Thursday, 13 March 2014

CD Reviews (The Straits Times, March 2014)

Onyx Classics 4106 / ****1/2

Domenico Scarlatti wrote over 555 sonatas for the keyboard, mostly conceived as exercises for Princess Maria Barbara of the Spanish royal court. These are short pieces in binary form (comprising two halves subject to repetition), very different from the “classical sonata”. Marvellous recital discs of Scarlatti on the piano have come from Vladimir Horowitz, Mikhail Pletnev and Yevgeny Sudbin over the years, but this one from young German pianist Joseph Moog has a difference. His selection includes originals as well as transcriptions.

19th and 20th century pianist-composers like Carl Tausig and Ignaz Friedman saw it fit to “improve” on Scarlatti’s conception by amplifying voices, adding harmonies and transposing to a different keys, all in the name of enhancing concert performances. The most famous example being the Pastorale, where Scarlatti’s most familiar D minor Sonata (K.9) is now heard in E minor and with richer textures by Tausig’s hand. Friedman’s treatment of the Sonata (K.523) is similarly filled Godowskyan flourishes. The familiar Aria in D minor (K.32) is heard both in its simple unadorned form, and Walter Gieseking’s elaboration which turns it into a modern sounding chaconne with short variations. Moog performs these gems with great clarity and a sense of fantasy that is hard to resist.

The HMV Recordings (1947-1952)
APR 6011 (2 CDs) / ****1/2

Listeners of a certain vintage will fondly remember Dame Moura Lympany (1916-2005), the grand doyenne of English pianists and revered figure of high glamour. Born Mary Gertrude Johnstone, she astutely changed her name to reflect her Irish ancestry and Russophile leanings, thus gaining a certain exotic mystique. Although she has been often associated with the music of Rachmaninov and Khachaturian, these recordings show her sparkling form in diverse repertoire. She projects a grand demeanour in Schumann’s Symphonic Etudes and Brahms’s Paganini Variations (Book II), with technique to match.

In Liszt’s fiendish Feux Follets, Polonaise No.2 and Mephisto Waltz No.1, as with the rollicking Toccatas by Ravel and Prokofiev, the music takes wing and catches fire. The concertante works are also enjoyable, Mendelssohn’s ebullient First Piano Concerto being a particular favourite of hers. The glittering finish to Franck’s Symphonic Variations is only matched by the mercurial Scherzo from the Concerto Symphonique No.4 by Henry Litolff. Do excuse the mono sound, but here is delectable pianism from the past of the highest order.

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