Thursday, 19 June 2014

CD Reviews (The Straits Times, June 2014)

Decca 478 3533 / *****

This is a sparkling anthology of piano music from the homeland of celebrated Brazilian pianist Nelson Freire. Brazil’s most famous composer Heitor Villa-Lobos (1887-1959) accounts for 16 of the 30 tracks, all short pieces with strong melodic threads and infectious rhythmic interest. In Alma Brasileira (Soul of Brazil), Caboclo’s Legend, Saudades de Selvas Brasileiras (Longing for the Brazilian Jungle) No.2 and Valsa da Dor (Waltz of Grief), the listener is introduced to the spirit of “saudade”, a state of mind understood only by Brazilians equating with nostalgia and yearning. In Carnaval das Criancas (Children’s Carnival) and movements from Cirandas, Prole do Bebe (Doll’s Family) and Guia Pratico (Practical Guide), the simplicity of childhood songs is the main focus.

The other composers are less well known, but Carmago Guarneri’s Danca Negra, Alexandre Levy’s Tango Brasileiro , Joaquim Netto’s Minha Terra (My Country) and Francisco Mignone’s Congada occupy a similar ethno-musical pigeon hole as Cuban composer Ernesto Lecuona’s famous dances. Freire lavishes much love and missionary zeal in these numbers and there is rarely a moment in the 74 minutes that sounds repetitious or outlives its welcome. This album is very enjoyable and hence ardently recommended.   

21st Singapore International Piano Festival
School of the Arts Concert Hall
Saturday 28 June 2014 at 7.30 pm
Tickets available at SISTIC

Deutsche Grammophon 479 1725 (2 CDs) / *****

Just a few years back, the American violinist Hilary Hahn commissioned 26 composers worldwide to write an encore piece for violin and piano lasting about five minutes in playing time. A further work was selected from a field of over 400 “blind” entries. The results are fascinating but somewhat predictable. Presumably every composer wishes to have his or her piece performed more than once, hence all chose the tonal and aurally accessible path. From Briton Mark-Anthony Turnage’s Hilary’s Hoedown (2 minutes) to Azeri Franghiz Ali-Zadeh’s Impulse (6 minutes), the pieces fall roughly into three broad categories: scherzo-like and virtuosic, still and ruminative, and ethnically-influenced in the case of Asian composers.

Hahn’s technical armamentarium seems limitless as she negotiates a multitude of styles, flavours and moods. For a sample of diversity, try Avner Dorman’s toccata-like and minimalistic Memory Games, the raga-simulations of Kala Ramnath’s Aalap and Tarana, Michiru Oshima’s sentimental Memories, David del Tredici’s meditative and hymn-like Farewell, or bluegrass fiddling in Mason Bates’s Ford’s Farm. Nowhere does she and her piano-partner sound less than committed.  Enough of Bach, Paganini or Ysaye to close a concert. Thanks to Hahn, these new encores will be winningly received.

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