Thursday, 24 March 2011

CD Reviews (The Straits Times, March 2011)

BLASCO DE NEBRA Piano Sonatas
JAVIER PERIANES, Piano
Harmonia Mundi 902046
*****


When was the last time you heard piano music that is exquisitely crafted, sounds somewhat familiar but yet completely unknown? Welcome to the cloistered world of the short-lived Spanish composer Manuel Blasco de Nebra (1750-1784), a contemporary of Mozart and Salieri, whose music languished undiscovered for centuries. Spanish pianist Javier Perianes performs a selection of six sonatas, originally for harpsichord or fortepiano, and these sound perfect on the modern piano. Each lasts about 10 minutes, beginning with a meditative slow movement where the sonorities could easily have come from the late Romantic period. The shorter concluding fast movements bear influences from keyboard masters Scarlatti and Soler and share their whimsical qualities. The two Pastorelas, drawn from the archives of Montserrat monastery near Barcelona, close with two dance-like fast movements. This is highly engaging music, beautifully performed.


PUPILS OF CHOPIN
Hubert Rutkowski, Piano
Naxos 8.572344
****1/2

The Romantic era saw the emergence of many pianist-composers who are virtually never heard of today. The names of Karol Mikuli, Thomas Tellefsen, Carl Filtsch and Adolph Gutmann are united by the distinction of having been taught by Frederic Chopin. Their piano music unsurprisingly betrays the master’s influence. The best known of the four, Mikuli lived long enough to develop a more individual style in his Polonaises (Op.8) and character pieces. Tellefsen introduced his native Norwegian elements into his Mazurkas, which look forward to Grieg’s Lyric Pieces.

Filtsch’s Impromptu No.1 is almost a carbon copy of Chopin’s own First Impromptu, while his Impromptu No.2 contains a page right out of Chopin’s First Ballade. The young virtuoso should perhaps be forgiven, having died from peritonitis at the age of 14. Gutmann was Chopin’s favourite student, and his Nocturne (Op.8 No.1) and Bolero are more than mere imitations. Polish pianist Hubert Rutkowski accords this collection of 22 pieces with the same cantabile and elegant virtuosity as the best of Chopin. Recommended listening.


BEAU SOIR
JANINE JANSEN, Violin
Itamar Golan, Piano
Decca 478 2256
*****

Dutch violin sensation Janine Jansen’s first recital disc explores French music. The major works are violin sonatas by Debussy and Ravel, one form where the so-called Impressionist composers differ like chalk and cheese. Debussy’s intimate musings, recalling the spirit of the French baroque, are poles apart from Ravel’s urbane manner where he even dabbles in the blues. Ironically, it is Olivier Messiaen’s early Theme and Variations which sounds most impressionistic while honing a lofty spiritualism which has come to define his later music.

Jansen lavishes the music with a gorgeous sonority, full of lush vibrato allied with perfect intonation. The disc is also filled with miniatures; FaurĂ©’s Apres un reve (After A Dream), Debussy’s familiar Clair de lune and the titular Beau soir (Beautiful Evening), all in transcriptions, belong to the Belle Epoque. Swiss composer Richard Dubugnon contributes three short pieces. The dreamy half-lights of La minute exquise (The Exquisite Minute) and Hypnos evoke twilight moments and somnolence, while Retour a Monfort-l’Amaury is his tribute after visiting the home of Ravel. A most delightful anthology.

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