Friday, 11 February 2011

CD Reviews (The Straits Times, February 2011)

Decca 478 2374 (4CDs)

The Cuban-American pianist Jorge Bolet (1914-1990) was fortunate to have lived long enough for his Romantic sensibilities to be appreciated by a generation of listeners bred on Teutonic musical puritanism. These Decca recordings come from his last decade, when waning technical facilities were gloriously supplanted by the warmth and largesse of his playing. All four discs in this retrospective play for a generous 80 minutes each. Start with the selection of Encores, where Chopin miniatures are heard alongside Godowsky’s uproarious amplifications. The nonchalant ease in which he tosses off Paul de Schlozer’s finger-busting √Čtude or Liszt’s super-vulgar Grand Chromatic Gallop is simply stunning.

The all-Rachmaninov disc is highly satisfying if not jaw-dropping. The Third Piano Concerto is magisterial in its approach although it could do with added voltage, but the broad sweep achieved in the Chopin Variations is breathtaking. Liszt was Bolet’s specialty, capturing the spirit if not outright virtuosity in Totentanz, Hungarian Fantasy, the rarely performed Malediction and Liszt’s arrangement of Schubert’s Wanderer Fantasy. For more “serious” repertoire, his solid and unmannered takes on Brahms’ Handel Variations and Schumann’s Fantasy put Bolet among the elite of interpreters. No pianophile should be without this.

BERNSTEIN Theatre Works
Deutsche Grammophon 477 8853 (7CDs)

There is a fine line differentiating the operas and musicals of Leonard Bernstein (1918-1990). For example, does West Side Story qualify to be an opera? And why is the serious subject matter in Candide treated with outright frivolity? This is the essence of Bernstein Рhis music defies to be pigeon-holed. This budget boxset brings together arguably his five most concert-worthy pieces of musical theatre. His 1984 recording of West Side Story is contentious, with the miscasting of Kiri Te Kanawa and José Carreras, with their hoity-toity operatic voices, as Maria and Tony. The 1989 Candide remains definitive, its Rossinian pacing and sense of farcical satire inimitable.

On The Town, conducted by Michael Tilson Thomas, is high class musical, plain and simple. A Quiet Place is serious opera, incorporating an earlier one-acter Trouble In Tahiti, a social commentary on hum drum suburban values. Finally, A White House Cantata, conducted by Kent Nagano, rehashes scenes from the Broadway flop on the American presidency, 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. Alas this attractive package, boasting vocal superstars by the truckload, is let down by a booklet with neither libretto nor synopses, which is a real pity.

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