Thursday, 5 June 2014

CD Reviews (The Straits Times, June 2014)

Mirare 239 / ****1/2

This interesting concept album is a musical joy ride across the frontiers of American piano music, its title a fusion between the legendary Route 66 and Jack Kerouac’s coming-of-age beat classic On The Road. Each of the mostly slow and lyrical 18 tracks is represented by a quote from the novel, and there is little distinction between genres, whether classical, jazz, minimalist, contemporary or folk. John Adams’s soothing China Gates opens the anthology and this is followed by Keith Jarrett’s My Wild Irish Rose, Percy Grainger’s Lullaby and Samuel Barber’s Pas De Deux from his Souvenirs, all of which evoke a strong sense of nostalgia.

Within this realm, John Cage’s dreamy In A Landscape sits comfortably with selections of Bernstein’s aphoristic Anniversaries, and the candlelit glow of Chandeliers by Hyung-Ki Joo (of Igudesman & Joo comedy act fame) is gently echoed by the musings of Bill Evans. Soprano Natalie Dessay makes a cameo appearance in Cole Porter’s What Is This Thing Called Love?, sounding more sultry and smoky than ever thought possible. The Monaco-born pianist Shani Diluka, of Sri Lankan extraction, creates a piano sound that is crystalline and shimmering, and is beautifully recorded. 

The Symphony Edition
Deutsche Grammophon 479 1046 (41 CDs) / *****

This landmark box-set was issued in 2013 to mark the 80th birthday of Italian conductor Claudio Abbado (1933-2014). His death in January this year, following a prolonged battle against stomach cancer, has made listening to these performances all the more poignant. Abbado was a quiet and soft-spoken perfectionist, who demanded that the “truth” be found in the music rather than claiming to have special personal insights. Often he was accused to be undemonstrative or worse, even boring. This set emphatically disproves that notion.

Complete symphony cycles of Beethoven, Schubert, Mendelssohn, Brahms and Mahler are included, as well as selected symphonies by Haydn, Mozart and Bruckner. The “live” Beethoven symphonies with the Berlin Philharmonic (where he succeeded Herbert von Karajan as supremo) in the early 1990s are justly celebrated, as is his more recent Mahler cycle. What makes his outlook special may be found with the smaller orchestras, such as the Chamber Orchestra of Europe in Haydn and Schubert symphonies, and the Orchestra Mozart, which he founded, in the late Mozart symphonies. He was no period performance specialist, but how those performances come alive and sizzle. This is essential listening from one of the great conductors of the 20th century.

This set retails at $159.50
(excluding postage & packaging)  at

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