Thursday, 4 April 2013

CD Reviews (The Straits Times, April 2013)

BIS SACD-1828 / *****

The London-based Russian pianist Yevgeny Sudbin’s latest recital disc is inspired by Liszt and Lisztian technique. His choice of the Hungarian-born super-virtuoso’s solo music is well-balanced, juxtaposing the cerebral, technical with the lyrical. The imposing Funerailles (from Harmonies poetiques et religieuses) strides with the weight of the world on his shoulders, the tragic and the heroic realising just the right degree of gravitas. Two Transcendental Studies, No.10 in F minor (Allegro agitato molto) and Harmonies du soir (Evening Harmonies), all dextrous fingers and fists, find the perfect foil in the three Petrarch Sonnets from the Italian book of Years of Pilgrimage.

Ravel’s Gaspard de la nuit, three essays that evoke expressionist and nightmarish visions, was derived from the same dare-devilry that inhabited Liszt’s outlandish sense of aesthetics. Sudbin gives an incisive and mercurial account that does not draw attention to its inherent virtuosity, yet without stinting on the element of fantasy. On the same page is the Liszt transcription of Saint-Saëns’s Danse Macabre, which gets a more nuanced and whimsical reading compared with Behzod Abduraimov or Yuja Wang, just to name two young guns who have also recorded this warhorse recently. For some stupendous pianism, look no further.   

EMIL GILELS Early Recordings (1937-1954)
Naxos Historical 8.112051 / *****

The Ukraine-born pianist Emil Gilels (1916-1985) was well respected for his Beethoven sonata and concerto recordings on Deutsche Grammophon and EMI Classics respectively, which are among the best in the catalogue. From the pensive leonine figure with a rush of red hair, this collection of Soviet era recordings reveals a peerless interpreter of Russian piano music, comparable with his close contemporary the better-known Sviatoslav Richter.

Of major interest are the three sonatas recorded in the early 1950s. Nikolai Medtner’s single movement Sonata in G minor (Op.22) unleashes the same Slavic passion and temperament to be found in better-known Rachmaninov. Glazunov’s Second Sonata combines Tchaikovskyan lyricism with scintillation and academism, while Prokofiev’s coruscating Second Sonata is a virtuoso warhorse from his early period.

The latter is mastered from 78 rpm discs but the sound mastered by Ward Marston is quite excellent. No less vivid are the 1940s takes of Rachmaninov (a prelude, étude-tableau and song transcription each) and two encores: Tchaikovsky’s sunny Song Without Words (Op.2 No.3) and Prokofiev’s droll March from The Love For Three Oranges. Gilels, the young firebrand whose visceral energy later matured to encompass cerebral qualities, was one of the greats.   

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