Friday, 6 August 2010

CD Reviews (The Straits Times, July-August 2010)

RCA Red Seal 88697548122

This album is one part of three recordings comprising previously unreleased material from the private collection of Vladimir Horowitz now housed in Yale University. Dating from 1946 to 1950, these “live” performances from Carnegie Hall represent the height of his phenomenal and often wilful prowess. The big work is Schumann’s Fantasy in C major (Op.17), which he played in his 1965 comeback recital. This 1946 version is freer and more rhapsodic, and ultimately more accurate.

Horowitz played Balakirev’s fearsome Islamey for only one season, and never recorded it commercially. His stupendous fingers manage it in 7 staggering minutes (most pianists go past 8) although there is a small cut, and a typically improvised ending more vulgar than the original. Chopin’s rapturous Barcarolle and Liszt’s Second Legend – with more outrageous Horowiticisms (re-writings to suit his own ends) complete this valuable anthology. The recorded sound quality is poor but willing beggars cannot be choosers.

BERLIOZ Symphonie Fantastique
Le Carnaval Romain
Anima Eterna Brugge / Jos van Immerseel
Zig Zag Territories 100101

It is almost a given that the French Romantic Hector Berlioz’s Symphonie Fantastique be performed by a large orchestra. Sir Roger Norrington’s revolutionary recording with the London Classical Players (EMI Classics) from 1989 changed all that. This performance of the 1830 masterpiece by Dutch fortepianist-conductor Jos van Immerseel and his small Belgian band (numbering under 50 players) is lively and lithe, but not lightweight. Shorn of the usual excesses, the music sounds freshly minted, giving the impression of hearing with new ears. Uncluttered textures also allow the instrumental details and refined playing to be better discerned.

They make a case for the grand piano to replace bells in the finale, Dream of a Witches’ Sabbath, a practice which Berlioz sanctioned. Unfortunately, the result is underwhelming. Instead of ominous tolling, one gets plain octaves, a disappointment. Has scholarship and the over-zealous quest for authenticity negated many decades of striving for effect, something the megalomaniac Berlioz would have approved? The popular Roman Carnival Overture receives an ebullient reading, which makes this recording well-worth hearing.

No comments: