Friday, 11 November 2011

CD Reviews (The Straits Times, November 2011)

Bavarian Radio Symphony / Esa-Pekka Salonen
Deutsche Grammophon 477 9299 / ****1/2

Younger artists on the German “Yellow Label” have begun to present themselves in concept albums instead of single composer discs, beginning with Helene Grimaud, Daniel Hope, and now newcomer Georgian violinist Lisa Batiashvili. Hers is an unusual programme of music from the former Soviet republics, dominated by Dmitri Shostakovich’s darkly coloured First Violin Concerto. Memories of Oistrakh and Vengerov loom large, but Batiashvili’s take is a totally valid one, unafraid of confronting its uneasy mix of brooding disquiet and slashing sarcasm. The recorded sound is gorgeous, which ironically beautifies this troubled masterpiece.

Batiashvili’s homeland is represented by Giya Kancheli’s V & V, for strings and taped voice, a study of extreme pianissimo, harmonics and other-wordly sonorities. Her control and intonation are close to perfect. Estonian Arvo Pärt’s Spiegel Im Spiegel (Mirror in the Mirror) is a minimalist in its simplicity and slow contemplative arpeggio sequences. There are two encore-like pieces from Russia to close. Shostakovich’s child-like and cheery Lyrical Waltz is contrasted with Rachmaninov’s melancholic Vocalise, accompanied by Grimaud on the piano. All in all, this is an illuminating if not comprehensive musical tour of the former Cold War “enemies”.

TELEMANN Tafelmusik
Musica Antiqua Köln / REINHARD GOEBEL
Archiv Produktion 477 8714 (4CDs) / *****

In 1732, there was one world-renowned German composer living in Germany and his name was not Johann Sebastian Bach. Georg Philipp Telemann (1681-1767) had completed three “productions” or extended sets of music, which he sold as subscriptions with the title Tafelmusik (or Table Music) to nobility and musical establishments of the civilised Western world. Each self-contained “production” comprised an Overture (an orchestral suite of assorted dances), a concerto, multi-movement works for solo, trio and quartet combinations, and capped with a substantial finale or Conclusion.

These sold like hotcakes, earning the composer a considerable fortune. If only Bach were as commercial-minded in his lifetime. The music represented some of the finest and most tasteful orchestral music of the time, catering to finicky French and Italian tastes in the deal. Yet these have now been totally overshadowed by Bach’s Brandenburg Concertos and Orchestral Suites. German violinist Reinhard Goebel and his period instrument band Music Antique Köln have dusted off the cobwebs from these delightful pieces in vibrant and vivacious readings. Issued at super-budget price, you can decide for yourself whether Telemann’s relative neglect today is justified.

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