Thursday, 9 May 2013

CD Reviews (The Straits Times, May 2013)

DELIUS Piano Concerto
Brigg Fair / Paris / Idylle De Printemps
Royal Scottish National Orchestra 
Chandos 10742 / *****

The Piano Concerto in C minor of English composer Fredrick Delius (1862-1934) is so obscure that most music-lovers do not even know that three versions of it exist. Even the final version (1907) in a single movement with two parts lasting some 20-minutes is hardly ever performed. This is the second recording of its original 1904 version in three movements that plays for half an hour. It is a glorious work filled with melody of the pastoral variety heard in Delius’s shorter and highly evocative tone poems. The solo piano part is virtuosic, redolent of Grieg and lit up by Lisztian bravura, brilliantly realised by highly prolific pianist Howard Shelley. The finale consists of material discarded in the final reckoning and one is poorer for not being privy to his earlier and more expansive thoughts.

This well-filled disc begins with Brigg Fair, a picture-postcard musical portrayal of English country life, contrasted with the more exotic Paris (The Song Of A Great City), a nocturne or “night piece” that revels in the pleasures of a city which never sleeps. Idylle De Printemps (Spring Idyll) with its plaintive woodwind solos is one indolent wallow in the verdant countryside, despite the occasional tonal references to Wagner. The performances by the Royal Scottish National Orchestra conducted by Sir Andrew Davis are poised and polished, served by sumptuous recorded sound. Highly recommended. 

Complete Symphonies & Concertos
BIS 2002 (11 CDS) / ****1/2

Felix Mendelssohn (1809-1847) was arguably the greatest musical child prodigy of all time, even trumping the achievements of a certain Mozart. This box-set showcases his mastery of the symphonic genre, literally from cradle to grave. By the time of his premature death, his compositional style and aesthete had already set, and was unlikely to have further evolved or progressed from the early Romantic mould.

Pride of place goes to his 13 String Symphonies, all completed by the age of 14, which display melodic invention, mastery of form and counterpoint which would have made Mozart proud. The performances on 4 discs by the Amsterdam Sinfonietta led by Lev Markiz are exemplary in polish and finesse of execution. The early piano and violin concertos from Ronald Brautigam and Isabelle van Keulen are similarly interesting, but it is the 1844 edition of the E minor Violin Concerto that catches the ear. Mendelssohn’s earlier and bolder ideas were later smoothened out in the familiar 1845 version we hear today.

The Bergen Philharmonic led by Andrew Litton offer excellent accounts of the five symphonies, including those nicknamed Scottish and Italian. For a taste of Mendelssohn’s grandiloquent style that so pleased Victorian sensibilities, try the Second Symphony “Hymn of Praise”, with solo voices and chorus that runs well over an hour. It does not approach the gravitas of Beethoven’s Ninth but embraces the feel-good religiosity of oratorios. Mendelssohn was not the most original of composers, but here he provides many hours of pleasant listening.

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