Thursday, 6 September 2012

CD Reviews (The Straits Times, September 2012)

BEETHOVEN Symphonies Nos.1-9
West-Eastern Divan Orchestra / DANIEL BARENBOIM
Decca 478 3511 (5 CDs) / *****

The West-Eastern Divan Orchestra was founded in 1999 by Daniel Barenboim and the late Edward Said, as a project bringing together young musicians from Israel, Palestine and neighbouring Arab countries in the spirit of unity, cooperation and mutual respect. Despite all forms of opposition and political haranguing, WEDO has survived and this box-set of nine symphonies by Beethoven, the singular composer who best embodied the “Brotherhood of Man”, is a proud document of its struggles. The performances do not possess pretences to period performance practice or authenticity but nevertheless encapsulate Beethoven’s restless spirit of upheaval and agitation.   

There are many moments to dip into and enjoy. The Funeral March of the Third Symphony “Eroica”, builds up to a stentorian climax of true pathos. The peasants’ dance in the Sixth Symphony “Pastoral” has seldom sounded this animated with perky woodwinds doing the honours. The Adagio of the Ninth Symphony “Choral” unfolds purposefully and moves the soul like no other, capped by the valedictory Ode To Joy finale that expresses genuine universal love. Whether you are a connoisseur or neophyte, there is much to gain from this invigorating release.

ACHRON Suites for Violin & Piano
Hyperion 67841 (2CDs) / ****1/2

The name of Jospeh Achron (1886-1943) survives on the fame of his single hit Hebrew Melody, a reflective and mournful piece of 1912 that was championed by Jascha Heifetz amongst others. Achron was born in Lithuania and became a pupil of Leopold Auer (who also taught Heifetz, Milstein and their generation of violinists) before settling in Hollywood within its community of √©migr√© composers. This anthology opens with that famous tune of his but introduces well over two hours of his other violin music. Jewish-influenced music plays an important part, further exemplified in Two Hebrew Pieces, Eli Zion (also 1912) and the Stempenyu Suite (1918). The latter’s finale, Freilachs (Happy) uses an extremely catchy theme drawn from Klezmer music and popular culture.

The music of his other Suites takes the form of antique dances, and resembles the easy-on-the-ear, old world and salon charm of Fritz Kreisler. His Suite Bizarre (1916) is more tonally adventurous, sharing dissonances explored by contemporaries Scriabin, Bartok and Stravinsky. The eight short pieces of Children’s Suite, originally for piano, were arranged by Heifetz himself. There can be no more sympathetic and heartfelt interpreters of Achron’s music than the Israeli duo of Sham and Erez. Its really in their blood.

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