Thursday, 11 October 2012

CD Reviews (The Straits Times, October 2012)

Complete DG Recordings 2000-2009
Deutsche Grammophon 479 0058 (12 CDs)  ***1/2

Although Lang Lang has moved from Deutsche Grammophon to its rival Sony Classics, the German Yellow label continues to rake in profits from the Chinese phenom, who celebrated his 30th birthday this year. Housed in a truly unwieldy box that contains mostly air and dead space, the collection begins with Lang’s earliest Telarc discs, who as a rising star was recorded live in Tanglewood (an eclectic mix of Haydn, Brahms, Tchaikovsky, Rachmaninov and Balakirev) and the 2001 BBC Proms (a rather good Rachmaninov Third Concerto). His first concertos with DG in Tchaikovsky, Mendelssohn (First Concertos) and Rachmaninov (Second Concerto and Paganini Rhapsody) begin to display certain wilfulness, and this narcissicism reaches a nadir in his ridiculously slow recordings of Chopin’s Third Sonata and Schumann’s Scenes From Childhood. If only being protracted were equated with profundity.

His Carnegie Hall Recital (Schumann, Haydn, Tan Dun, Schubert and Liszt) showcase both angelic and diabolical tendencies, which make him all the more intriguing. Things begin to look up with discs of Beethoven and Chopin concertos (conducted by Eschenbach and Mehta respectively) which display maturity and sobriety and best of all, Dragon Songs, an album dedicated to Chinese music including the Yellow River Concerto. The only chamber disc, with violinist Vadim Repin and cellist Mischa Maisky in Rachmaninov and Tchaikovsky Piano Trios, reveals him to be a sympathetic partner. There is a bonus disc of odds and ends: accompanying tenors Placido Domingo and Andrea Bocelli, and Nigel Hess’s three-movement romantic Piano Concerto. A thick book with original programme notes and tons of glamour photos accompany this release. Detractors need not be persuaded, but die-hards will need to cough up $139.90 for this indulgence. 

SVENDSEN Orchestral Works Vol.1
Bergen Philharmonic / NEEME JÄRVI
Chandos 10693 / *****

Johan Svendsen (1840-1911) was the Norwegian composer and contemporary of Edvard Grieg whose name survives almost solely on the popularity of his Romanze for violin and orchestra. A sumptuous piece with a seamless lingering melody, here it receives a lovely performance by Marianne Thorsen. Composed within the space of an afternoon and evening in 1881, Svendsen had naively sold it for a pittance, thus defaulting on a bounty of royalties he could have received.

Svendsen was not as overtly nationalist as Grieg but his Norwegian Rhapsodies are even more colourfully scored than his compatriot’s music, utilising the same folk tunes as the latter’s popular Norwegian Dances. The two symphonic poems, Zorahayda and Romeo And Juliet, both sharing common thematic material, are well worth listening for their Romantic sweep, as is rousing Carnival In Paris (possibly his second most popular work) and the repetitious Festival Polonaise. Träume (Dreams) is an orchestration of the fifth song of Wagner’s Wesendonck-Lieder, one that looks forward to the rarefied sound world of the opera Tristan And Isolde. One can scarcely imagine better performances of this music by the Bergen Philharmonic, led by that indefatigable champion of neglected classics Neeme Järvi.

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