Thursday, 8 November 2012

CD Reviews (The Straits Times, November 2012)

BEETHOVEN Piano Sonatas Nos.30-32
Naxos Historical 8.111299 / ***1/2

It was well-known that the great Canadian pianist Glenn Gould (1932-1982) had a “blind spot that spanned from Bach to Schoenberg”. He was out of sympathy with much of classical and Romantic repertoire, and it was said that he recorded pieces he disliked in order to show how bad they were. Gould recorded Beethoven’s final Sonata trilogy in 1956, as his second commercial release for Columbia Masterworks, following the resounding critical and commercial success of his Bach Goldberg Variations. This was unequivocally panned by critics as a dud.

He took an unorthodox view of Beethoven, a composer less amenable to variation than Bach. His tempos tended to extremes, mainly ridiculously fast. The final Theme and Variations of Sonata Op.109 runs under 8 minutes (compared with Schnabel’s 14 or Arrau’s 16 minutes), and the whole work is over in 13 minutes. Repeats were shunned, and the inherent beauty and nobility stripped and spat out wholesale. Sonata Op.110 comes off unscathed but the final Sonata Op.111 suffers greater indignities. The first movement introduction is taken too leisurely and the ensuing Allegro Con Brio is a muddled blur in neck-breaking velocity. Why should we listen to these wrong-headed and misguided interpretations? Because Gould was a genius, and savants often have something valid to offer, no matter how wayward. In Gould’s own words, this was not his “most convincing recording”, but “is the most convinced”. Go figure.

BBC Concert Orchestra / Steven Mercurio
Decca 478 3531 / ****1/2

Almost every great tenor will cite the legacy of Mario Lanza (1921-1959) as a major influence on their singing careers. He was the most popular operatic voice of the late 1940s and 1950s, his fame coming primarily from best-selling movies with MGM rather than the opera stage. His only the major role onstage was Pinkerton from Puccini’s Madama Butterfly, which he sung just twice in 1948. He mostly specialised in short scenes and arias, as seen in the 1951 movie The Great Caruso, where he portrays the great Italian tenor Enrico Caruso. This hour-long anthology sees the Maltese tenor Joseph Calleja sing both operatic arias and popular songs that Lanza made his own.

Among the former include Nessun dorma (Puccini’s Turandot), Cielo e mar! (Ponchielli’s La Gioconda), Amor ti vieta (Giordano’s Fedora) and Vesti la giubba (Leoncavallo’s I Pagliacci). The last impressively showcases his clear, ringing tone and dramatic intensity that matches the best from The Three Tenors. The popular songs are in Italian (Arrivederci, Roma and La Danza), Spanish (Granada) and mostly English, such as Brodszky’s Be My Love and Because You’re Mine, Rosas’s The Loveliest Night of the Year, Rodgers & Hammerstein’s You’ll Never Walk Alone (Carousel) and D’Hardelot’s Because. These standards are coloured by Calleja’s accented English, while Lanza’s vernacular was Americanised (he was, after all, born in Philadelphia). Fear not, for there is much to enjoy in Calleja’s sincerity, warmth and effortless ease of delivery.

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