Thursday, 14 March 2013

CD Reviews (The Straits Times, March 2013)

Fabula Classica 2240 / ****

One wonders what George Gershwin (1898-1937) could have further accomplished had he not died from a brain tumour at such a tragically early age. His three greatest symphonic works are enshrined here in early 1940s performances by the NBC Symphony Orchestra conducted by the great Arturo Toscanini. These are highly idiomatic readings that truly swing despite the primitive sound and crude edits. The immortal Rhapsody In Blue was a virtuoso vehicle for the young Earl Wild, with the famous opening clarinet solo from no less than Benny Goodman himself. Gershwin’s friend and sometime Hollywood actor Oscar Levant is the soloist for Piano Concerto in F major, a work more serious in melding jazz with classical forms than the Rhapsody itself.

Modern recordings of An American in Paris, a true symphonic poem if any, can be over-refined as to suck out the life from it, but there is no fear of that in this exciting 1943 take. Finally, there is an archival 8-minute segment from the soundtrack of the 1931 movie Delicious called New York Rhapsody, the basis of Gershwin’s more mature and darker hued showpiece, Second Rhapsody for piano and orchestra. Although not credited, this is likely to be the Fox Studio Orchestra with Gershwin’s own piano playing, irrepressible, incisive, brash and brimming with brio. This disc is more than a historical document, essential listening for lovers of modern music.       

Decca 4783999 (6 CDs) / ****

In trying to cram 101 tracks onto six discs, this compilation by Decca and CD-Rama opted for expedience by including all 36 movements from J.S.Bach’s Six Cello Suites. An astute choice, given that these are played by the distinguished French cellist Maurice Gendron (1920-1990), who coaxed a sweet but deeply sonorous tone in his 1964 Philips recording, a very good set that has aged well over the decades. Other big-named cellists appear here in bite-sized pieces and movements, like Lynn Harrell in Rachmaninov’s Vocalise and Janos Starker in the slow movement of Dvorak’s Cello Concerto.

Julian Lloyd Webber (brother of the musical-meister) gets lots of air time, including most of the tracks of his album Cello Moods (read easy listening) and all four movements of Elgar’s elegiac Cello Concerto with the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra conducted by Yehudi Menuhin. In  addition, there is a jackdaw’s nest of interesting shorts (Faure, Joplin, Kreisler, Mainardi, Paganini, Schmidt et al) reproduced wholesale from Heinrich Schiff’s album Encore!, originally released in 1989. However one of its tracks, a waltz by Gliere is entirely for piano solo. Oops. Nevertheless, these and the Bach will be more than adequate reasons to acquire this anthology. 

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