Thursday, 21 November 2013

CD Reviews (The Straits Times, November 2013)

Live from Lugano 2012
EMI Classics 721119 2 (3 CDs) / *****

Selected highlights from the Martha Argerich Project at the annual Lugano Festival are being issued in handy box-sets every year, and it is always a pleasure to discover what new repertoire the Argentina-born virtuosa and her protégés have added to their fascinating and ever-expanding discography.

The 2012 edition’s chamber offerings are interesting even if she is not playing. Mahler’s youthful but tormented single-movement Piano Quartet features the Maisky family: cellist Mischa with his violinist son Sasha, pianist daughter Lily, and Argerich’s daughter the violist Lida Chen. Also not often heard is Dvorak’s Piano Quartet in E flat major (Op.87), helmed by pianist Polina Leschenko. The prime pick is however Nikolai Medtner’s Piano Quintet in C minor, with pianist Lilya Zilberstein, which sounds like Brahms on steroids.

Another fixture to look forward to are the three-piano transcriptions of Carlo Maria Griguoli, and this year he offers Debussy’s La Mer, alongside compatriots Georgia Tomassi and Alessandro Stella. One hardly misses the orchestra here. Argerich does however appear in Mozart’s Piano Concerto No.25 in C major (K.503), sounding authoritative as always, and several multi-hands piano works by Mozart, Brahms, Smetana and Argentine Mariano Mores. She also gets to accompany the Capuçon brothers in invigorating readings of works by Schumann and Prokofiev. Do get this for a friend for Christmas, and he or she will never thank you enough.

20th Century Music for Wind Quintet
Berlin Philharmonic Wind Quintet
BIS 2072 (4 CDs) / ****1/2

From one of the world’s great wind ensembles comes this varied and inventive anthology, each disc with well-selected 20th century music representing each of the four seasons. Printemps (Spring) is the prefect introduction to the set, with French composers Ibert, Milhaud, Koechlin, Francaix, Bozza and Tomasi providing the most light-hearted moments. By contrast, Winter is far more austere with Carl Nielsen’s famous Quintet, Estonian “minimalists” Erkki-Sven Tüür and Arvo Pärt, Lithuanian Peteris Vasks, and Australian Brett Dean’s atonal Winter Songs, settings of poems by e.e.cummings, sung by tenor Daniel Norman.

There has been a mix-up with the Summer and Autumn discs. Just play Disc 3 to access Summer Music dominated by the Americas, with Samuel Barber, Gunther Schuller, Elliott Carter, Heitor Villa-Lobos and Julio Medaglia among the composers. One simply cannot mistake Kazimierz Machala’s American Folk Suite (with Stephen Foster songs in the mix) for the German-dominated Autumn selections on Disc 2, which features Paul Hindemith’s Kleine Kammermusik and Septet with the left-leaning Hans Werner Henze’s Quintet and L’Autunno, music that is more accessible than otherwise imagined. Other than this quibble, there is much interesting repertoire to explore here.

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