Thursday, 21 June 2012

CD Reviews (The Straits Times, June 2012)

Deutsche Grammophon  477 9439 (2 CDs)  
This anthology is a timely tribute to the visionary genius of Franz Liszt (1811-1886), the pianist-composer and arch-virtuoso often maligned for the flashy showboating, vulgar compositional conflations and womanising excesses of his youth. The mature Liszt was however an innovator. His greatest piano work, the Sonata in B minor, cast in a single movement and structured upon development and metamorphosis of themes, sets the precedent for future compositions. French virtuoso Pierre-Laurent Aimard astutely programmes Alban Berg’s Sonata Op.1, also in B minor but further stretches the limits of tonality, and Scriabin’s mysterious, tumultuous Ninth Sonata as logical extensions of this thought.
Liszt’s later works from the 1880s are terse and forbidding. La Lugubre Gondola, Nuages gris (Grey Clouds), and Unstern! Sinistre (Unlucky Star) sound as if they came from the 20th century. The second disc displays Liszt’s influence on future generations. His Fountains Of Villa D’Este predicts Ravel’s splashy Jeux d’eau, while Saint Francis’ Sermon to the Birds lends inspiration to Messiaen’s Le traquet stapazin (from Catalogue Of Birds) and Marco Stroppa’s Tangata Manu (Bird Man). Aimard’s technique, amply demonstrated in the popular Vallee d’Obermann, and dedication to the cause give this superbly crafted programme a stamp of authority.     


String Sextet / Piano Quintet
Doric String Quartet
Chandos 10707 / ****1/2

The Viennese composer Erich Wolfgang Korngold (1897-1957) is better remembered these days for his film scores to Hollywood blockbusters such as The Adventures of Robin Hood and The Sea Hawk. Earlier he was a child prodigy composer whose prowess was spoken in awe, comparable with the likes of the young Mozart and Mendelssohn. These chamber works are the products of a highly assured technique and complete mastery of classical forms. Here, the atonality of the Second Viennese School is shunned for old world opulence, much in the manner of Richard Strauss and Mahler.
The Piano Quintet of 1922 is filled with soaring melodies, the slow second movement being a wonderful set of variations on one of Korngold’s own Songs Of Farewell,   Mond, so gehst du wieder auf (Moon, Thou Riseth Again), one of his most memorable. Kathryn Stott is the powerful yet nimble pianist who partners the young and dynamic Doric Quartet from Britain. Two further string players join in the earlier String Sextet (1916), where Brahms is the obvious inspiration, although the chromaticisms of Schoenberg’s early Transfigured Night is hinted at. The concentrated nature of the music may not be easy on first acquaintance, but repeat listens will reap dividends, further rewarded by the highly committed playing. Warmly recommended. 

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