Friday, 20 January 2012

CD Reviews (The Straits Times, January 2012)

DE FALLA Piano Works
Nights in the Gardens of Spain
Harmonia Mundi 902099 / ****1/2

Thanks to Arthur Rubinstein. Alicia de Larrocha, Martha Argerich and Daniel Barenboim, Noches en los Jardines de EspaƱa (Nights In The Gardens Of Spain) by Spanish nationalist Manuel de Falla (1876-1946) is no longer considered such an exotic species of piano concerto. Its sultry blend of hot-blooded Spanish dance rhythms, nocturnal allure and Romantic pianism make its three conjoint movements pleasurable listening. Brilliantly realised by young Spanish pianist Javier Perianes and the BBC Symphony conducted by Josep Pons, this recording is more than a match for his famous predecessors.

The 80-minute anthology offers much more besides. Fantasia Baetica, written for Rubinstein, is a substantial work that distils the same passion and sweeping virtuosity of the concerto, a glorious extrapolation of the popular Ritual Fire Dance. Four Spanish Pieces (1906-09) are wonderfully written dance music from various regions including Aragon and Andalusia. Two Homages (to Debussy and Dukas) and four further salon-like short works complete this rather comprehensive survey. Perianes’s sensitivity and impressive pianism distinguishes him as an ideal interpreter of music from his homeland.

BACH Sonatas & Partitas
REGER Preludes & Fugues
Mirare 128 (2 CDs) / *****

The late 19th and early 20th century saw the emergence of a “Back to Bach” movement, led by composers like Ferruccio Busoni and Max Reger (1873-1916) who sought to relive the complex counterpoint and baroque formality of Johann Sebastian Bach’s aesthetics in their music. This lovely double album (retailing at the price of a single disc) marries Bach’s matchless unaccompanied violin music with selected Preludes and Fugues from Op.117 for solo violin by Reger. Was Bach a visionary or was Reger a retrogressive?

Reger’s Prelude in G minor opens with exactly the same chord as Bach’s Sonata No.1 in G minor, while Reger’s fugue follows a similar rhythmic dance pattern as the corresponding Bach fugue. Similarly the Fugue in B minor seamlessly leads the ear into Bach’s Partita No.1 in the same key. Although Reger does not bring anything new (not even dissonant asides) to the form, this is an act of homage rather than plagiarism. Young Japanese Sayaka Shoji offers immaculate versions of all six works (including the Bach Partita No.2 with its famous Chaconne), allying perfect intonation with faultless articulation, which demand an unqualified recommendation.

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