Thursday, 17 January 2013

CD Reviews (The Straits Times, January 2013)

Sony Classical 88725449132 / *****

After the success of his all-Liszt album, Lang Lang’s attention to Frédéric Chopin’s piano music is no less keen or sincere. Where a certain degree of self-indulgence is tolerated and even encouraged in Liszt, Chopin is far less amenable to manipulation and vulgar heart-on-sleeve display. Here, the 30-year-old Chinese wunderkind treads a fine line and comes off with much credit. In the Twelve Études Op.25, the technical becomes secondary to the poetry. How Lang floats a seamless singing line in the Aeolian Harp (No.1) or weaves melody through the filigree and bluster of the E minor (No.5) and B minor (No.10) studies are admirable. Needless to say, the finger-twisters that are the Study in Triplets (No.6) and Winter Wind (No.11) hold no terrors for him.

His true skill is in building the music up to a crucial point, and delivering the coup de grace by milking the climax with a pique of dynamic licence or outsized sonority. By playing up these moments unseen in the notated score, he relives an art last practised and preached by the master magician that was Vladimir Horowitz. This album also includes the Andante Spianato & Grande Polonaise Op.22, three Nocturnes, Waltz Brillante Op.18 and the humble Minute Waltz. Each comes with the grace, poise and respect that they deserve. Even from the hands of the maverick that is Lang Lang, that is true advocacy for you.  

BLOCH Schelomo / Voice in the Wilderness
BBC Scottish Symphony / Ilan Volkov
Hyperion 67910 / ****1/2

If one has enjoyed the music in those epic biblical movies of the last century, mostly starring Charlton Heston, chances are one will also respond to the works of the composer who influenced that genre. The Swiss-American Ernest Bloch (1880-1959) also wrote much secular music, but he will be best remembered for the works that reflect his Jewish heritage. The best known is Schelomo, the 1916 Hebraic rhapsody on the life of Kong Solomon, scored with the cello as his incarnation. The triumphs, trials and tribulations are indelibly captured in the instrument’s deep and wide emotional reach, but its abiding message is to be found in Solomon’s Ecclesiastes, “All is vanity”.

Its companion is the six-movement Voice In The Wilderness (1936), a more diffuse work that carries the same burden of toil and torment, always a Judaist trait of the generations. Far lighter in mood are the three Hassidic-related movements of From Jewish Life (1924), orchestrated by Christopher Palmer. Completing this gorgeously performed anthology by young British cellist Natalie Clein is Max Bruch’s popular Kol Nidrei. It uses several genuine synagogue chants to sympathetic effect, remarkably so because Bruch was not Jewish himself. Essential listening. 

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