Friday, 19 August 2011

CD Reviews (The Straits Times, August 2011)

RACHMANINOV Piano Concertos Nos.3 & 4
Berlin Philharmonic / Antonio Pappano
EMI Classics 640516 2 / ****1/2

Some people would consider it perverse to describe the Russian Sergei Rachmaninov (1873-1943) as a 20th century composer. Although he lived well into the last century, his musical language was deeply rooted in 19th century romantic aesthetics, not much more advanced than the scores of his idol and mentor Tchaikovsky. The popular Third Piano Concerto, once considered nigh unplayable, has been well-served by many of today’s proficient keyboard technicians. The far less celebrated Fourth Concerto, completed in 1926 when the composer was in permanent exile, was criticised for not replicating the earlier successes.

A pity, as it is a more subtle work that saw a progression of Rachmaninov’s creative palette. By now, luxuriant melodies and lush harmonies had given way to a more gritty, percussive and hard-hitting idiom, more allied with his younger rival Prokofiev. However it retains the bittersweet nostalgia and melancholy that pervades all his works. Norwegian pianist Leif Ove Andsnes finds the right balance between vehemence and sentimentality in both concertos, which makes for an invigorating listen.

RACHMANINOV Piano Concerto No.3 with ALBERT TIU, Piano

Orchestra of the Music Makers / Christopher Adey, Conductor
26 August 2011, Esplanade Concert Hall, 7.30 pm
Tickets available at SISTIC

CHABRIER Piano Music
Mirare 116 / ****

The reputation of Frenchman Emmanuel Chabrier (1841-1894) has often rested on the immense popularity of works like España and the Fête Polonaise, (from the opera Le Roi Malgré Lui), casting him as a composer of light, frothy music, one not to be taken too seriously. He was by profession a lawyer and civil servant, but a highly adroit pianist. This collection of his often delightful piano pieces is revealing. The ten Pieces Pittoresques (Picturesque Pieces) are also his most familiar, the pastoral quality of Paysage, Idylle and Village Dance lend a lie to his so-called frivolity. The eighth piece Improvisation however looks forward to the introspection of late Fauré and impressionistic colours of Debussy and Ravel.

The Five Posthumous Pieces (published 1897) have an understated charm, while the jovial Bourrée Fantasque is in the same vein of humour that Poulenc (born 1899) mined, not to mention a spirit that infects some of the earlier Messiaen (born 1908). As a tribute, Ravel’s In the Manner of Chabrier, a insouciant portrait of Chabrier improvising on a Gounod melody, is included. French pianist Emmanuel Strosser crafts a light but occasionally terse sound, quite apt for the composer hailed as “The Angel of Drollery”.

No comments: