Thursday, 18 April 2013

CD Reviews (The Straits Times, April 2013)

Singapore Symphony Orchestra / LAN SHUI
SSO CD-1202 / ****1/2

This is the Singapore Symphony Orchestra’s long-awaited CD of popular works and encores aimed at introducing the classics to young people and the beginner. There are lollipops like Bach’s Air On G String, Brahms’s Hungarian Dance No.5, which Music Director Lan Shui has often conducted to sign off a concert, and Mascagni’s Intermezzo from the opera Cavalleria Rusticana, which highlights the orchestra’s svelte string sound. The two big works are Tchaikovsky’s 1812 Overture, a rarity by virtue of the presence of Lim Yau’s well-honed combined choruses singing in Russian (but no recorded cannons or carillons), and an exciting reading of Ravel’s Bolero.

The quest to be all-encompassing, seasonally aware and politically correct sees this astonishing sequence of unlikely suspects: Stravinsky’s Greeting Prelude (a distorted version of the popular ditty), Elgar’s Salut D’Amour, Li Huanzhi’s Spring Festival Overture and Leroy Anderson’s Sleigh Ride. A classic for every occasion, including birthdays, Valentine’s Day, Chinese New Year and Christmas! Despite coming off like a hodgepodge of unrelated tracks, the playing is committed and polished, and the recorded sound is vivid.

RIES Piano Concertos  Op.42 & 177
New Zealand Symphony / Uwe Grodd
Naxos 8.572742 / ****

Lovers of Beethoven’s piano concertos may be pleased to learn that his student Ferdinand Ries (1784-1838) composed eight piano concertos. This disc couples his First and Eighth Piano Concertos, spanning the years 1812 to 1832. Like his teacher, Ries was a piano virtuoso whose concertos were vehicles for his glittering showmanship. Both are about half an hour long (the length of Beethoven’s Second Concerto), and in terms of technical difficulty often surpass those of the master himself. However these do not scale Olympian heights or plumb the same depths as Beethoven, and there is no discernible progression in style and idiom between the first and last.

Ries may be to Beethoven what Hummel was to Mozart, filling in the stylistic gaps of the piano concerto genre till the coming of Mendelssohn. The Introduction & Rondo Brillant Op.144 of 1825 is similar to the slow-fast two movement schema perfected by the early Romantics. As if alluding to the past, the rondo includes a motif that is found in the finale of Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony. Austrian pianist Christopher Hinterhuber is a sympathetic interpreter, his gilded and accurate fingers bringing a certain glitz and charm to these minor masterpieces. Well worth several listens.

No comments: