Friday, 10 February 2012

CD Reviews (The Straits Times, February 2012)

Deutsche Grammophone 477 9291 / ****1/2

After scaling the heights of Liszt, Chopin and Tchaikovsky in her earlier recordings, the young German-Japanese pianist settles down for some more serious Beethoven. Her choice of the two C major Sonatas is an astute one. These relatively youthful works are interpretively less taxing yet provide ample opportunity for virtuoso display. She opts for a lighter and more humourous touch, veering away from the barnstorming Beethoven who made his name as a smasher of keyboards.

The four movements of the earlier Op.2 No.3 Sonata come across as fresh as a spring breeze, while the later Op.53 “Waldstein” Sonata brims with vim and vigour. An ultra-smooth delivery of the finale culminates with octave glissandi that are deliberately misaligned so as to sound like a chiming carillon – a liberty taken with startling effect. Also included is the sublime Andante Favori, originally a rejected slow movement of the Waldstein, and the sparkling Rondo a Capriccio, popularly known as the Rage Over A Lost Penny. The prodigious Ott is clearly in cruise control for all these performances.

DALE Piano Sonata in D minor
BOWEN Miniature Suite
Hyperion 67827 / ****1/2

Quick, name an early 20th century piano sonata cast in D minor that is almost as long as Beethoven’s Hammerklavier Sonata. Rachmaninov’s rarely performed First Sonata comes to mind, but in this case, the composer is Englishman Benjamin Dale (1885-1943). He was a classmate in London’s Royal Academy of Music of Arnold Bax and York Bowen, both of whom also wrote notable music for piano. Dale’s 42-minute long Sonata (1902), dedicated to Bowen, is not for the impatient at heart, as its profusion of ideas takes time to unravel, through an unusual combination of Lisztian technique and salon music ideas.

The heart of this rambling score lies in a central Theme and Variations, as masterly as any crafted by Tchaikovsky. Its Adagio maestoso variation reminds one of Rachmaninov, flanked by two scherzo-like fast numbers which underlie Dale’s facility and eclecticism. Two shorter works – Prunella and Night Fancies – lend an Elgarian feel to the creative output. Bowen’s Miniature Suite (1904), dedicated to Dale in return, is concise by contrast, its three varied movements filled with charm and wit. Young British pianist Danny Driver (left) is a most elegant and persuasive advocate, rendering this album a singular pleasure.

No comments: