Thursday, 27 February 2014

CD Reviews (The Straits Times, February 2014)

Complete Album Collection
Sony Classical 88765407232
(28 CDs + DVD) / *****

Exactly one year ago, the American pianist Van Cliburn (1934-2012) died from metastatic bone cancer. Although he shot to fame by winning 1st prize at the inaugural Tchaikovsky International Piano Competition in 1958, his meteoric concert career lasted all about twenty years before a self-imposed retirement. This handsome box-set encompasses his complete recordings on the RCA Victor label and a documentary DVD. He had a smallish repertoire of mostly Romantic works but nothing was less than whole-hearted and conceived on a grand scale.

The concertos by Tchaikovsky (No.1), Rachmaninov (Nos.2 and 3) and Prokofiev (No.3) give an insight to his lush, all-embracing sound, outsized technique, and are justly celebrated. Also not to be ignored was his magisterial sweep in Edward MacDowell’s underrated Second Piano Concerto. Of the larger solo works, sonatas by Liszt, Chopin, Rachmaninov (No.2), Prokofiev (No.6) and Barber exhibit that passion and largesse that made him a hero. Given his celeb status and popular appeal, the record label offered him the luxury of issuing albums titled My Favourite Encores, Chopin’s Greatest Hits, The World’s Favourite Piano Music and the like, where his mastery of smaller works is particularly delectable. Here was a pianist in a million, one who will be sorely missed.

Swedish Wind Ensemble / Christian Lindberg
BIS 1640 / ****1/2

The saxophone is a versatile instrument equally at home with the classics and jazz, a quality exploited by many 20th century composers. From one of the world’s great classical saxophonists comes this marvellous album of saxophone concertante works. The main work is Frenchman Darius Milhaud’s La Creation Du Monde (The Creation Of The Earth), a short ballet which uses Afro-American themes and rhythms to depict the coming of an African Adam and Eve. Composed in 1923, it was one of the first works, like Gershwin’s Rhapsody In Blue, to successfully marry jazz and classical idioms.
The other major work is American Paul Creston’s Alto Saxophone Concerto (1944), whose eclecticism and tonal allure follows in the manner of Copland, Barber and Bernstein. The saxophone “crosses over” on numerous instances in Roger Boutry’s Divertimento (1963), Anders Emilsson’s Salute The Band (2006, composed for the 100th anniversary of the Swedish Wind Ensemble), and arrangements of John William’s Catch Me If You Can and Astor Piazzolla’s tango Escualo (Shark). French virtuoso Claude Delangle gets de luxe accompaniment by conducted by no less than the great trombonist Christian Lindberg. A must-listen for wind enthusiasts.

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