Thursday, 1 November 2012

CD Reviews (The Straits Times, November 2012)

RACHMANINOV Piano Concertos Nos.1 & 4
Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini
Malmo Symphony/ Orwain Arwel Hughes
BIS 975 / ****1/2
For some unfathomable reason, the completion of Japanese pianist Noriko Ogawa’s Rachmaninov piano concerto cycle has finally been issued despite having been recorded as far back as 1998 and 2001. It also retails at mid-price ($16.90 at HMV), probably in order to avoid directly competing with an ongoing new cycle from the young Russian ace Yevgeny Sudbin. Anyway, the performances are what one already comes to expect from Ogawa: generous, meticulous, scrupulously controlled and refined playing. However these are among the slowest readings in the catalogue. In the First and Fourth Concertos, Stephen Hough (on Hyperion) shaves off two and a half minutes each, while Rachmaninov himself (now on Naxos) is even speedier by a further two minutes!
This does not mean that the playing is sluggish, instead the broad tempos mean that much of the orchestral details are better savoured. In the slow movement of the First Concerto, one hears woodwind passages never previously noticed. Ogawa revels in the contrasts to be found, hot-blooded romanticism in the 1891 maiden effort (later revised in 1917) and a more aggressive and percussive approach to the Fourth Concerto of 1926. She is unfailingly musical in both, and the popular Paganini Rhapsody radiates a warmth that is hard to ignore. While Rachmaninov’s recording of all three works sweeps through in a breezy 71 minutes, this new BIS recording plays for almost 82 minutes. Enjoyable nonetheless.    
TURINA Chamber Music
The Nash Ensemble
Hyperion 67889 / *****
The music of Spanish composer Joaquin Turina (1882-1949) has only begun to gain recognition beyond his single hit La Oracion del Torero (The Bullfighter’s Prayer) of 1926 for string quartet, which closes this very fine anthology of chamber works. Born in Andalusia and schooled in Paris, his music combines the best of both worlds, a distinct Spanish nationalism coloured by the impressionist sensibilities of Debussy and company. Also accomplished as a conductor, he was in the vanguard of Spain’s Silver Age of cultural renaissance before the outbreak of the Spanish Civil War.
Varieties of Spanish songs and dances appear in his First Piano Trio, Piano Quartet and Sonata Espagnola for violin and piano. The music is alternatingly lyrical and rhythmically vibrant without being obviously folksy. Unusually scored is his Escena Andaluza (Andalusian Scenes) for viola and piano quintet which carry influences from his more senior compatriots Albeniz and de Falla. It comprises a serenade-like Crepuscule du soir (Twilight) and A la Fenetre (At the Window), a mellow dialogue between two lovers using themes from the earlier movement. Britain’s exceptional Nash Ensemble lovingly offers over 70 minutes of unmitigated pleasure.

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