Thursday, 26 September 2013

CD Reviews (The Straits Times, September 2013)

The Alpha Omega Sound / ****1/2

When Leonid Kogan (1924-1982) was still alive, he was widely considered the greatest violinist of the Russian school post-David Oistrakh. Remembered as the principal teacher of Viktoria Mullova, he did not live long enough to enjoy sustained worldwide fame or commercial success, dying on a train in between concerts. This rare recording is of a 20 May 1958 concert in Montevideo, Uruguay recorded by SODRE (the Official Service of Radio and Television Broadcasting), shortly after his début in the West. The programme is typically eclectic, spanning the baroque to contemporary, and full of showpieces.

The main piece was Prokofiev’s First Violin Sonata in F minor, a greater and more serious work than its popular successor. Listen how skilfully he negotiates between icy brusqueness and warm lyricism without diminishing the impact of both. Also impressive is his sense of architecture and control in the Bach Chaconne in D minor. The balance of the programme is aural candy, including a Locatelli Sonata and Schubert’s Ave Maria. Not to disappoint lovers of fireworks, Saint-Saëns’s Havanaise and Sarasate’s Basque Caprice pull out the stops, and the audience erupts before the last note is sounded. His premature demise was indeed a most grievous loss.   

BRAHMS Violin Concerto
Staatskapelle Dresden / Christian Thielemann
Deutsche Grammophon 479 0086 / ****

The Hungarian-born violinist Joseph Joachim is the common link between the works on this disc. The well-heeled Violin Concerto in D major by Johannes Brahms was written for and in consultation with Joachim, and most violinists play the virtuoso cadenza which he supplied as if it were biblical truth. Georgian violinist Lisa Batiashvili instead opts for the rarely-performed cadenza by Max Reger, which unusually incorporates a prominent part for timpani and is accompanied by orchestra towards its end. Like her playing which is refined and musical in the utmost, it makes an elegant and almost anti-virtuoso contrast from the norm.

After the rambunctious Hungarian-flavoured Rondo that closes the concerto, the Three Romances Op.22 by Clara Schumann (widow of Robert Schumann, and close confidante of Brahms) with piano accompaniment by Alice Sara Ott, are light and fluffy fillers, like a tagged-on encore. Very pleasant but not memorable, they bring the playing time to just over a parsimonious 47 minutes. The recorded sound is soft-focus but pleasant. The final uniting thread of this release: Batiashvili plays on a 1715 Stradivarius that was once owned by Joachim himself. Its tone is sweet and light, which adds to the album’s attraction.


Anonymous said...

Dear Sir, Thanks for your reviews. May I know where to get a copy of the Kogan CD where you are located? Thanks

Chang Tou Liang said...

The Leonid Kogan CD is the latest release from the Hong Kong-based Alpha Omega Sound label. I was sent a review copy CD by the producers, and the CD should be available to be purchased online at MDT Classical:

All the best!