Sunday, 8 January 2012

CD Reviews (The Straits Times, January 2012)

Vienna Philharmonic / Valery Gergiev
Sony Classical 88697891402 (CD & DVD) / *****

In the piano music of Franz Liszt, Lang Lang finds a special resonance. His bicentenary tribute to the Hungarian pianist-composer is an unqualified success. He completely identifies with Liszt’s modus operandi as super-virtuoso non pareil in his selection of showpieces and transcriptions. Ironically, the solo segment opens with pure lyricism. The seamless melodic threads of Liszt’s chanson O porquoi donc and Schubert’s Ave Maria receive sumptuous readings, the singing tone continuing in the celebrated Un Sospiro, Liebesträume No.3.and Consolation No.3. Liszt’s transcription of Wagner’s Isolde’s Liebestod is a passionate bonus.

For out and out showboating, he pulls all the stops in Hungarian Rhapsodies Nos.6 and 15. He clearly revels in the stunning right hand octaves of the former and hams it up for Horowitz’s transcription of the Rakoczy March. The popular La Campanella and the vulgar Grand Chromatic Gallop get close to definitive performances. To close, Lang is joined by the Vienna Philharmonic for the First Piano Concerto, the work he performed at the Last Night of the Proms last year. In terms of sheer visceral excitement, he is up there with the likes of Argerich and Cziffra. The accompanying DVD, just 13 minutes of a recording session, is only for diehard fans.

Could Lang Lang become the 21st century’s greatest Liszt player? That is certainly worth a thought.

LA NOCHE Works for Flute & Harp

This is a unique, unlikely to be repeated, anthology of new works for flute and harp by Singaporean and Spanish composers from the northern region of Asturias. It could only have been conceived here in Singapore, presently home to Asturian flautist Roberto Alvarez (from the SSO) and Malaysia-born harpist Katryna Tan. All eight works are World Premiere recordings, covering a wide and diverse range of voices and idioms. Most accessible is Miguel Prida’s Romantic-leaning Motionless Vault, its lyricism starkly contrasted with the astringently atonal Pieza (Piece) by Maria Dolores Malumbres.

The mystery and splendour of the night is the unifying theme. Fernando Agüeria’s Moonlight was inspired by Singapore’s skyline, its restless pulse echoed by Ignacio Rodriguez Guerra’s Gigante Blanca (Gigantic White Star) which had repose alongside restlessness. Chen Zhangyi’s Five Constellations evoke fairy tale scenes and fantastical imagery, which was a perfect foil for Robert Casteels’s Nachtlied, a play on a child’s fear of darkness. Here, Alvarez also performs the piccolo and alto flute. Jorge Muniz’s La Nueche De San Xuan (St John’s Night) portrayed playful mythological spirits, displaying a certain kinship with flight of Ho Chee Kong’s Last Butterfly Dance, a tranquil scene of Peirce Reservoir at dusk. Here is strikingly beautiful music, loving performed.

Vienna Philharmonic / FRANZ WELSER-MÖST
Deutsche Grammophon 478 2601 (2 CDs) / ****1/2

For the Austrian conductor Franz Welser-Möst’s début at the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra’s annual New Year’s Day Concert, a musical history lesson of sorts takes place. The maestro is a descendant of Ferdinand Dommayer whose casino and ballroom was where the two Johann Strausses – father and son – both violinists and band leaders made their names as the “Waltz Kings” of Vienna. Works like the Début Quadrille, Amazons’ Polka and Forward With Valour Polka – all included in this concert – were first heard and danced to at Dommayer’s.

The inevitable nod to the Franz Liszt bicentenary takes the form of The Dance In The Village Inn (from Lenau’s Faust) and Furioso Gallop, rousing orchestrations of the First Mephisto Waltz and Grand Galop Chromatique respectively. The theme of Hungarian gypsies and faraway lands unearths the Csardas from Ritter Pasman, Spanish March, Cachucha Gallop and Helmesberger’s Gypsy Dance, before closing with the short-lived Josef Strauss’s nostalgic My Life is Love and Joy. The obligatory Blue Danube and Radetzky March get their usual airing but it is the happy surfeit of rarities that make this year’s outing most satisfying. Happy New Year!

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