Sunday, 11 December 2011

CD Reviews (The Straits Times, December 2011)


This might very well be the very first CD recording from a Singaporean cellist. Loke Hoe Kit, just 23 years old, was a student of the American cellist Nathaniel Rosen who in turn was mentored by the great Russian Gregor Piatigorsky. It is this illustrious lineage that inspired this disc of works for two cellos. Gian Carlo Menotti, better known for his operas, had written his Suite for two cellos (1973) for Piatigorsky. It is a pleasant neo-baroque work in four movements that makes a good companion for the Sonata for two cellos attributed to Handel.

Following the example of the great Jascha Heifetz (who himself was a famous collaborator with Piatigorsky), Loke performed and recorded both parts in both works, achieved by overdubbing. He has genteel and cultivated sound, coaxed from a 1987 Clifford Roberts cello once owned by Rosen. Pianist Nicholas Loh is a sensitive accompanist for this short but pleasant album, which at under 30 minutes plays like a CD single. There are at least seven quirky photos of the self-styled fashionista in Loke. One could do worse than to support local talent and innovation.

This CD is available at the Esplanade Shop and all Gramophone outlets.

CHOPIN Piano Recital
Deutsche Grammophon 477 9634

Although it was the Russian Yulianna Avdeeva who won First Prize at the 2010 Chopin International Piano Competition, it was joint runner-up Ingolf Wunder from Austria who trumped the coveted recording contract with the German yellow label. Much of this “artistic triumph” is played up in a rather self-absorbed interview article in place of sleeve notes, but what is his playing like?

Thankfully he is no Ivo Pogorelich, the controversial Serb who “lost” in the 1980 competition. As expected, the performances are well-turned and tasteful, with the best readings going to the Andante Spianato & Grande Polonaise (Op.22) and Polonaise-Fantasie (Op.61), the latter which won him the special Best Polonaise Prize. However in the Fourth Ballade and Third Sonata, he is curiously stolid. When there are opportunities to soar and go for broke, he remains too unruffled and ultimately earthbound. Perhaps his Teutonic sensibilities dictated that the heart be ruled by the brain. One goes to Argerich, Zimerman, or even Lang Lang and Li Yundi, for more sparks.

FREDDY KEMPF Piano Recital
BIS SACD-1810 / ****1/2

British pianist Freddy Kempf, of German-Japanese descent, has recorded extensively for much of his career, ever since the controversy of not being awarded First Prize at the 1998 Tchaikovsky International Piano Competition. Now in his early thirties, he has lost none of the youthful exuberance that made him so popular. In this well-balanced recital of virtuoso works, a fiery disposition is evident in Rachmaninov’s Corelli Variations, based on the baroque theme La Folia. At 15 minutes, his account of Stravinsky’s Three Movements from Petrushka is one of the swiftest off the block. It is exciting, stunningly accurate, yet does not stint on the details.

The mark of an artist’s maturity may be discerned in the Bach-Busoni Chaconne. Here, Kempf’s acute sense of its breadth and architecture is allied by a grandstanding approach that is quite breathtaking. In the eight linked dances of Ravel’s Valses nobles et sentimentales, a flexible view of its chameleonic swings in pacing and dynamics add to the character of the interpretation of this elusive work. With this recital disc, Kempf is seen to have transcended his prodigy years to become a true artist.

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