Thursday, 10 January 2013

CD Reviews (The Straits Times, January 2013)

Chandos 10724 / ****1/2

Sergei Rachmaninoff (1873-1943) wrote piano music all through his musical career. This recital disc is an excellent representation of piano music from different periods of his life. The Six Moments Musicaux Op.16 (1896) preceded the disastrous premiere of his First Symphony and displays his maturity in different styles, from the lyric, tragic to the epic. His first set of √Čtudes-Tableaux Op.33 (1911) follow the kaleidoscopic range of his Pr√©ludes, but with an accent on the virtuosic and fantastic. The Corelli Variations Op.42 (1931), based on the popular La Folia theme, date from his years of exile and look ahead to the familiar Paganini Rhapsody. 

Recordings of his piano music abound, but what makes this one special is the China-born pianist Xiayin Wang’s intuitive feel of Rachmaninoff’s idiom. One that combines brooding melancholy through long sustained melodic lines with a breathless technical facility for its exacting multitudes of notes, she never makes the music sound hectic or laboured. Sitting through each of these sets proves a pleasure, one that is sealed by the vivid and excellent recorded sound. It does not take a Russian to make Rachmaninoff sound convincing.

Alpha Omega Sound / ****1/2

This extremely rare “live” recording from 9 April 1954 was unearthed in the archives of SODRE, the official radio and television broadcasting service of Montevideo, Uruguay. It represents the Soviet-era Russian violinist David Oistrakh (1908-1974) at the height of his powers while on tour to the West. His programme was unusually eclectic despite offering no Russian music within. It opens with Jean-Marie Leclair’s Third Sonata, in the four-movement sonata da chiesa form that was popular during the Baroque era. Nowadays, it is rarely heard outside of the period instrument circle, but Oistrakh’s politically incorrect and vibrato-rich account makes no excuses for the music, which is charming and unpretentious.

The gem of this hour-long recital is a complete performance of the Sibelius Violin Concerto with the original piano accompaniment. This version is seldom ever recorded, although regularly played at conservatory and student recitals. Oistrakh performs it as if accompanied by an orchestra, with no punches pulled or half measures taken. It is a searing account, tender in the slow movement while the furious finale lives on a knife-edge throughout. The disc is completed by Belgian Ernest Chausson’s rhapsodic Poeme, also accompanied by pianist Vladimir Yampolsky. This invaluable addition to the Oistrakh discography may be purchased from various on-line retailers via the Internet. 

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