Thursday, 15 May 2014

CD Reviews (The Straits Times, May 2014)

JORGE BOLET His Earliest Recordings
APR  6009 (2 CDs) / *****

The Cuban-American pianist Jorge Bolet (1914-1990) found fame and celebrity only late in his illustrious career. The Decca recordings of his last decade find a tired and sadly worn-out virtuoso, so the re-issue of his first four LP recordings from the early 1950s are a boon. These reveal an artist in his prime. The first disc comprises shorter solo works, including idiomatic Mendelssohn, Beethoven and Liszt. His close identification with the Hispanic music of Granados, Falla, Albeniz and Lecuona is endearing, and those who yearn for prestidigitation will have much to enjoy in Saint-Saens’s Etude in the Form of a Waltz and Moszkowski’s En Automne, unabashed showpieces which he delighted in.   

Bolet’s 1953 recording of Prokofiev’s Second Piano Concerto with the Cincinnati Symphony conducted by Thor Johnson on the Remington label was the first commercial recording of this now favourite concerto. Despite a cut in the 1st movement cadenza, this reading stands the test of time through by its magisterial sweep and emotional heft, with little of the banging that invariably accompanies Prokofiev. The four Chopin Scherzos, mercurial and playful in his hands, complete this invaluable anthology.

BRAHMS Double Concerto
MOOR Concerto for 2 Cellos
QIN LI-WEI, Cello et al
Yong Siew Toh Conservatory Orchestra / Jason Lai
Cello Classics 1031 / ****1/2

This is the first commercial recording by Singapore’s Yong Siew Toh Conservatory Orchestra, presently led by the UK-born Chinese conductor Jason Lai. The obvious attraction is an excellent live recording of Johannes Brahms’s Double Concerto in A minor (Op.102), with violinist Qian Zhou and cellist Qin Li-Wei, respective department heads, in starring roles.

There is an obvious chemistry going on with each voice exerting itself yet blending into a harmonious whole. The 1st movement’s opening cadenza is breathtaking in that it immediately captures the attention, while the gentle unison playing in the slow movement is beautifully judged. The Hungarian-styled Rondo finale swaggers ever so inexorably to a chorus of cheers. 

Almost completely obscure is the Double Cello Concerto by Hungarian-Jewish composer Emanuel Moor (1863-1931), a conservatively romantic work composed for the stellar husband-and-wife cello pairing of Pablo Casals and Guilhermina Suggia. Even if its four movements are not as memorable as the Brahms, there is lot to be enjoyed in its lyricism and tightly-knit writing for the instruments, helmed by Qin and British cellist Sebastian Comberti. This unusual coupling is well worth exploring.   

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