Friday, 3 February 2012

CD Reviews (The Straits Times, February 2012)

BRENDAN GOH Cello Recital

with Shane Thio, Piano / ****

Are CD recordings by child prodigy musicians a cause for celebration or cynicism? In either case, any performance by a 12-year old should be viewed as a milestone in the progress of an artist rather than something definitive. Young Brendan Goh, whose parents are a cellist and dentist, exhibits much sensitivity and musicality in his début album. First listen to his unaccompanied Bach Suite No.1 in G major, which is natural and unforced, yet bearing the hallmarks of good teaching. His grasp of the idiom is sound and there is neither pretence nor artifice in the playing.

The balance of the disc is filled with popular encore pieces, accompanied by veteran pianist Shane Thio. Despite the processed sound quality, there is much to enjoy in “simple” bonbons like the Irish melody Danny Boy, the Bach-Gounod Ave Maria, Elgar’s Salut d’Amour, Saint-Saëns’s The Swan , Grieg’s Solveig’s Song (from Peer Gynt) and quite appropriately Dvorak’s Songs My Mother Taught Me. Whichever path he takes, Goh who performs on a 1720 Paolo Testore cello has achieved something to be proud of.

The CD retails at $25 and all proceeds go to the Business Times Budding Artists Fund.

EMI Classics 9072112 (2 CDs) /

However one may regard the Second Viennese School founded upon the uncompromising principles of Arnold Schoenberg, there will always be a soft spot for his disciple Alban Berg (1885-1935). Berg’s compositions represent the “friendly” and human face of twelve-tone music, because of his ultra-romanticised and aesthetic approach to breaking rules of harmony. Begin with his single-movement Piano Sonata Op.1, surely the rightful successor to Franz Liszt’s late utterances, performed with authority by Peter Donohoe. Then tune in to his Seven Early Songs (with Danish soprano Sine Bungaard), with its lush poignant lyricism that isn’t miles away from Richard Strauss.

The Three Orchestral Pieces Op.6 (Bamberg Symphony with Ingo Metzmacher), last performed in Singapore by the Berlin Philharmonic, continue where Mahler had left off. Berg’s crowning glory was the Violin Concerto, written in memory of Manon Gropius (daughter of Mahler’s widow Alma), which poignantly merges atonality with Carinthian folk music and a Bach chorale. Its bittersweet musings find a sympathetic voice in German violinist Frank Peter Zimmerman. This was ironically also his final work, dying tragically from septicaemia following an insect bite. This two-disc anthology is an ideal introduction to Berg’s rarefied but short-lived genius.

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