Thursday, 17 April 2014

CD Reviews (The Straits Times, April 2014)

The King’s Singers
Signum Classics 341 (2 CDs) / *****

Where would popular music of the 20th century be without the contribution of Broadway and Hollywood? Nostalgia comes in big doses with this selection of 17 songs by Cole Porter, Richard Rodgers, Jerome Kern, Irving Berlin and others. The King’s Singers bring out their patented warm and fuzzy sound, where solos are shared by its six members and close harmonisations are de rigeuer. Porter’s Night And Day, Begin The Beguine and Let’s Misbehave all take on new vibes.  Even the wedding dinner favourite When I Fall In Love by Victor Young does not sound cheesy here.

The a cappella arrangements by Alexander L’Estrange are slick, highly enjoyable and in certain cases, outrageously witty. Whoever thought of treating Berlin’s Cheek To Cheek, its first lines being “Heaven, I’m in heaven”, to the accompaniment of In Paradisum from Faure’s Requiem? Oh so naughty and nice. The second and shorter disc of eight songs includes orchestral accompaniment from the South Jutland Symphony (Denmark) conducted by David Firman. Just to quote one of the songs, this album is “delightful, delicious, and its de-lovely”.

Complete EMI Recordings
EMI Classics 722347 2 (15 CDs) / ****1/2

The Romania-born conductor Constantin Silvestri (1913-1969) remains in the memories of record collectors, not least for raising the profile of the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra from a regional outfit to one of world-class stature. He had the reputation of being a perfectionist, but was comfortable working in a provincial centre where he had more autonomy and rehearsal time.

His collected EMI recordings include also performances by The Philharmonia, Paris Conservatory, London and Vienna Philharmonic Orchestras. A forte was in Russian and Eastern European repertoire, and here are riveting readings of the last three symphonies of Dvorak and Tchaikovsky, as well as showpieces by Enesco, Mussorgsky, Rimsky-Korsakov, Bartok and Shostakovich.

Even in 1950s monaural sound, the feverish intensity in the performances is well captured. Special mention must be made of his 1967 stereo recording of English music, which has become a classic. Rarely has the massed string voices in Vaughan Williams’s Fantasia On Thomas Tallis been better or more atmospherically captured. The same composer’s The Wasps Overture and Elgar’s In The South (Alassio) are totally vivid and gripping. For these, his cult status has been well deserved.   

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