius and alcoholism seemed to parallel that of the Russian nationalist Mussorgsky. His La Noche De Los Mayas (Night Of The Maya), in four movements, was initially conceived as film music, but first performed 20 years after Revueltas’ death. Pagan rites and sacrificial orgies are vividly imagined and captured in these tableaux, which range from folk music simplicity (Night of Revelry) to a battery of uninhibited improvisatory drumming (Night of Enchantment).

Stravinsky’s iconic ballet The Rite Of Spring needs little introduction, except that its shock value remains unabated almost a century since its 1913 premiere. The Venezuelan wunderkind of the Simon Bolivar Youth Orchestra led by the equally youthful Gustavo Dudamel surpass themselves in this monster score, where complex rhythms and jangling dissonances continue to baffle. A totally enjoyable romp, but beware the speakers!

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