Thursday, 24 April 2014

CD Reviews (The Straits Times, April 2014)

Chandos 10793 / *****

Make no mistake, this is about the greatest disc of opera transcriptions by Franz Liszt since Jean-Yves Thibaudet’s mid-1990s anthology on Decca. There is some duplication of works but in the big showpieces, French-Canadian pianist Louis Lortie holds his own against the best in the catalogue. In the Wagner Tannhäuser Overture which opens the set, he commands an orchestral-like sonority, including the spectacular echoing effects of the Pilgrim’s Chorus. For his sheer sweep, no one need miss Moiseiwitsch, Cziffra or Bolet now.

The Reminiscences de Don Juan after Mozart’s opera builds upon the duet La ci darem la mano before riotously dispatching the Drinking Song with gay abandon. The ad-libbed bits to the Waltz from Gounod’s Faust are also deliciously crafted. For contrasts, there are also quieter pieces, including the Romance to the Evening Star (Tannhäuser), the Spinning Chorus from Wagner’s Flying Dutchman and the best bits from Tristan and Isolde. The latter take the form of a feverish Liebestod (Love-Death) and Lortie’s own transcription of the Prelude. In terms of stunning pianism, this one is hard to beat.

ISSERLIS Piano Music
Hyperion 68025 / ****1/2

Julius Isserlis (1888-1968) was the grandfather of British cellist Steven Isserlis. Born in Chisinau (now present-day Moldova), he was schooled in Kiev, Moscow and in Western Europe. His teachers included Puchalski (who taught Horowitz), Taneyev (Tchaikovsky’s favourite student) and Widor (of organ Toccata fame). Emigrating from Austria to England before the Anschluss in 1938, he was spared from the Nazi holocaust. He wrote mostly short works for the piano, proudly bearing his Russian heritage. These are heard here in very attractive and idiomatic performances by young British pianist Sam Haywood.

Listen first to his Ballades Op.3, their Chopinesque titles belying a debt of influence to the young Scriabin and Rachmaninov. The E flat minor Ballade shares a theme rather similar to Rachmaninov’s Elegie (Op.3 No.1), also in the same key. His shorter Preludes, several of which have sequestered and “lost” in Russian archives, are equally enjoyable. Also distinctive are the orientalisms in the Prelude Exotique and virtuoso writing in Toccata in Fourths, Flight of the Swallow and The Bumble Bee, all of which make lovely encores. Steven Isserlis makes a cameo appearance in the Ballade in A minor for cello and piano, 9 minutes of Tchaikovskyan melancholy. Well worth exploring.

No comments: