Thursday, 19 December 2013

CD Reviews (The Straits Times, December 2013)

Hyperion 67967 / *****

This album of delightful short pieces and encores by the London-based Australian pianist Piers Lane has a strong Anglo-Australian and English-speaking flavour about it. The transcriptions by Dohnanyi and Rachmaninov, a Poulenc Nocturne and Karg-Elert Arabesque are the only exceptions. Tasmanian Katharine Parker’s Down Longford Way and Melbournian Percy Grainger’s Irish Tune From County Derry (or Londonderry Air), both of folksong charm, are the bookends to this journey of discovery. Who but the always-inquisitive Lane would have unearthed gems like fellow Queenslander Regis Danillon’s glorious transcription of A Nightingale Sang At Berkeley Square, Robert Keane’s The Tiger Tango or American Mark Saya’s Barcarolles (quite artfully combining both Chopin and Offenbach)?

Closer to home are his father Alan Lane’s coruscating Toccata and Anthony Doheny’s Toccata For Piers Lane, the latter written when the composer was a Franciscan friar. Familiar to some are Billy Mayerl’s Marigold, Zez Confrey’s Dizzy Fingers and Alec Templeton’s Bach Goes To Town, jazz-inflected baubles all. YouTube addicts might also recognise Dudley Moore’s hilarious Beethoven Parody based on the Colonel Bogey March. The longest track is veteran broadcaster (not the Hannibal Lecter actor) Antony Hopkins’s Variations On A Well-Known Theme, which is Happy Birthday To You written in the styles of Mozart, Beethoven, Brahms, Chopin, Liszt and Prokofiev. Lane’s delectable touch and keen sense of wit make this selection a totally winning one.

plays Russian Concertos
Brilliant Classics 9240 (3 CDs) / ****

Mstislav Rostropovich (1927-2007) was without doubt the greatest cellist of the 20th century. Despite being cloistered as a subject in the repressive Soviet Union, he inspired and premiered many of the great cello works of the era, much of which is still performed today. His 1950s recordings of Prokofiev’s Sinfonia Concertante (1954) and Nikolai Myaskovsky’s Cello Concerto (1944) on EMI Classics remain definitive, but here are 1972 live performances with the Moscow Philharmonic conducted by Kirill Kondrashin from the Gostelradio archives that capture a spontaneity and immediacy that is lacking in the studio.

The same applies to Shostakovich’s First Cello Concerto (1959), with the USSR State Symphony led by Gennady Rozhdestvensky, recorded in 1961. Listen past the audience and extraneous noise, and one understands the fierce intensity and irony that colours this music. All three works eschew atonalism but blend dissonance with the bittersweet warmth of human tragedy, qualities which Rostropovich clearly identified with. Also in this box set are Tchaikovsky’s Rococo Variations, Glazunov’s Minstrel’s Song, Khachaturian’s Concerto-Rhapsody and 20th century concertos by Boris Tishchenko and Vladimir Vlasov. Do not expect good sound but performances that truly sizzle.

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