Thursday, 25 April 2013

CD Reviews (The Straits Times, April 2013)

with BROOKS SMITH, Piano
Alpha Omega Sound / ****1/2

Here is another rarity, a live recital recorded on 12 May 1955, from the archives of SODRE, the official radio and television service of Montevideo, Uruguay. At that time, the great Lithuania-American violin virtuoso Jascha Heifetz (1901-1987) was beginning to make recordings with the RCA Victor label, culminating with the audiophile Living Stereo series. Despite the boomy piano and remastered monaural sound, Heifetz’s penetrating tone – warm and full-blooded – shines through with every note. The 72-minute programme was fairly typical for the era, two major repertoire works surrounding by shorter encore-like pieces and transcriptions.

Tomaso Vitali’s Chaconne, a glorious pastiche of the baroque style, opens the recital. Then the unaccompanied solo of Beethoven’s Kreutzer Sonata (Op.47) catches the ear like no other. This is the longest work, in a performance bristling with passion and inner fire. Debussy’s late Violin Sonata follows, providing a different flavour to the palate. The short pieces by Dvorak (a lesser known Slavonic Dance), Lili Boulanger and Richard Strauss (Heifetz’s own transcription) are lyrical and utterly charming. Two out-and-out showpieces, Wieniawski’s Caprice-Waltz Op.7 and Ravel’s gypsy rhapsody Tzigane, complete this treasure chest. There is some tape distortion and recorded applause may be intrusive, but the listener gets the sense of being witness to history itself. An indispensable document.

Decca CD-Rama 4782977 (6 CDs) / ****

Is it an act of sadomasochism to attempt listening to 101 consecutive tracks of Luciano Pavarotti (1935-2007) at one sitting? One tries, but it becomes a trial getting past two discs at a go. Like the cholesterol-laden pasta dishes the late great Italian tenor once loved, he is best savoured in small manageable doses. Possessing a most distinctive of voices, the radiance and warmth in which he bathes each aria that makes the experience memorable. The first disc is devoted to the verismo operas of Puccini, Leoncavallo and Mascagni, closing with Nessun Dorma from Puccini’s Turandot, which made him a household name.

The second disc continues with Verdi and bel canto giants Bellini and Donizetti. In Pour mon ame from Donizetti’s La fille du regiment, he nails nine high Cs with a gravity-defying nonchalance. The “King of the High Cs” goes one further to hit D flat in Cujus Animam from Rossini’s Stabat Mater, which appears in Disc 4, devoted to sacred songs. The last two discs feature popular Italian songs, including Rossini’s La Danza, Denza’s Funiculi Funicula, Leoncavallo’s Mattinata, di Capua’s O Sole Mio and Mudugno’s Nel blu, dipinto di blu, better known as Volare. Pavarotti is in his element here, and thankfully there is no more space for those ghastly crossover duets with pop stars. Pavarotti was one of the greatest voices of our time, so why was a short biography not included in this set, at the very least?

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