Friday, 8 July 2011

CD Reviews (The Straits Times, July 2011)

EMI Classics / ****1/2

The secret to Latin American music is mastering the infectious and insistent rhythms. Few do it better than jazz musicians and natives themselves. The Venezuelan in Gabriela Montero takes to the 29 tracks from four Latino countries like fish to water. The biggest and most serious work on show is Argentine Alberto Ginastera’s First Piano Sonata, already a favourite in student recitals and piano competitions. Here the ostinatos, dissonances, guitar simulations and folk influences come to a heady showdown. Montero succeeds even if she does not quite summon the febrile, visceral excitement of a certain Martha Argerich.

Her handling of eight dances from Cuba’s Ernesto Lecuona, including the overplayed Malagueña and equally memorable Cordoba, are deliciously piquant. The tangos Odeon and Brejeiro of Brazil’s Ernesto Nazareth, altogether different from the Argentine variety, swing with much gaiety. Back to her homeland, Teresa Carreno’s Little Waltz is a tender little trifle while Moises Moleiro’s Joropo makes a suitably flashy endpiece. Montero’s own improvisations are charmingly evocative and right in the spirit of things.

CHOPIN / ALKAN Cello Sonatas
Tatjana Vassiljeva, Cello

& Jean-Frédéric Neuberger, Piano
Mirare 107 / ****1/2

What possessed two of the greatest pianists of an era to devote the time composing a substantial cello sonata each? The answer is one August-Joseph Franchomme (1808-1884), the eminent French cellist who counted among Chopin’s closest friends and confidantes. Chopin’s Cello Sonata (Op.65) was one of his last works, first performed at his final public concert just a year before he died. Far from being an autumnal utterance, it brims with memorable themes, albeit tinged with sadness and longing. The piano part is predictably detailed but the cello has the best tune in the slow movement, one that recalls Chopin’s love for bel canto. His early Introduction & Polonaise Brillante is included as a substantial encore.

Charles Valentin Alkan is better known for his impossibly virtuosic piano études which even trump Liszt’s own monstrosities. His Cello Sonata of 1857, also written for and premiered by Franchomme, shares with Chopin a gift of melody. Its finale is a furious Saltarella, a manically fast Italian dance where Chopin’s own Tarantella is quoted in part. Russian cellist Tatjana Vassiljeva and French pianist Jean-Frédéric Neuberger have their hands full but convey the music’s urgency and lyricism with much understanding and sympathy. Recommended for a somewhat different listening experience.

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