Thursday, 3 January 2013

CD Reviews (The Straits Times, January 2013)

Decca 478 4572 / *****
This recording was made possible by the power of social media and the Internet. Back in 2007, Ukraine-born Valentina Lisitsa was a struggling pianist with relatively few engagements when she uploaded a simple video of herself playing Rachmaninov’s Étude-tableau in A minor (Op.39 No.6), which obviously struck a chord among viewers. Almost 50 million views later, she is a legitimate musical celebrity and her June 2012 Royal Albert Hall recital was a culmination of sorts. Her playing exudes a raw physicality and technical brilliance that goes beyond surface glitter. Being an exuberant platinum blonde with pop-star appeal also helps.
The major work in her programme selected by an Internet poll is Beethoven’s Moonlight Sonata, which displays all the facets of her pianism, from calming lyricism to outright virtuosity. The balance are popular encore pieces, among them the most familiar Chopin Nocturnes (Op.9 No.2 is offered several improvisatory touches), Liszt studies (including a scintillating La Campanella and rapturous Un Sospiro), Rachmaninov Préludes, Scriabin Poémes, and even Beethoven’s diminutive bagatelle Für Elise. Lisitsa performs on a Bösendorfer Imperial Grand which yields a more mellow and burnished tone. Shorn of the hype, the fuss about her artistry is all real.
LALO Concerto Russe / Piano Concerto
Tapiola Sinfonietta / KEES BAKELS
BIS SACD-1890 / ****1/2
People who love the Symphonie Espagnole and Cello Concerto of Frenchman Edouard Lalo (1823-1892) will be happy to learn there is more where those came from. His Concerto Russe (Russian Concerto) of 1879 employs Russian folksongs in two of its four movements and is the Eastern counterpart of Lalo’s Spanish-influenced classic. His orchestration however reveals far more that is Mediterranean than is Slavic, its sunny disposition a world apart from typically Russian dolour. Its neglect lies in one detail – it was never performed by the Spanish virtuoso Pablo Sarasate, much to Lalo’s regret. French violinist Jean-Jacques Kantorow provides the right spark to ignite the violin fireworks. The shorter Romance-Serenade and Fantaisie-Ballet are also included, both delightful concertante pieces.       
Equally obscure is the Piano Concerto (1888), an engaging showpiece that has the warmth, congeniality and virtuosity of Saint-Saëns’s piano concertos, but minus the froth. A short but memorable theme or leitmotif that appears in all three movements in different guises also suggests the influence of Cesar Franck. Frenchman Pierre-Alain Volondat’s pianism sparkles like champagne, making it sound greater than the sum of its parts. The orchestra from Espoo, Finland conducted by former Malaysian Philharmonic Orchestra music director Kees Bakels provides most sympathetic support. Francophiles need not hesitate.     

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