Thursday, 16 January 2014

CD Reviews (The Straits Times, January 2014)

Piano Concerto No.1
Singapore Symphony Orchestra / SHUI LAN
BIS 2012 / *****
With this album, the Singapore Symphony Orchestra completes its cycle of Rachmaninov’s three symphonies. This is also the finest of the three recordings as Shui Lan and his charges, having worked on the Russian romantic’s music over the years, have his early rough and ready style spot on. The First Symphony in D minor was abandoned by Rachmaninov after its disastrous premiere in 1897, but was rediscovered and pieced together after his death. A raw diamond, this is his most original utterance despite its apparent flaws. Its brooding Slavic temperament, built upon the “vengeance motif” and influences from the Russian Orthodox church also are most palpable here.

Its existence puts into perspective Rachmaninov’s final work Symphonic Dances, which now sounds like the epilogue of a journey which this work fitfully started. Listen to the music’s sheer vehemence, paradoxical tenderness and vulnerability, all captured in a broad sweep of its four movements by the SSO. The coupling is also excellent, with young Russian virtuoso Yevgeny Sudbin making his mark in the early and lyrical First Piano Concerto (revised in 1917), a recording comparable with the best in the catalogue.

PROKOFIEV Piano Concerto No.3
BARTOK Piano Concerto No.2
Berlin Philharmonic / SIMON RATTLE
Sony Classical 88883732252 / ****1/2
This is Lang Lang’s first concerto disc for the Sony Classical label, and rare recorded excursion into music more modern than Rachmaninov. Both he and his famous partners have definite if not conventional ideas for the Prokofiev Third Piano Concerto. Running over half an hour, this is one of the slower versions of the work. Most play for about 28 minutes, while the composer himself clocked in under 25 minutes. This was achieved by deliberately slowing down certain sections in all movements while keeping the fast-paced pages up to speed. The grotesquery inherent in Prokofiev’s score invites latitude of interpretations, exploited here to the full without resorting to caricature.

If there is any pianist who could actually popularise Bartok’s Second Piano Concerto, the thorniest of the Hungarian composer’s trilogy, that might be Lang Lang. Their take is a tad leisurely at 30 minutes, but there is little sense of lagging behind. Instead the clarity of articulation in its neoclassical pages coupled with an overriding virtuosity is hard to ignore. The music’s primal rawness and aggressive edge is retained, but polished to a fine sheen in this recording. Who would have thought that Bartok could sound this friendly? It is imperative that these same forces get to bring out Prokofiev’s Second and Bartok’s Third piano concertos as well.

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