Thursday, 20 December 2012

CD Reviews (The Straits Times, December 2012)


CHOPIN Piano Concertos
Fabula Classica 2211 / ****1/2  
The piano concertos of Frederic Chopin (1810-1849) have always been popular and recordings have never been in short supply. The usual criticism that Chopin was no orchestrator may be true, but these works were meant to highlight the piano and not the orchestra. Despite the many modern recordings that exist, these historical recordings deserve to be heard because they come from great Chopinists of the last century.
The Chopin playing of Arthur Rubinstein (1887-1982), a fellow Pole himself, was characterised by largesse and generosity of spirit. His 1953 recording of the First Piano Concerto with the Los Angeles Philharmonic led by Alfred Wallenstein captures his big sound and an overall sweep that is a reflection of his personality, extroverted, a little brash, but hard to dislike.
The Chilean Claudio Arrau (1903-1991) was taught by a pupil of Franz Liszt, which underlines his technical prowess in the Second Piano Concerto, partnered by the New York Philharmonic and Fritz Busch. This mono recording of a 1950 live concert crackles with verve and spirit, infusing the work with fluid lyricism and rhythmic vitality. The audience responds accordingly by applauding even before the last chord. Arrau also plays in the bonus track, the Grand Polonaise Brillante Op.22 (without the preceding Andante Spianato) from 1947. This life-affirming confirms that we can enjoy the best of both worlds, that is having the choice of both modern and historical performances today.
Decca  4783655 (5CDs) / ****
The 101 series co-presented by Universal Music and CD-Rama delivers popular classics by the shovel – 101 tracks on six CDs for just $19, or just under 19 cents per track. This works out to be cheaper than a digital download from the Internet, which is the ostensible aim of this range. Guitar 101 is one of the better sets, because there is a logical sense of programming and the quality of the artists. The first two discs are devoted to Spanish and Latin American music, and all the usual suspects are here. Francisco Tarrega’s tremolo study Memories of the Alhambra and Romanza (whose composer remains unknown) are understandably the first two tracks.
Joaquin Rodrigo’s Concierto De Aranjuez from Pepe Romero and the Academy of St Martin in the Fields is heard in its entirety on Disc 3, together with the neoclassical Concierto Para un Gentilhombre and the obscure but enjoyable Concierto para una Fiesta. Disc 4 is devoted to other popular concertos by Vivaldi, Giuliani, Castelnuovo-Tedesco and Villa-Lobos with Eduardo Fernandez and the English Chamber Orchestra. The lute music of J.S.Bach fills Disc 5 entirely, also from the excellent Fernandez. The final disc is all about transcriptions; the four members of Los Romeros play selections from Bizet’s Carmen and Falla’s Three Cornered Hat. Violin music in guitar guise completes the picture: Paganini’s Caprice No.24 from Nicola Hall and Bach’s Chaconne from Fernandez sound just as virtuosic in this form. There are no accompanying notes but for once, this compilation does not disappoint.

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