Thursday, 31 January 2013

CD Reviews (The Straits Times, January 2013)

Naxos Historical  8.111261 / *****

Sceptics who wonder about why French-Swiss pianist Alfred Cortot (1877-1962) was considered of the piano’s greats need only sample this disc of 78 rpm recordings he made for the Victor Talking Machine Company in 1925 and 1926. The title “Encores” is misleading because of the limitations of the recorded medium, which dictated a maximum of four plus minutes per side. That would explain the presence of half a performance of Chopin’s First Ballade from 1925, the first half having mysteriously gone missing from posterity. A 1926 complete performance of the same work reveals his majesty and command.

Cortot the virtuosic showman is never in doubt when one listens to his takes on Weber’s vertiginous Invitation to the Dance or Liszt’s Hungarian Rhapsodies No.2 (with his own fancy cadenza ad libitum) and No.11 and a seemingly effortless Rigoletto Paraphrase. The occasional wrong notes, caught in the white heat of performance are more than tolerable. For more subtle pleasures, his own transcription of Brahms’s Lullaby, the Schubert-Liszt Litany, Chopin’s Aeolian Harp Étude, Berceuse and a most elegant Waltz in C sharp minor (Op.64 No.2). Here is mandatory listening for all serious students of the piano.

Bournemouth Symphony/ Kirill Karabits
Decca 478 3529 / *****

The Silver Violin is an anthology from the Golden Age of music for the silver screen, a bygone era when there was little or no distinction between serious composers and movie composers. This is best personified in the character of Erich Wolfgang Korngold (1897-1957), the Viennese Jewish child prodigy composer whose emigration to American saved his career and life from the Nazi Holocaust. His gorgeously lyrical Violin Concerto, premiered by Jascha Heifetz, recycles music from four feature films, including Another Dawn and The Prince And The Pauper. It rightfully takes its place among the 20th century’s most popular concertos. From the same pen come Pierrot’s Dance-Song and Marietta’s Song from the opera Die Tote Stadt (The Dead City), arias which sound just as beautiful on the violin.

Young British violinist Nicola Benedetti performs these with sumptuous beauty, her selections leaning more towards Eastern Europe, which tend to be melancholic and wistful in temperament. Shostakovich offers three haunting tracks, from films The Gadfly and The Counterplan. Even American John Williams’s Main Theme from Schindler’s List falls within this aesthete. The inspired choice is the inclusion of Mahler’s early but dark single-movement Piano Quartet. Mahler died just before movies became in vogue, but this music has earned its place in the 2010 psychological thriller Shutter Island starring Leonardo DiCaprio. Whoever thought that? With the magic of music and movies, everything becomes possible. 

NICOLA BENEDETTI plays Korngold’s Violin Concerto with the Singapore Symphony Orchestra
conducted by Neeme Järvi
1 & 2 February 2013
Esplanade Concert Hall at 7.30 pm
Tickets available at SISTIC

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