Thursday, 6 June 2013

CD Reviews (The Straits Times, June 2013)

Testament 1337 / ****1/2

The world was robbed of a would-be legend with the suicide of French violinist Christian Ferras (1933-1982), a rare genius who would have celebrated his 80th birthday this year. His famous 1964 recording of Tchaikovsky’s Violin Concerto with the Berlin Philharmonic conducted by Herbert von Karajan on Deutsche Grammophon remains in the catalogue, but this 1957 version with The Philharmonia led by Constantin Silvestri is grittier and more exciting. While he sounds staid and respectful alongside Karajan, here he lets rip with liberties galore. There are some unsanctioned cuts in the first and third movements, but his additional touches in  the 1st movement’s cadenza have a gypsy √©lan and flourish that are inimitable.

Ferras is joined by legendary French cellist Paul Tortelier in Brahms’s Double Concerto, a 1962 recording again with The Philharmonia, but presided by Paul Kletzki. Both soloists are well-matched and play with a togetherness that fits like hand and glove. Their exchanges are timed to perfection and unison passages are sung with an evenness that is a joy to behold. Add an exciting rocking rondo finale, this comes close to the perfect performance of a well-loved classic, aided by excellent recorded sound even by modern standards. One only wonders what further riches Ferras could have offered us were he still living today.    

Overtures and Preludes
Filarmonica della Scala / Riccardo Chailly
Decca 478 3559 / ****1/2

While Giuseppe Verdi (1813-1901) is considered by many as the greatest opera composer ever lived, this accolade would not have been possible if his orchestral writing to precede and accompany the singing was not up to scratch. This celebratory disc for the Verdi bicentenary highlights orchestral music from his operas. The Preludes are brief, and set the mood for each act as the curtain rises. There are no better examples than those written for Act 1 of La Traviata, portraying tenderness and fragility, and Act 1 of Aida, which is intimate but mysterious, and alludes to the Triumphal March to come. 

The Sinfonias or Overtures are longer, more dramatic and may quote melodies from the opera itself. The overture to Nabucco gives away a secret – the rousing Va, Pensiero, better known as the chorus of the Hebrew slaves. As stand-alone music, the best are the overtures for La Forza del Destino (The Force of Destiny) and I Vespri Siciliani (The Sicilian Vespers), where the violent hand of Fate is most eloquently represented. The longest music is also rarely heard, 19 minutes of Airs de Ballet from Jerusalem, the French production of I Lombardi. Pleasant but not the most inspired of music, it is nevertheless performed with dedication and conviction by the Orchestra of La Scala. Long live Verdi indeed!   

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