Friday, 4 March 2011

CD Reviews (The Straits Times, March 2011)

Centaur 3093

They say imitation is the sincerest form of flattery. Although the Russian pianist-composer Alexander Skryabin (1872-1915) was born 23 years after Chopin’s death, he became a most ardent acolyte, modelling most of his early piano music after the Pole’s bittersweet and romantic stylings. This excellent anthology by Singapore-based Filipino pianist Albert Tiu juxtaposes like with like, even finding related works with the same key signature.

It begins with Skryabin’s Sonata-Fantasy No.2 and ends with Chopin’s Polonaise-Fantasy, both works distinguished by opening with declamatory statements of intent. The former was an early masterpiece, while the latter a late classic. In between there are pairs of Études, Impromptus, Nocturnes, Fantasies and Waltzes, first Chopin followed by Skryabin, all performed with much flair, freedom and wide range of colours. Horowitz and Sofronitzky were the two greatest interpreters of both composers; one wonders why neither of them took this novel and most imaginative approach to programming.

This CD is available at Music Essentials and

Piano Recital by Albert Tiu
7.30 pm, Sunday (6 March 2011)
Yong Siew Toh Conservatory Concert Hall
Admission is free by registration
Tel: 6516-1167

Harmonie Ensemble / Steven Richman
Harmonia Mundi 907492

The lush George Gershwin scores that most audiences today are accustomed to are full orchestral versions incorporating the use of sumptuous strings for that glitzy Hollywood effect. The authentic sound of the “Roaring 1920s” was that of the jazz band, defined by Paul Whiteman’s band and the arrangements of Ferde Grofé, the composer known for his Grand Canyon Suite. This recording showcases original jazz band orchestrations of both Gershwin’s Rhapsody In Blue, as it was first heard in 1924, and I Got Rhythm Variations.

American pianist Lincoln Mayorga, comfortable in both jazz and classical idioms, gives excellent accounts of both works, certainly preferable to the absurdly fast tempos adopted in Gershwin’s own piano roll recordings. Stealing the show is clarinettist Al Gallodoro, a Whiteman alumnus, whose whooping opening solo is simply stunning. Recorded at the age of 93, he sounds like the hippest swinger on the block. He is also heard on alto saxophone in Fascinating Rhythm and Summertime. The arrangements of song standards by the New York-based Harmonie Ensemble have that smoky and raucous quality that is a different world from the concert hall. Warmly recommended.

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