Friday, 13 January 2012

CD Reviews (The Straits Times, January 2012)

Piano Concerto No.2 / Paganini Rhapsody
Mahler Chamber Orchestra / Claudio Abbado
Deutsche Grammophon 477 9308 / *****

It is curious to note that the last two Deutsche Grammophon recordings of these Rachmaninov concertos were recorded by young Chinese pianists in their 20s. First it was Lang Lang in 2004, with his idiosyncratic pacing that almost wrecked the opening of the Second Piano Concerto, but no such fears exist for Yuja Wang. Her totally idiomatic readings are a pleasure from start to finish, rekindling fond memories of her teacher Gary Graffman’s legendary recording with Leonard Bernstein’s New York Philharmonic (reissued on Sony Classical) from the 1960s.

She does not merely master the notes but owns the music, knowing instinctually when to broaden the tempos to savour the aromas and to when step on the gas to go for broke. This is a characteristic of live performances where liberties are taken, such as rounding up the last movement’s final cadenza with an ecstatic chord, and the feel of spontaneity keeps the listener hooked. The Paganini Rhapsody is no less exciting, with the build-up to the glorious 18th Variation a perfectly rising arch. The highly responsive Mahler Chamber Orchestra is somewhat a misnomer, because it does “big” works too. This is the new recording of the Rachmaninov warhorses to have.

The Bride of Messina Overture / Symphony No.6
BBC Philharmonic / Gianandrea Noseda
Chandos 10665 / ****1/2

Johann Rufinatscha (1812-1993) was born in South Tyrol along the Austrian-Italian border but spent much of his professional life in Vienna. His orchestral music is distinguished by its academic vigour, written in the early Romantic idiom of the Central European school that spanned Schubert to Brahms. The Bride Of Messina Overture opens with Beethovenian overtones of tragedy and expends a good 14 minutes making it a tone poem of sorts. His ambitious and last symphony, the Sixth Symphony in D major (1865), runs close to an hour, but is well worth hearing.

There is a lightness of spirit that suggests Schubert and breadth of scope that looks towards Bruckner and early Mahler. Like many composer before and after him, its Scherzo is a lively country dance followed by an expansive Schumann-influenced slow movement that displays a more serious side. The celebratory finale is one the young Brahms might have written, and it is an enjoyable romp to cap an unlikely symphonic legacy. This is Volume One of a projected cycle, and the quality of playing – responsive and committed - from the Manchester-based orchestra makes further instalments a welcome prospect.

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