Thursday, 23 August 2012

CD Reviews (The Straits Times, August 2012)

LEKEU Violin Sonata
RAVEL Complete Violin Music
Hyperion  67820 / *****

What if the Belgian-composer Guillaume Lekeu (1870-1894) had not died from typhoid at a tender age of just 24? On the evidence of his only Violin Sonata (1892/93) in G major, he might have become one of the great French-school composers of the Franck-Faur√©-Chausson lineage that preceded the rise of the so-called impressionists. He was a student of Cesar Franck, which might explain the sonata’s similarities with his teacher’s own Violin Sonata, also composed for the great Belgian virtuoso Eugene Ysaye. Notable is the use of cyclical form, where the noble and lyrical main theme from the first movement returns in the finale, thus bringing unity to the sprawling 34 minute masterpiece.

Maurice Ravel’s violin music is hardly obscure, with the exception of his early Violin Sonata from 1897 (his Posthumous Sonata), which must not be confused with his Sonata of 1927 (also included here in this collection), with its iconic Blues movement. At 14 minutes, the ruminative quality of its single movement is reminiscent of Chausson’s rhapsodic Poeme, but its languidness does not scale the heights of ecstasy, a classic trait of the impressionists. Russian violinist Alina Ibragimova coaxes a pure and refined tone throughout without holding out on outright virtuosity. For the Lekeu rarity, hers is a breezy alternative to Arthur Grumiaux’s darkly-hued and brooding account from 1955. Ardently recommended.   

DVORAK Symphony No.7
Othello / The Wild Dove
Malaysian Philharmonic / CLAUS PETER FLOR
BIS SACD-1896 / *****

If anybody had suggested 15 years ago that some of the best recordings of Czech music came out from Malaysia, that person would have been considered fit for the lunatic asylum. Fact: German conductor Claus Peter Flor’s third recording with the Malaysian Philharmonic, of music by Antonin Dvorak, is an unqualified triumph. The Bohemian’s Seventh Symphony in D minor is the darkest and most Brahmsian of his great final symphonic trilogy. From its opening bars, one immediately feels the urgency, storms and stresses, which Flor works his charges to thrilling climaxes with chilling effect. The buoyant Slavonic dance that is its third movement provides some respite before being swept away by the relentless tide of the finale.

Of equal interest are the fill-ups, an overture and symphonic poem. The Shakespeare-inspired Othello is the third part of a triptych of concert overtures, with the programme of jealousy and murder vividly characterised. Even more sinister is The Wild Dove (Holoubek), based on a macabre folk ballad by Karel Erben. The tables are turned when a wife poisons her husband and marries someone else, but supernatural forces eventually wreak a terrible vengeance. All these make for excellent programme music, musical narration that tells a story without the use of words. Exciting stuff, brilliantly executed.

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