Thursday, 15 August 2013

CD Reviews (The Straits Times, August 2013)

GORECKI Symphony No.3
Warsaw Philharmonic / KAZIMIERZ KORD
Decca 478 3610 / ****1/2

The oscillating pendulum of 20th century music swung from serialism and atonality to minimalism and tonality sometime during the 1970s and 80s, but the public’s perception of that shifting trend was confirmed in 1992 with the astounding commercial success of Henryk Gorecki’s Third Symphony with the Nonesuch recording by soprano Dawn Upshaw and the London Sinfonietta conducted by David Zinman. The Polish composer (1933-2010) had himself turned his back on atonalism with his Symphony of Sorrowful Songs in 1976. This all-Polish recording came on almost breathlessly after the success of the former. Now reissued at super-budget price, it has much to recommend. 

It is an hour-long tonal work in three slow and soporific movements that draws from both sacred and secular sources. The first movement lasts half an hour, and after a prolonged orchestral introduction, soprano Joanna Kozlowska’s beautiful voice is only heard in the 16th minute. The central and shortest movement, is also the most haunting, based on the scrawling by a young Polish girl on a prison wall. One might baulk at the protractedness of this spiritual minimalism, but Gorecki’s fleshes out the time well, and one’s patience is eventually rewarded. The mystery of it all was that the composer never sought out to replicate its runaway success.

Naxos 8.501055 (10 CDs) / ****

This ten-disc box-set commemorating the Naxos 25th anniversary captures 16 ballets by eight composers. Running roughly in chronological order, it is representative of the French school (Adam’s Giselle and Delibes’s Coppelia and Sylvia) that popularised ballet as an art form in the early 19th century before moving eastward to the revolutionary Russian school (Tchaikovsky and his successors). Due to their lengths, only highlights have been included for most of the ballets except for Glazunov’s The Seasons, and Stravinsky’s Petrushka and The Rite Of Spring, excisions of which would have been meaningless.

Tchaikovsky’s three great ballets - Swan Lake, Sleeping Beauty and The Nutcracker – and Prokofiev’s Romeo and Juliet are allotted one disc each, and all the popular dances are included. Selected movements from Glazunov’s Raymonda, Ravel’s Daphnis et Chloe, Stravinsky’s Firebird, Prokofiev’s Cinderella, Khachaturian’s Gayane and Spartacus also provide ample listening time. The performances by Naxos’s house orchestras in Slovakia, Russia and Ukraine are generally good and more serviceable. The Stravinsky ballets however get top-notch service from The Philharmonic and London Symphony Orchestras conducted by Stravinsky acolyte Robert Craft. There are synopses for all the stories which make a helpful read. This set retails for $59.90 at HMV. For all the complete ballets, some in definitive recordings, look to Decca’s bounteous 35-disc collection Ballet Masterpieces.   

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