Thursday, 31 October 2013

CD Reviews (The Straits Times, October 2013)

CHOPIN De l‘enfance à la plénitude
Mirare 096 / *****

This is not a new recording, but its 81 minutes contain a microcosm of Frederic Chopin’s art of pianism  and composition, from his prodigious childhood (hence the title which translates roughly as Childhood of Plenty) to his all-too-premature death at the age of 39. His earliest recorded work and last creative utterance are the bookends to this marvellous anthology. The first 20 minutes are virtually unknown, beginning with two juvenile Polonaises, in B flat major and G minor, remarkable efforts by a mere 7-year-old.

By 18, the Polonaise in F minor, with its more sophisticated touches, begins to reveal an originality that we recognise as the adult Chopin. His love for native Poland is also deeply felt in his last work, the Mazurka in A minor (Op.67 No.4), from 1848, his penultimate year. Its simplicity, also found in the late Waltz in A minor, shows that he had come a full circle.

In between these are the great stand-alone works from 1842 to 1846, including the sublime Berceuse (Op.57) and endlessly lyrical Barcarolle (Op.60). Veteran French pianist Anne Queffélec mines the rich vein of cantabile in these, and nimbly scales the torrid virtuosic heights of the Fourth Ballade (Op.52) and Fourth Scherzo (Op.54), which form the pinnacle of Chopin’s oeuvre. The transformation of talent and potential to outright genius and “industry leader”, to use modern parlance, is the overriding joy of this album.     

STRAVINSKY Le Sacre du Printemps
100th Anniversary Collector’s Edition
Decca 478 3729 (20 CDs) / *****

Igor Stravinsky’s epoch-making ballet The Rite Of Spring for Sergei Diaghilev’s Ballets Russes premiered to an infamous riotous reception 100 years ago in Paris. Yet a year later it was hailed as one of the 20th century’s great masterpieces. This handsome box-set brings together 38 orchestral recordings of this iconic classic from the vast catalogue of the Universal labels. The earliest dates from 1946 with Eduard van Beinum conducting the Concertgebouw Orchestra in grainy monoaural sound, while the latest is the slick 2010 account by Gustavo Dudamel and the Simon Bolivar Youth Orchestra of Venezuela. How times have changed and orchestras have progressed.

While most performances take between 32 and 34 minutes, the range of timings can differ widely, from Antal Dorati’s Minneapolis Symphony (1959) account that frenetically flies under the half hour to Leonard Bernstein’s expansive 37 minutes with the Israel Philharmonic (1982). There are two versions from Herbert von Karajan and the Berlin Philharmonic from 1965 and the mid-1970s, his pristine unruffled approach in the former drawing disparage from Stravinsky himself, who called it, “too polished, a savage pet rather than a real one”.

For this pair of ears, the version by Riccardo Chailly and the Cleveland Orchestra (1985) is the one to beat, uniting primal savagery and sumptuously balanced orchestral sound, with all the fine details to boot. There are three versions of Stravinsky’s original score for piano duet here, the glitziest coming from Vladimir Ashkenazy and Andrei Gavrilov (1990). A further bonus is Stravinsky conducting his own Violin Concerto with violinist Samuel Dushkin from 1935. For lovers of this endlessly fascinating score, this release is a godsend.   

No comments: