Thursday, 11 April 2013

CD Reviews (The Straits Times, April 2013)

Naxos 8.501058 (10 CDs) / ****

This slim-line budget-priced box-set not just showcases the violin concerto as one of classical music’s most popular genres, but also celebrates the art of Takako Nishizaki, the primary Naxos house violinist for the past 25 years. The wife of Naxos founder and owner Klaus Heymann, she is soloist in 14 out of the 26 violin concertos highlighted.

Pride of place is her recording of Vivaldi’s The Four Seasons with the Cappella Istrapolitana of Bratislava, Slovakia. This 1987 album was the Hong Kong-based label’s first big hit, going on to become the 8th bestselling classical record of all time. Her playing is tasteful, refined, unmannered, and above all, honest. She also tackles the three great violin concertos in D major, by Tchaikovsky, Beethoven and Brahms, with much fervour. The latter two incorporate rarely played first movement cadenzas by Fritz Kreisler which are well worth hearing.

Also in the mix is the Russian Ilya Kaler, joint-winner of the 1986 Tchaikovsky International Violin Competition, who makes light of virtuosic demands in concertos by Paganini, Dvorak, Glazunov and Shostakovich. The Kazakh Marat Bisengaliev (Lalo and Wieniawski) and Korean Dong-Suk Kang (Elgar and Saint-Saens) also register equally strong performances that challenge better-known soloists in the major labels. Younger names featured, such as Simone Lamsma (Spohr’s Concerto No.8), Mischa Keylin (Vieuxtemps No.5) and Henning Kraggerud (Sibelius), represent a bright future for the instrument. Programme notes are included, which is most helpful for the beginner, to whom this series is targeted. 

Australian Chamber Orchestra
BIS 1789 / ****1/2

This is a collection of concertante works for flute from nations of the southern hemisphere. Only one carries the formal designation of concerto but all have a palpable feel of the song and dance genre. The Flute Concerto with Tango (2008) by Uruguayan composer-conductor Jose Serebrier is a virtuoso showpiece dedicated to the Israel-born Sharon Bezaly, its continuous movements leading up to a short tango that is deliberately left incomplete and hanging in the air. This element of suspense and surprise keeps this music interesting and moving along. The highly athletic Pitangus Sulphuratus (1987, revised 2007) by the Venezuelan Adina Izarra is inspired by the flight and birdcall of the Great Kiskadee, a species commonly found in Central and South America.

The eponymous Pipe Dreams (2003) by the Australian Carl Vine, well known for his dance works, draws its title from the opium pipe, Aboriginal dreamtime and the flute itself. Its sheer exuberance makes it the most accessible of the 21st century scores, and it includes a tender pas de deux by flute and solo violin, played by orchestra leader Richard Tognetti. The earliest work is the short Impresiones de la Puna (1934) by the Argentine Alberto Ginastera, which celebrates Andean folk music and the quecha, a traditional vertical flute. Bezaly’s agility and enormous range on the flute is nothing less than phenomenal, and these new works are well worth exploring.

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