Thursday, 27 October 2011

CD Reviews (The Straits Times, October 2011)

Sony Classical 88697839872 (4 CDs) / *****

The celebrated Liszt recordings of Vladimir Horowitz (1903-1989) date from 1930 to within a month of his death. Included in this box-set that merges the RCA and Columbia catalogues are his final recordings, the Prelude to Weinen, Klagen, Sorgen, Zagen and transcription of Wagner's Isolde’s Liebestod. Made at the grand old age of 86, these are stunning displays of passion and agility. There are no less than five recordings of the Valse Oubliee No.1, spanning some 56 years, illuminated by his skittish and impish humour. Most of all, one seeks his breathtaking view of Liszt’s greatest and lesser-known works.

The mighty Sonata in B minor (recorded in 1949), simply sizzles in his hands, and no lover of the spectacular should miss his outlandish versions of Mephisto Waltz No.1 (1979, incorporating Busoni’s elaborations and much of his own) and Hungarian Rhapsody No.2 (1953). The latter has famously been revived by Lang Lang. For more of this on-the-edge diablerie, the rarely-played Scherzo & March (1967) and Hungarian Rhapsody No.19 (1962) and Ballade No.2 (1981) should also be experienced. The magic and sheer frisson of the Horowitz sound has never been replicated, and even if no new gems have been unearthed, the experience is well worth the outlay.

WHITACRE Choral Music
Elora Festival Singers / NOEL EDISON
Naxos 8.559677 / ****1/2

Some of the most beautiful choral music to be heard this Millennium comes from an unlikely source. The American Eric Whitacre (born 1970), a music graduate from Las Vegas and now some-time model, has been responsible for a new movement of choral music sparked by globalisation and the Internet. His music draws from a rich heritage that is the Russian Orthodox Church, with its long seamless phrases in high registers, regularly resolved dissonances and celestial harmonies. Superficially resembling the works of John Tavener and Arvo Pärt, accessibility and a disarming lack of austerity are his keys to success.

There is a Christian slant to songs like the exquisitely beautiful Lux Aurumque (words by Edward Esch), Her Sacred Spirit Soars (Charles Anthony Silvestri) and I Thank You God For Most This Amazing Day (e.e.cummings), even though these are actually secular texts. The best work is also the longest one in this collection, When David Heard (Second Book of Samuel). A lament of King David at the slain body of his treacherous son Absalom, the repeated cries of “My son” is totally heartrending. When piano and percussion is added for Little Tree, Little Birds and Leonardo Dreams Of His Flying Machine, the effect is magical. The Elora Festival Singers from Ontario, Canada invests spiritual depth with a lightness of spirit. Essential listening for the new age.

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