Thursday, 12 September 2013

CD Reviews (The Straits Times, September 2013)

CATOIRE / SHERWOOD Piano Concertos
Royal Scottish National Orchestra
Dutton 7287 / ****1/2

This is a World Premiere recording of two Romantic piano concertos one is unlikely to hear in a live performance anywhere or anytime soon. It is a pity since both works have much overflowing lyricism, sparkling pianism and musical substance to offer. Although Russian composer of French descent Georgy Catoire (1861-1926) was a closer contemporary of Arensky and Glazunov, his Piano Concerto in A flat major (1909) is more aligned to the aesthetics of Rachmaninov and the early Scriabin. Parts even sound like the dramatic overwrought  scores of those 1930s and 40s British movies, which allow for much wallowing in lush harmonies.

German-born composer Percy Sherwood (1866-1939) of English ancestry is even more obscure. His Second Piano Concerto in E flat major (1932-33) is anachronistic for its date of composition, Schumannesque gestures and Lisztian opulence in the age of aggressive modernism and atonalism. Both concertos play over the half-hour mark, typical for works of this genre to fit standard concert programmes. Performed with ardent advocacy and rare relish by the London-based Japanese pianist Hiroaki Takenouchi and Scotland’s best orchestra conducted by Martin Yates, they sound like enjoying themselves. If you long for tuneful concertos with that Rachmaninov-like feel, do not hesitate to explore these rarities. 

BBC Symphony Orchestra
Chandos 10739 / *****

This new release by British clarinettist Michael Collins introduces three clarinet concertos that deserve to be in the standard concert repertoire, alongside Mozart’s indestructible classic. Charles Villiers Stanford’s Concerto Op.80 (1902) was originally conceived for the German Richard Mühfield, who had earlier premiered Brahms’s late Clarinet Sonatas and Quintet. The style is unequivocally Romantic, with long-breathed melodies that linger on ever so inviting and a vigorous finale reminiscent of Brahms and Bruch. Ironically, there is even a theme introduced by the brass that sounds positively Wagnerian.

Gerald Finzi’s Concerto (1948-49), the most substantial work, has claims to be one of the great 20th century clarinet concertos, even if its influences are also strongly Romantic. The three movements are the summation of the art itself; passion and drama in the first, romance for the central Adagio, with humour and wit lighting up the Rondo finale.  

Malcolm Arnold’s Concerto No.2 (1974) is an unusually eclectic one, written for jazz great Benny Goodman and playing for only 16 minutes. Its first movement cadenza supplied by Richard Rodney Bennett includes quotes from Beethoven’s Fur Elise and Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue, while the 2-minute-long finale is a Joplinesque dance entitled The Pre-Goodman Rag. Collins’s committed advocacy and virtuosity make these works mandatory listening for all wind enthusiasts.

DVORAK Cello Concerto
BRAHMS Academic Festival Overture
Singapore Symphony Orchestra / LAN SHUI
Decca 889 8529 / *****

Perhaps the greatest performance in Singapore of Antonin Dvorak’s Cello Concerto in B minor took place on 10 February 2012 at the Esplanade Concert Hall. This is the live recording from that concert, one that highlights not just the virtuosity of Chinese-Australian cellist Li-Wei Qin but also how well the Singapore Symphony Orchestra led by Lan Shui responds as a sympathetic and sensitive accompanist. Very often one is drawn to the quality of the orchestral playing, especially the marvellous woodwind and brass contributions. These rapt moments complement Qin’s gorgeous tone and long-breathed passages on his 1780 J.B.Guadagnini cello. 

A most apt encore was Dvorak’s Silent Woods (known in Czech as Klid), a short but breathtakingly lyrical piece for cello and orchestra transcribed from the suite for piano duet From The Bohemian Forest. Also from the same concert was Brahms’s Academic Festival Overture, no mean makeweight that brings together a collection of student songs, closing with the rowdy paean to drink Gaudeamus Igitur. Applause from the concert has been edited out and the audience is remarkably silent, a considerable feat in itself. This disc represents excellence all around. 

LI-WEI QIN Cello Recital
Music at an Exhibition Series
National Museum of Singapore
8 pm, Tuesday 17 September 2013

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