Friday, 2 September 2011

CD Reviews (The Straits Times, September 2011)

Tanja Becker-Bender, Violin
Markus Becker, Piano
Hyperion 67833 / *****

One of the most grievous losses of the Second World War was the Czech composer Erwin Schulhoff (1894-1942), who died in a Nazi concentration camp from tuberculosis and starvation. His was a highly eclectic voice, absorbing the many prevalent styles and idioms of the turbulent years that preceded the great wars. The four violin works (three sonatas and one suite) on this disc reveal his disparate influences. The Solo Sonata (1927) looks back to Bach’s polyphony but filtered through the modern idioms of Ysaye and Bartok.

The First Sonata (1913) is filled with the impressionist hues and colour of Debussy’s sound world, contrasted with the bluesy harmonies and jazzy rhythms of the Second Sonata (1927). The five-movement Suite (1911) is almost neoclassical, its baroque dances are shaded with a Viennese brush, as if wielded by Korngold or Kreisler. German violinist Tanja Becker-Bender has a bright and incisive tone, illuminating this fascinating music with a penetrative laser-like clarity and razor-sharp reflexes. With pianist Markus Becker’s nimble and mercurial partnership, the duo makes these lesser-known works sound like classics. Here are new and piquant flavours for the jaded palate.

YUNDI Live in Beijing
EMI Classics 631639 2 (CD & DVD) / ****

The piano music of Frédéric Chopin remains the first love of Chinese pianist Li Yundi, winner of the 2000 Chopin International Piano Competition. He now goes by the name Yundi, but has not lost his li (power or energy in Chinese) for the Pole’s passion-laden scores. The big work in his 2010 Beijing recital was the Second Sonata in B flat minor (Op.35), a reading which had both requisite fire and dogged defiance, tempered by lyrical beauty in the central section of the Funeral March. In the other extended work, the Andante Spianato and Grand Polonaise (Op.22), an impeccable technique serves him well.

The shorter pieces included four Mazurkas (Op.33) and three familiar Nocturnes, all of which benefit from an innate sense of rhythm and poetry. The coruscating Heroic Polonaise (Op.53) rounds up an impressive show in front of his countrymen. He offered two encores, the Chinese melody Cai Yun Zhui Yue (Colourful Clouds Chasing The Moon) and an uncharacteristically messy Revolutionary Étude (Op.10 No.12). An accompanying DVD of the entire concert, with two additional Nocturnes, will no doubt delight his legions of fans.

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