Thursday, 14 November 2013

CD Reviews (The Straits Times, November 2013)

Music Among Friends
EMI Classics 9185142 (11CDs) / *****

Listeners of a certain age will remember with more than fondness recordings of the Melos Ensemble from the United Kingdom, which was active from 1950 to the early 1990s. The names of clarinettist Gervase de Peyer, violinist Emanuel Hurwitz, violist Cecil Aronowitz and flautist Richard Adeney will strike some bells in record collectors and followers of radio broadcasts. Here is a treasure trove of the group’s most memorable recordings of music from the classical era to 20th century British composers.

This pair of ears will always cherish the memory of Schubert’s Trout Quintet and the underrated Adagio & Rondo Concertante with the ensemble’s America-born pianist Lamar Crowson, when it first appeared on LP. When more members congregate, the joy is simply multiplied in Beethoven’s jaunty Septet, and the marvellous Octets of Schubert and Mendelssohn. If only composers today could write melodies like these, performed with such relish and unfettered joy as this.

Pride of place goes to the role played by de Peyer, founding member and former Principal in the London Symphony, who stars in the Clarinet Quintets of Mozart, Weber and Brahms, and is the leading voice in more contemporary works by Janacek, Nielsen, Bartok, Prokofiev, Poulenc and Khachaturian. Here are over 13 hours of pleasurable music-making in very decent sound, retailing at super-budget price.    

Deutsche Grammophon 479 1302 / **

After several years of “exile” when he recorded some albums for EMI Classics, Chinese pianist Yundi (who has dropped his surname Li) has returned to the fold of Deutsche Grammophon. This is a sampler disc to remind listeners of his contribution to the German “Yellow label” after winning the 2000 Chopin International Piano Competition. His name and image still sells CDs, especially in China. Chopin gets his due, with six tracks including two Impromptus (the Fantaisie-Impromptu among them), two nocturnes (both from Op.9), an √©tude, and a movement from the Third Sonata.

Liszt features with the Rigoletto Paraphrase, La Campanella, Liebestr√§ume No.3, and bleeding chunks from the First Piano Concerto (the first movement) and Sonata in B minor (the first three minutes before being unceremoniously faded off). This unsatisfactory piecemeal approach also sees dismembered movements from a badly chopped up Schumann Carnaval. What unthinking mind dictates such idiotic decisions?  Are Yundi fans taken to be fools?

There are also single movements from Prokofiev’s Second Piano Concerto and Ravel’s G major Piano Concerto, arguably his best recording for the label. It would have been much better to have reissued complete works on two discs but priced at one. His playing is exemplary throughout, but that was pre-2009. There is no write-up or even an interview, but Yundi diehards do not need one anyway.

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