Friday, 24 June 2011

CD Reviews (The Straits Times, June 2011)

Virgin Classics 64202204 / *****

It seems just typical for the maverick French-Polish pianist to serve up a disc of Robert Schumann’s most obscure piano music. Perhaps the least unfamiliar is his Humoreske (Op.20), a rambling half-hour long work in six conjoint movements, much like the better known Kreisleriana. Imagine a song cycle sans vocal contribution, and one gets the essence of Schumann’s lyricism. Its sequences of melting cantabile, turbulent upheavals and whimsical asides make for congenial company, touched by Anderszewski’s ravishing piano sound.

Six Canonic Studies for Pedal Piano (Op.56), usually heard on four hands, make for a hardly appetising title. Anderszewski’s transcription for two hands, goes for aural beauty rather than contrapuntal prowess. Finally, Gesänge der Frühe (Morning Songs, Op.133) was Schumann’s last piano work before being committed to an insane asylum. Its five brief sections work their way from solace to agitation, and closing with quiet resignation. Never has a swansong, and more poignantly an ode to death, sounded this persuasive.

RODRIGO Concierto de Aranjuez / GOSS The Albeniz Concerto
XUEFEI YANG, Guitar / Barcelona Symphony / Eiji Oue
EMI Classics 6983612 / ****1/2

The Concierto de Aranjuez by Joaquin Rodrigo (1901-1999), composed in 1939, is by a long stretch the world’s most popular and hence over-recorded guitar concerto. Xuefei Yang, the first internationally renowned Chinese guitarist, enters a crowded field but gives an excellent account. One fully attuned to its rhythmic intricacies and sultry mood disposition, her finery of articulation is well matched by the Catalonian orchestra’s alert partnership that does not stint on the details.

The new work on show is Stephen Goss’s Albeniz Concerto, completed in 2009. It is however not an original work but an adaptation and orchestration of piano pieces by Isaac Albeniz (1860-1909). Piano-fanciers will recognise movements like El Albaicin and Evocacion from Iberia, and dances from Suite Espanola. The four pieces with cadenza however dovetails nicely as a whole, with substantial and grateful writing for the guitar, contrasted and well backed with colourful orchestral textures. Yang’s own transcriptions of Albeniz’s 6-movement Espana Op.165, including the famous Tango, completes a largely enjoyable musical tour of sunny Spain.

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