Thursday, 2 May 2013

CD Reviews (The Straits Times, May 2013)


Odracek Records 1799302 / ****1/2
This is an excellent introduction to the genre of piano miniatures in the 20th and 21st centuries. The earliest music is the Hungarian Gyorgy Ligeti’s Musica Ricercata (1951-53), short disparate numbers that progress according to the number of tones used, from just two notes in the first piece to all 12 tones in a chromatic scale for the eleventh. From the old Soviet Union comes Musical Toys (1969) by Sofia Gubaidulina, 14 quite charming visions related to memories of childhood and playtime. Various styles are evoked, including boogie woogie in A Bear Playing The Double Bass and a droll Shostakovich-like march in The Drummer.


Anything but child’s play are the Six Piano Etudes (1995-2003) of Korean composer Unsuk Chin, here receiving their world premiere recording. These carry on the hallowed tradition of the 20th century study, exploring a variety of tonal textures and rhythms in the manner of Ligeti. Modern sounding these are, but rather accessible to a first-time listener. The London-based pianist Mei Yi Foo (left), originally from Seremban, exhibits intelligence in programming, sensitivity of touch, digital brilliance and tonal allure. She provides her preferred order of the 31 pieces to be heard in sequence but one can also listen straight through. Either would still provide an illuminating experience. This CD may be purchased through online retailers.

This CD won the BBC Music Magazine's Best Newcomer Award in 2013.

Naxos 8.501056 (10 CDs) / ***1/2

In the Naxos 25th anniversary survey of the piano concerto, two pianists stand out: the Hungarian Jeno Jando and Turk Idil Biret. Both are the Hong Kong-based label’s house pianists, assigned to record large swathes of piano literature for its repertoire-based catalogue. Jando is tasteful and stylish in Mozart’s piano concertos, five of which (Nos.20, 21, 23, 25 and 27) are included here. He is also impressive in Rachmaninov’s Second Piano Concerto, and the regularly coupled A minor concertos of Schumann and Grieg, although the latter could have done with a lighter touch.


The former child prodigy Biret (left), who studied with Boulanger, Cortot and Kempff, is excellent in both concertos by Brahms, which are full of passion and fervour. Her idiomatic accounts of the two Chopin concertos are however let down by the hyper-reverberant acoustics, which sabotage the listening experience. Naxos recordings by Russian Eldar Nebolsin should have taken their place, and his inclusion for both Liszt concertos is a right one.


The Austrian Stefan Vladar shines in Beethoven’s Third to Fifth Concertos, fine and youthful recordings before he was poached by a “larger” label. The 20th century piano concerto is represented by just one disc. Frenchman Francois-Joel Thiollier and Korean Kun Woo Paik get it right for Ravel’s G major Concerto and Prokofiev’s Third Concerto respectively, but Australian Kathryn Selby’s view of Gershwin’s Rhapsody In Blue is unremarkable. There are more hits than misses in this budget-priced collection.

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