Thursday, 27 March 2014

CD Reviews (The Straits Times, March 2014)

BEETHOVEN Piano Concertos Nos.4 & 5
Singapore Symphony / CHOO HOEY
Meridian 84172 / ****

In the Singapore Symphony Orchestra’s 35th anniversary year, it is perhaps timely to revive the fortunes of the orchestra’s first and only Beethoven recording. Occasionally remembered as the SSO’s “forgotten” disc, this also happened to be its first recording of mainstream repertory, and the first for a UK-based label. Amazingly this 1989 release of Beethoven’s Fourth and Fifth Piano Concertos with the late British pianist John Bingham, former Head of Piano at Trinity College, is still available on sale.

Choo Hoey had already trained the orchestra to be a more-than-competent accompanist and the results are palpable, with full-blooded tuttis and sensitive playing in the central slow movements. Bingham (1942-2003) studied with Stanislav Neuhaus at the Moscow Conservatory and was a rising name in concert circles. His trenchant and totally musical readings of both concertos are tempered by the marginally over-sharp tuning on the piano. Although greater recordings of both works are in plentiful supply, this one is more than just for die-hard SSO collectors and sentimentalists.

This CD is available at $23 (excluding P&P) from:

ZAREBSKI Piano Quintet
ZELENSKI Piano Quartet
Szymanowski Quartet
Hyperion 67905 / ****1/2

The Piano Quintet in G minor by Polish composer Juliusz Zarebski (1854-1885) has gained a measure of popularity thanks to two recent recordings by Argentine-born virtuoso Martha Argerich. This recognition outside of Poland is belated for this one-time favourite student of Franz Liszt, who died from tuberculosis shortly after completing the work, which was only published in 1931. The music, though unabashedly Romantic, is harmonically adventurous, not least in the piquant Scherzo and Finale, which share the same thematic material but diverges in totally different paths.

The Piano Quartet in C minor by compatriot Wladislaw Zelenski (1837-1921) is more conventional, stemming from its influences by Schumann and Brahms. However a melancholy typical of Slavic character pervades, and the memorable opening theme could easily have come from the young Rachmaninov. British pianist and specialist in Polish music Jonathan Plowright is well supported by the Szymanowski Quartet from Poland, and the performances of both works are exemplary for their passion and emotional sweep.

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