Thursday, 31 May 2012

CD Reviews (The Straits Times, May 2012)

BUSONI Piano Concerto
Rome Symphony / Francesco La Vecchia
Naxos 8.572523 / ****1/2

The sole Piano Concerto of Italian pianist-composer Ferruccio Busoni (1866-1924) has the honour of being designated the longest piano concerto in the standard classical repertory. There are probably longer concertos (possibly by the British Parsi eccentric K.S.Sorabji) but this behemoth, which plays for 70 to 80 minutes, has garnered a respectable number of recordings, including those by pianistic heavyweights John Ogdon, Garrick Ohlsson, Peter Donohoe and Marc-André Hamelin. Concert performances are understandably rare, not least because of its dense monolithic writing in five movements, including a finale with an unseen male chorus singing from Oehlenschläger’s Alladin

This is a true epic, with a universality akin to Haydn’s The Creation or Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony, but in this case the ode is, “Feel Allah close to you, and observe His works.” The gargantuan piano part is a tribute to Lisztian virtuosity. The fourth movement All’Italiana is a furious Tarantella that sweeps everything before it, and the music is possessed with a monumentality that can now only be referred to as Busonian. Veteran Italian pianist Roberto Cappello, a former winner of the Busoni Piano Competition, copes admirably with the outsized demands, and the Italian orchestral forces are anything but overawed. This ambitious newcomer shares a common advantage with the legendary Ogdon recording (EMI Classics); both retail at super-budget price. 

LISZT Lieder
With Helmut Deutsch, Piano
Virgin Classics 0709282 / ****1/2

Franz Liszt (1811-1886) wrote so much for the piano that one may excused for forgetting he was also a very fine composer for the voice. This collection of German and Italian songs by the marvellous German soprano Diana Damrau should go some way to dispel the myth that he was “all fingers”.  Nevertheless, his Lieder require a vocal range, technical adroitness and interpretive ability that are beyond all but the most virtuosic of singers. Damrau has all of these. There is an epic quality to Die Loreley, arguably his best known song, about the Rhine maiden who lures sailors to a watery grave, or a free-spirited and almost defiant stance in Die Drei Zigeuner (The Three Gypsies). Simple and plain Hungarian folk music it is not.

Pianists will recognise O Lieb, so lang lieben kennst (O Love, As long as you can), which is the original sung version of the famous Liebesträume No.3, or the three sonnets in Italian after Petrarch, which are better known in the Italian book of Liszt’s Années de Pèlerinage (Years of Pilgrimage). There are some differences in the melody of Pace non trovo (I Find No Peace) when heard alongside the familiar Sonetto No.104. The piano accompaniment parts for all of the songs are not for amateurs either, and veteran pianist Helmut Deutsch sensitively brings out all the details in tandem with Damrau’s passionate issues. Liszt’s Lieder are more exhausting to listen to than Schubert’s, and understandably so.

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