Monday, 18 April 2011

CD Reviews (The Straits Times, April 2011)

LISZT Annees de Pelerinage (Complete)

LOUIS LORTIE, Piano / Chandos 10662(2) (2 CDs) / *****

New recordings of Franz Liszt’s piano music are not exactly sprouting like mushrooms after a rain in 2011, his bicentenary year. However this double CD album will rank among the best. Liszt’s Années De Pelerinage (Years Of Pilgrimage) is a collection of heterogeneous works spanning some forty years (1830s-1870s), inspired by his travels in Switzerland and Italy. Legends, folklore, literature, poetry and scenery figure in these 26 pieces, which range from straight-forward transcriptions to original essays of outsized virtuosity and fantasy. The first two books – Suisse and Italie – are the most familiar, containing popular Romantic numbers like the rhapsodic Vallee d’Obermann, lyrical Petrarch Sonnets and hellish Dante Sonata.

The most modernistic third book hurls a lance into the future, with Tristanesque discords in the Cypresses of Villa d’Este, the fluid imagery of Debussy and Ravel in the Fountains of Villa d’Este, and pieces coloured by the starkness of the Second Viennese School. French-Canadian pianist Louis Lortie possesses the imagination and technique to do justice to this varied music, which sings, sparkles and storms to equal degree. And there are startling fistfuls of notes on show for knuckle-busters like Orage (Storm) and the Tarantella from Venice and Naples. This stupendous account already surpasses the late great Lazar Berman’s legendary 1980s set on Deutsche Grammophon.


Where: Esplanade Recital Studio / When: Monday 18 April 2011, 7.30 pm / Tickets available at SISTIC

SZYMANOWSKI Violin Concerto No.1 / Symphony No.3

Vienna Philharmonic / PIERRE BOULEZ

Deutsche Grammophon 477 8771 / ****1/2

The Polish composer Karol Szymanowski (1882-1937) has often been labelled an impressionist and nationalist, drawing him into circles occupied by Debussy and Ravel, or Chopin, Grieg and Janacek. His music is more difficult to pigeonhole, incorporating many disparate and contrasting influences. In his First Violin Concerto (1916), one senses Debussy’s variegated hues, Stravinsky’s clockwork intricacies, Richard Strauss’ orchestral opulence, Scriabin’s mysticism and intoxicating throes of ecstasy. All this makes for an aromatic 23 minutes within a single movement, drawing the listener in through a swirling vortex of volatile shifts and supercharged emotions. German violinist Christian Tetzlaff is the highly impressive soloist with an intuitive feel for this music.

Szymanowski’s Third Symphony (1914-16) shares a similar sound canvas. A setting of the Sufi poet Rumi’s Song Of The Night, it further employs solo tenor, the excellent Steve Davislim in this recording, and chorus for a suffocating and near-orgiastic sound experience. Veteran French conductor Pierre Boulez is renowned for his coolness and objectivity, but does not stint from delivering performances imbued with a highly sensuous emotional core. On a bonus disc, he speaks about his encounters with Szymanowski’s music in three different languages. But does this justify the extra cost of this hard-covered deluxe edition ($36.95 at HMV), when the first disc plays for under 50 minutes?

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