Sunday, 19 September 2010

CD Reviews (The Straits Times, September 2010)

BEETHOVEN Piano Sonatas
Hyperion 67662

Does the world need yet another Beethoven piano sonata recording? The simple answer: there are people who have yet to hear a note by the great German master. To this end, British pianist Steven Osborne gives a vividly energetic introduction to his popular “nicknamed” piano sonatas. Quasi una fantasia (Like a fantasy) is the description of the familiar “Moonlight” Sonata (Op.27 No.2). Rarely had any work breached convention to encompass wild extremes, ambling from quiet solace (the famous opening slow movement), through a charming country dance to untamed fury in the Presto Agitato finale.

Osborne spares the listener the “Appassionata”, opting instead for the “Pathetique” (Op.13) and “Waldstein” (Op.53) Sonatas, showing he is fully attuned to Beethoven’s idea of con brio. The finale of the latter reveals yet more steel and silk, the glissandi never sounding this smooth. The jocular little G major Sonata (Op.79) completes the picture. Beethoven’s ingenuity and multifarious genius has been more than well served.

BIS 1799

The highly mellifluous, liquid and nimble qualities of the flute make it eminently suited for lyrical and virtuosic showpieces, especially in contemporary music. This anthology of four concertante flute works is ample proof. The major work here is the 5-movement Flute Concerto by American Christopher Rouse (born 1949), a tribute to music cultures of the British Isles and a salve for the senseless killing of UK toddler James Bulger in 1993. The spirit of Irish and Scottish dances inhabit the faster movements, while a grand chorale and meditative slow finale provide closure for the violence that came before.

Leonard Bernstein’s Halil (Hebrew for “flute”) from 1981 is the best known piece, a nocturne with accompanying alto flute and piccolo parts, enlivened by Lenny’s typical penchant for colour and rhythm. Frenchman Nicolas Bacri’s engaging Flute Concerto (1999) and Australian Brett Dean’s The Siduri Dances complete this kaleidoscopic survey which sees young Israeli flautist Sharon Bezaly, partnered by four different orchestras, at her most eloquent and exuberant.

MOZART Symphonies No.39 & 40
Freiberg Baroque Orchestra
Harmonia Mundi 901959

Lovers of the big orchestral sound, awash with romantic gestures and fulsome vibrato, may look away now. More groups of the “authentic” persuasion and period instrument movement are dictating the way modern listeners perceive of the classical composers and their music. Is it a good or bad thing? Bands of Mozart and Haydn’s day were small and dynamic ensembles, a far cry from the sixty to eighty musicians of modern orchestras. The lack of vibrato is debatable, and the overall sound is that of leanness and lithe clarity, as opposed to opulence.

Hearing these recordings of familiar symphonies, Mozart’s spirit of invention and infectious humour are well served. Expositions and climaxes are never overstated, while dance movements come through with vivacity and grace. With repeats observed, the symphonies are heard in their entirety, never sounding repetitious nor ponderous. Try it, one might become hooked.

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