Thursday, 6 February 2014

CD Reviews (The Straits Times, February 2014)

Onyx Classics 4117 / ****1/2

The second album by French pianist Pascal Rogé and his Japanese-Indonesian wife Ami mines the rich vein of French orchestral music arranged for piano four hands. The chief attraction is the duo’s own transcription of Claude Debussy’s La Mer (The Sea), which is a joy from start to finish. Orchestral textures do not always translate well for the piano, which essentially serves as a percussion instrument in ensembles. In its three evocative movements, the imaginative scoring and pianistic touches ensures that one rarely misses the orchestra, unlike in Debussy’s own four hand arrangement which sounds disappointingly monochromatic. 

This criticism also applies to his own transcription of Prelude to the Afternoon of the Fawn, where the harp arpeggios are surprisingly omitted. Trust his colleague and rival Maurice Ravel to infuse both colour and urgency in Fêtes (from Three Nocturnes), and whose own Mother Goose Suite and Rapsodie Espagnole (Spanish Rhapsody) are both vibrant and idiomatic. The unusual inclusion here is Saint-Saëns’s little known Scherzo, which delights in its play of modernisms, including using the whole tone scale and augmented triads to shock and tickle. Fun and marvellous stuff indeed. 

The Teng Ensemble / ****1/2

Eight is the debut album of The Teng Ensemble, the stylish local Chinese instrumental crossover group. The figure also refers to its number of members and tracks on the disc, all of which composed or arranged by its guitarist Benjamin Lim Yi. The music is decidedly accessible, founded on oriental melodic writing with a strong flavour of film music augmented by electronica. Well-known melodies like Guan Shan Yue and Xiao Bai Cai (Little Cabbage) get a contemporary update without losing the spirit or flavour of the original.

Leader Samuel Wong’s pipa and Darrel Xin’s erhu, both prize-winning virtuosos, are highlighted in most of the tracks, while countertenor Phua Ee Kia’s vocals lights up Korean drama-influenced Vals (Waltz), vigorous dance number Zi Ye Ge and the titular Eight to good effect. There is a nod to Japanese anime in Un Dia De Septiembre which highlights Patrick Ngo’s yangqin, Johnny Chia’s guzheng and Gerald Teo’s cello. Yang Ji Wei’s sheng completes the hip octet. This is high class easy listening which does not dumb down.
This CD is available at Teng Ensemble concerts and on iTunes.

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