Thursday, 23 May 2013

CD Reviews (The Straits Times, May 2013)

MOZART Piano Sonatas, K.330-332
BIS 1985 / *****

One really should not be too surprised by this, Noriko Ogawa’s first recording of Mozart’s piano music. After all, one of her earliest appearances in Singapore featured an ebullient performance of Mozart’s Piano Concerto No.21 with the SSO during the late 1980s. Already celebrated for her interpretations of Debussy, Takemitsu and Romantic masters, her Mozart has much to recommend.

Unlike period-movement artists on fort├ępianos who make it a point to ornament and embellish ad libitum, she performs everything as it is written. She makes every second worth listening because of her crispness of articulation, bell-like resonance, singing tone and ultimately good taste. These are three of Mozart’s most popular sonatas, but none outstay their welcome through over-familiarity.

The slow movements linger with a graceful and lyrical beauty, while the busy finales sparkle with humour and lightness of touch, exemplified by the C major Sonata (K.330). The popular Theme And Variations and romping Turkish Rondo of the A major Sonata (K.331) sound fresh and unhackneyed. Even the prestidigitation in the finale of the F major Sonata (K.332) is never viewed as virtuosity for its own sake. Simply put, here is the purity of Mozart’s pianism heard at its finest.  

Song Cycles / Orchestra Works
EMI Classics 6955792 (2 CDs) / ****1/2

This is the centenary year of Benjamin Britten (1913-1976), widely regarded as the greatest British composer of the 20th century. Extremely versatile, his output reflected the ease he mastered different genres. His music could be highly accessible (he delighted composing for children) or conversely a tough nut to crack. This double CD album highlights both aspects with his best known works. Listen to Disc 2 first. It begins with the London Chamber Orchestra playing Simple Symphony for strings, a beginner’s primer to the 4-movement symphony form using melodies he composed as a child. Its natural successor is surely The Young Person’s Guide To The Orchestra, a highly inventive set of variations on the Rondeau from Purcell’s Abdelazer

The classic Britten orchestral scores are the Four Sea Interludes from his opera Peter Grimes, and the highly dramatic Sinfonia Da Requiem, written for the 2600th anniversary for the Japanese royal family but rejected because of its Christian title. The Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra conducted by Libor Pesek gives excellent accounts equal to the best in the catalogue. Disc 1 devoted to song cycles is more of an acquired taste. These include Les Illuminations (after Rimbaud’s verses), Serenade For Tenor, Horn & Strings (with Barry Tuckwell as celebrity hornist) and Nocturne For Tenor and obbligato instruments, the latter two written for Britten’s partner Peter Pears. Soprano Jill Gomez and tenors Neil Mackie and Robert Tear provide the sensitive and nuanced solo voices. There are unfortunately no libretti but these discs still represent a good guide to the best of Britten.

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