Friday, 31 May 2013

CD Reviews (The Straits Times, 30 May 2013)



THE FIRE PHOENIX
Ding Yi Music Company / ****1/2

Formed just 6 years ago, the Ding Yi Music Company has become one of Singapore’s most dynamic and successful ensembles, a chamber-sized counterpart of the Singapore Chinese Orchestra. This début recording conducted by Young Artist Award winner Quek Ling Kiong showcases a cross-section of its repertoire, including contemporary arrangements of ancient Chinese classics and modern works. The former are characterised by exquisite instrumental solos from pipa, guqin, yangqin and dizi, lightly accompanied by percussion and general ensemble. Excerpts from Kun Opera (Ming Dynasty), settings of Xi’an drum music and poetry by Wang Wei (Tang Dynasty), and the titular Fire Phoenix (Northern Wei Dynasty) give a clue to the antiquity of Chinese music.

There is a Singaporean element to the new pieces, which highlight symphonic effects. Young composer Wang Chen Wei’s Confluence is a good example of Nanyang music, incorporating Malay, Indonesian and Indian elements into the melting pot. Eric Watson’s Pearls is a westerner’s highly assimilated thoughts of the genre, crafted in the form of a tone poem. The longest work, Tang Jian Ping’s Ji Ji Ru Ling, also the most dissonant, is an indictment of the stressful lifestyles people today adopt as a matter of fact. This enjoyable and vividly recorded hour-long anthology shows this virtuosic outfit at the very heart of an ever-evolving and expanding musical tradition. 



SGAMBATI Symphony No.1
Orchestra Sinfonica di Roma /
Francesco La Vecchia
Naxos 8.573007 / ****1/2

In the opera-obsessed land of Italy, Giovanni Sgambati (1841-1914) stood out by being a virtuoso pianist, conductor and composer of purely orchestral works. He conducted the Italian premieres of Beethoven’s Third and Seventh Symphonies and is chiefly remembered for his intricately poised piano transcription of Gluck’s Melody from Orpheus. His early compositional efforts were encouraged by Richard Wagner, and his First Symphony (1880-1881) was championed by Arturo Toscanini no less.

This sprawling 43-minute work in five movements bears the hallmarks of a master craftsman rather than genius. The influences of Liszt (in the transformation of motifs and themes) and Wagner (in harmonic language) may be discerned in the first two movements. Whiffs of Schumann and Mendelssohn scent the short Scherzo and the lilting Serenade, while the busy Finale closes the work on a festive high.

The very substantial filler is the Cola Di Rienzo Overture (1866). Its score was recently discovered, and plays like a dramatic 18-minute Lisztian symphonic poem. The performances are very persuasive, and should win this very engaging music many new friends.       

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