Friday, 4 May 2012

CD Reviews (The Straits Times, May 2012)


Violinist Lynnette Seah has been a permanent fixture in Singapore’s musical firmament as long as most can remember. From her 1960s Talentime television appearances, becoming the Singapore Symphony Orchestra’s first leader in 1979, to winning the Cultural Medallion in 2006, she is the nation’s home-grown talent personified. Her debut CD, dedicated to her late mother the pianist Lau Biau Chin, is devoted mostly to short lyrical encore pieces. Playing on a 1750 G.B.Gabrielli violin, she produces a beautiful, singing tone that make works like Massenet’s Meditation from Thaïs, Elgar’s Salut d’Amour,  Rachmaninov’s Vocalise, Gluck’s Melody from Orpheus and the Bach-Gounod Ave Maria sound totally delectable.

There are some improvisatory touches to Anton Rubinstein’s Melody in F and a rare airing of Joachim Raff’s Cavatina, once a very popular tune but now almost forgotten. Her excellent accompanists are pianist Shane Thio and SSO Harp Principal Gulnara Mashurova. The lovely slow movement from Bruch’s First Violin Concerto, with the SSO directed by Shui Lan, comes as a bonus. A pity that the whole work was not included, for that would have amply displayed the other side of Lynnette, one as a fearless virtuoso.  

This CD is available at the SSO pushcart on evenings of SSO concerts. 

SHOSTAKOVICH Symphonies No.6 & 12
Royal Liverpool Philharmonic / VASILY PETRENKO
Naxos 8.572658 / ****1/2

The symphonies of Dmitri Shostakovich (1906-1975) have found a true champion in the recent Gramophone Award winning efforts of the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra led by its young Russian music director Vasily Petrenko. This latest release simply confirms the rave notices. The Sixth Symphony is the most underrated of the 15 symphonies, possibly due to its unusual form. It begins with a Largo – surely the finest of his slow movements - that is longer than the two closing scherzo-like movements combined. A case of solemnity followed by madcap antics, tragedy juxtaposed with comedy, was how Shostakovich viewed Soviet society in the 1930s. The orchestra responds to these changes in mood and dynamics with great immediacy.

Critics have derided the Twelfth Symphony of 1961, subtitled “The Year 1917” as his worst, akin to spouting Communist propaganda. A programmatic symphony with narrative movements, it portrayed the historic events of the Bolshevik revolution that overthrew the Tsar (hence the rightful sequel to the Eleventh Symphony, “The Year 1905”) and establishing the Soviet republic. Overlooking the socialist agenda, this is still a masterfully crafted work with sobering calms and rousing heroic climaxes, the sort that would keep Comrade Krushchev and his politburo happy. Such was the fine line treaded by artists in a totalitarian state. The non-histrionic approach taken by Petrenko and unerring playing of his charges make it sound coherent, even as a piece of absolute music.   

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