Thursday, 12 June 2014

CD Reviews (The Straits Times, June 2014)

Gold Medalist, 14th Van Cliburn
International Piano Competition
Harmonia Mundi 907605 / ****1/2

In June last year, the Ukraine-born and Moscow-trained pianist Vadym Kholodenko was awarded 1st Prize in the 2013 Van Cliburn International Piano Competition. This live recording of selected preliminary and semi-final round performances demonstrates why his triumph was wholly deserving.

Although his version of Igor Stravinsky’s Three Movements From Petrushka was neither the fastest nor most accurate account in the competition, it came across as the most convincing because of the canny sense of pacing and choreographic grace. Instead of the all-too-common mad rush that passes for virtuosity, his magisterial control and narrative sweep made for a most gripping conception of the ballet’s earthy energy and neuroticism.

His audacity in programming eleven of Franz Liszt’s Twelve Transcendental Études was matched by his execution. The requisites of power, heft and endurance in MazeppaWild Jagd and Étude No.10 (Allegro Agitato Molto) coexist happily with the sensitivity and finesse in Feux folletsPaysage and the rapturous Harmonies du soir. An earlier studio recording of Ricordanza was inserted to complete the set. This is what it takes to be pianistic world-beater.  

TAN DUN Concerto for Orchestra
Orchestral Theatre / Symphonic Poem
Hong Kong Philharmonic / TAN DUN
Naxos 8.570608 / ****1/2

Although the Chinese composer Tan Dun is universally known for his martial arts film scores (Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon), he remains a serious symphonist one who successfully marries the disparate worlds of Chinese music, theatre and culture with Western aesthetics. His Concerto for Orchestra (2012) was derived from his Four Secret Roads of Marco Polo commissioned by the Berlin Philharmonic. Here Tan imagines the a geographical, musical and spiritual journey taken by the Venetian adventurer-explorer as he confronts the exotic East before arriving in the Forbidden City of Kublai Khan. The Asian-ness of his soundscapes is implied in its instrumental timbres and rhythms rather than the use of actual themes.

Orchestral Theatre (1990) was one of his earliest successes, a dramatic and atonal work that relives the shamanistic rituals in his native Hunan. The Symphonic Poem on Three Notes (2012) is a fantasy on the notes A-B natural-C (La-Si-Do), which sounds like the name of its dedicatee Placido Domingo, a gift for his 70th birthday. Listen to this most accessible work first and then move onto the picaresque scenes of the Concerto before ending with the more abstract and mystical musings in Orchestral Theatre. Tan’s mastery of orchestral textures is enthralling and exhaustive in its use of tonal colours and occasional vocal effects, and the invigorating performances he brings out from the Hong Kong Philharmonic are exemplary.

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