Thursday, 28 March 2013

CD Reviews (The Straits Times, March 2013)

HARTY Piano Quintet
String Quartets Nos.1& 2
PIERS LANE, Piano & Goldner Quartet
Hyperion 67927 (2CDs) / ****1/2

Sir Hamilton Harty (1879-1941) was the Ulster-born conductor who was a champion of contemporary music of the early 20th century, and remembered for having orchestrated the oft-performed Water Music Suite of music by Handel. This album unveils his virtually unknown chamber music, works of the highest craftsmanship. The Piano Quintet in F major (1904) is a neglected masterpiece that distils the fine qualities of the Romantic and nationalist schools. When listened to blind, one discerns the order and form of Schumann, Brahms and Dvorak, with a lightly-sprinkled folk influence. Its brief Scherzo could have been a country dance dished up by Percy Grainger, and the lovely slow movement is an Irish-flavoured air or lament that builds to a stirring climax.

From pianist Piers Lane and the Sydney-based Goldner Quartet, one finds the most ardent and spirited of advocates. Would Singapore’s Lim Yan and Take Five take on this most delightful of works sometime? The First and Second String Quartets (1900 and 1902) are equally congenial. Think of flowing melodies by Dvorak and Borodin, Mendelssohnian feathery-light scherzos, slow movements of Beethovenian intensity, and one gets the picture. Both play to about 25 minutes each. While this not the most earth-shaking, original or probing of utterances, there is lots to enjoy in the well-turned phrases and vibrant playing. The two discs retail for the price of one.

BEETHOVEN Complete Concertos
Deutsche Grammophon  (5CDs) / ****1/2

As complete collections go, this is as comprehensive as one can get to gather all of Beethoven’s concertos under one roof. And it is a mostly star-studded one, retailing at super-budget price, just under $8 a disc. The five piano concertos come from Maurizio Pollini and the Vienna Philharmonic (1970s and 1982) in authoritative readings conducted by Karl Bohm and Eugen Jochum. Hence it is a pity that there was not enough time to include the Choral Fantasy, to be truly complete. A confident 16-year-old Anne-Sophie Mutter stars in the Violin Concerto with her mentor Herbert von Karajan and the Berlin Philharmonic. She is joined by cellist Yo-Yo Ma and pianist Mark Zeltser for the underrated Triple Concerto, both recorded in 1979.

The odds and ends add further interest to this box-set. Beethoven’s own piano transcription of the Violin Concerto (Op.61a) sees Daniel Barenboim leading the English Chamber Orchestra from the keyboard. It includes Beethoven’s own piano cadenza that employs the timpani to audacious effect. A single-movement fragment that survives from an early Violin Concerto in C major gets the attention of no less than Gidon Kremer and the London Symphony. There is also a Piano Concerto in E flat major from a 13-year-old Beethoven (edited by Willy Hess, performed by Lidia Grichtolowna) that gives a clue to how greatness could have blossomed from such generic origins. This is a fascinating set worth having.

No comments: