Friday, 18 February 2011

CD Reviews (The Straits Times, February 2011)

SCHUMANN Davidsbundlertänze, Op.6
Fantasie in C major, Op.17
Decca 478 2280 (2CDs)

The young Robert Schumann was a man deeply in love. The object of his passion was the teenaged piano prodigy Clara Wieck some 9 years his junior. The emotions he lavished on his piano music may be experienced in these vastly different major works. Davidsbundlertänze (Dances Of The Band Of David) comprises 18 varied short pieces, strung together like an exquisite pearl necklace. Mitsuko Uchida imbues these with much care and detail, reliving the Florestan (passionate and impetuous) and Eusebius (introverted and retiring) impulses that inspired their creation.

The Fantasie in C major is an undisputed masterpiece, inspired by Beethoven and dedicated to Liszt. Schumann’s muse was none other than Clara, and the music encompasses tenderness and turbulence to equal degree. The slow movement to close provides a sublime resolution. Uchida takes on its thorny challenges with great fervour and stunning aplomb. On a second disc that plays for only 30 minutes, Uchida speaks very animatedly in an interview about Schumann and his influences. However interesting this may be, the extra outlay in this “Prestige Edition” is barely justified.

BARTOK & ROZSA Viola Concertos
Bergen Philharmonic / Andrew Litton
Hyperion 67687

This disc of 20th century Hungarian viola concertos looks to past traditions rather than pointing forward. Bela Bartok’s Viola Concerto, incomplete at the time of his death in 1945, is already well established. Then exiled in America, his blend of deep contemplation and nostalgia, full of dark foreboding, is perfect for the viola’s dusky voice. It is not as overtly nationalistic compared with the 1980s Viola Concerto of compatriot Miklos Rozsa, better known as the Oscar-winning Hollywood composer of scores such as Ben Hur, Quo Vadis? and Spellbound. This 32-minute work in four movements is redolent of Magyar folk inspirations as well as Rozsa’s patented “biblical” idiom of his film music.

Tibor Serly, who was tasked with completing Bartok’s concerto, has a short Rhapsody for viola and orchestra of his own. Its succession of Hungarian folk melodies and dances is pure Bartokiana, very rustic and attractive. British violist Lawrence Power is a most persuasive advocate, and these performances with excellent Norwegian forces leave little to be desired.

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