Thursday, 22 November 2012

CD Reviews (The Straits Times, November 2012)

Mirare 138 / *****

For the greatest of Spanish piano music, look no further than these two suites: Albeniz’s Iberia and Granados’s Goyescas. While Iberia revels in scenic Spanish locales, Goyescas by Enrique Granados (1867-1916) is a series of reflections on the paintings of Francisco Goya and its world of aristocracy, the intimate lives of the majo and maja. The six pieces are united by a theme or leitmotif, appearing in different guises: optimistic in Los Requiebros (Flatteries), tender in Coloquio en la Reja (Conversation by the Window), poignant in the Balada of love and death, and fleetingly in the final Epilogo, the Ghostly Serenade. The most famous piece is The Maiden and the Nightingale, often played in its own, but here it is heard in its original context, stitched seamlessly into its overall fabric.

Madrid-born pianist Luis Fernando Perez lives and breathes the music, playing down on its beguiling virtuosity. He lingers tantalisingly in many spots, but the sense of pacing is peerless, sounding totally convincing in the process. He also inserts the Intermezzo from Granados’s opera of the same title, and the disc begins with the delightful Valses Poeticos, nine little waltzes linked together as Schubert or Ravel would have done. This is a modern alternative to the famous recordings of Alicia de Larrocha (EMI and Decca), and well worth exploring.

HALVORSEN Orchestral Works Vol. 4
Bergen Philharmonic / NEEME JÄRVI
Chandos 10710 / *****

If there is one work by Norwegian Johann Halvorsen (1864-1935) that is regularly performed, that would be his popular Passacaglia for violin and cello, based on a movement from Handel’s keyboard suites. Here it is beautifully performed by Melina Mandozzi and Ilza Klava, principals of the Bergen Philharmonic. This disc is an excellent way of exploring his other music, which parades a similar nationalist fervour as Edvard Grieg. Try the first two Norwegian Rhapsodies, which are sumptuously orchestrated and revel in the folksong and dance traditions of his native land.

The longest work here is Norwegian Fairy Tale Pictures, a suite of four colourful movements based on the children’s drama Peik and the Giant Troll, a sort of Peter and the Wolf meets Peer Gynt. The celebrated Hardanger fiddle, beloved of all Norwegians, is simulated here by grouped strings. More serious and cerebral is the Symphonic Intermezzo to Bjornesen’s play The King, with its Wagnerian echoes and Tchaikovskyan yearnings. The rousing Norwegian Festival Overture provides further flag-waving and martial moments, while the rustic Norwegian Bridal Procession is an orchestration of a piano piece by Grieg. Recorded in vivid sound, Estonian conductor Neeme Järvi and the Bergen Philharmonic have a way with this music, rendering them very much irresistible.

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