Thursday, 14 February 2013

CD Reviews (The Straits Times, February 2013)

MOZART Piano Concertos Nos.20 & 27
Orchestra Mozart / Claudio Abbado
Deutsche Grammophon 479 0075 / *****

The coupling of Mozart’s D minor (K.466) and B flat major (K.595) piano concertos is a very popular tandem, contrasting the composer at his most dramatic and congenial. Piano Concerto No.27 was his final work in this genre, but does not betray any hint of world-weariness or resignation. Its gentle fluid lines and apparent happiness suggest he had much more to say but for his untimely demise at the age of 35. Piano Concerto No.20, contemporaneous with his opera Don Giovanni, displays angst and resolve in the driving, unwavering and syncopated rhythm of its first movement.

Veteran Portuguese pianist Maria Joao Pires and conductor Claudio Abbado are quintessential Mozarteans who are fully attuned to the composer’s idiom of flowing lyricism, subtle gestures and implicit humour. They let the music speak for itself, without resorting to attention-drawing posturing or interpretive gimmickry. Their Mozart cycle does not appear to be anywhere near completion, but taking one’s time to reflect and allowing the collaborations to mature to perfection are part of the game. This is a lovely disc, and one much looks forward to future instalments.

FAURÉ Cello Sonatas
Hyperion 67872 / ****1/2

The Frenchman Gabriel Fauré (1845-1924) ranks as one of the most underrated composers of the Romantic era. Although his Requiem and Pavane are familiar and well-loved, much of his instrumental and chamber music is less often heard. His two Cello Sonatas are late works, dating from 1917 and 1921. By this time, the sheer melodiousness of the Belle Epoque early years is replaced by a certain terseness and economy of themes employed. One is hard pressed to recall some of the tunes, even if their conception is noble and loftily inspired. Both sonatas stand out by having beautiful and long-breathed slow movements, the majestic Andante from the Second Sonata was inspired by the centenary of the death of Napoleon Bonaparte.

This recording includes two alternative version of the Allegro comodo third movement of the First Sonata, one played at a faster speed than the original. Too slow a finale (at Fauré’s own metronomic marking) will certainly not do! German cellist Alban Gerhardt and Filipina pianist Cecile Licad invest a wealth of feeling and instrumental virtuosity in these sonatas. Five short and more familiar stand-alone works have been thrown in, including the magnificent Elegie Op.24, one of Fauré’s most moving works, the short and flighty showpiece Papillon Op.77, and the lilting Sicilienne from incidental music to Pelleas and Melisande. There is much to enjoy in these performances.

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