Thursday, 25 July 2013

CD Reviews (The Straits Times, July 2013)

GULDA / GOULD Piano Works
Piano Classics 0043 / ****1/2

Friedrich Gulda (1930-2000) and Glenn Gould (1932-1982) were two of the last century’s most distinctive, unique and eccentric pianists. They were, simply put, one of a kind. The Viennese Gulda was a classicist with a penchant for jazz and improvisation. The Canadian Gould abhorred jazz but openly embraced the Second Viennese School atonalists. Both however shared a common passion for the music of J.S.Bach. This most inventive recital by young Ukrainian pianist Sasha Grynyuk unites these two greats as rather unlikely pianist-composers.

The 10 pieces of Gulda’s Play Piano Play are a distillation of jazz and Bachian counterpoint, entertaining in the same way that the more frequently performed Nikolai Kapustin. The opening number Moderato is itself a slinky fugue. Another popular piece is No.6 is a breathless toccata with the Schumannesque title Presto Possibile. Gould’s Piano Sonata and seven Short Pieces, early works dating from 1948 to 1952, bear the astringent influences of Hindemith and Schoenberg. Ironically, some of his dissonances are regularly experimented by jazz pianists today.

The disc closes with Grynyuk’s transcription of Gould’s So You Want To Write A Fugue?, originally for voices and string quartet, a hilarious take on complex fugal composition. It somehow loses its original zest without the quirky words, but this should not deter anyone from exploring these curious and amusing byways of 20th century pianism. 

Decca 4785067 (6 CDs) / ****1/2

Compilations are only worthwhile when the musical contents are logically programmed rather than left to random and haphazard chance. In this respect Waltz 101 succeeds because the dances in three-quarter time (there are more than just 101 of them) are thematically arranged such that one begins to listen intelligently. The first two discs are devoted to the music of Johann Strauss Junior and his younger brother Josef. 

All the usual suspects – Blue Danube, Emperor, Tales from the Vienna Woods, Wine, Woman & Song – performed with the stylish flair expected from the Vienna Philharmonic conducted by Willi Boskovsky. Disc 3 provides many “So that’s what it’s called” moments with popular melodies by Lehar, Waldteufel and one-hit wonders Juventino Rosas (Over The Waves) and Ivan Ivanovici (Danube Waves). One also learns that the sickly sweet waltz from the movie Eyes Wide Shut comes from Shostakovich’s Jazz Suite No.2

Waltzes from the great Tchaikovsky, Delibes and Adam ballets occupy disc 4. Special pleasure may be afforded from the piano in the last two discs. Every waltz of Chopin and Brahms has been included, performed by Nikita Magaloff and Julius Katchen. The rarities are the Godowsky harmonised versions of six Chopin waltzes played with incomparable insouciance by Jorge Bolet. Even Schubert’s humble set of 12 Waltzes, derived from the rustic Ländler country dances, get special attention from no less than Vladimir Ashkenazy. This lovely anthology concludes with French fare, Ravel’s Valses nobles et sentimentales, Fauré, Satie and Poulenc from the excellent Pascal Rogé. Need one receive an Invitation To The Dance to enjoy this? 

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