Thursday, 3 July 2014

CD Reviews (The Straits Times, July 2014)

VERDI Requiem
Soloists with Orchestra 
& Chorus of La Scala
Decca 478 5245 (2 CDs) / *****

Once every decade or so comes a recording of Giuseppe Verdi’s Requiem Mass that stands heads and shoulders above the rest. This “opera in ecclesiastical garb”, as its early critics had hailed, has much to do with the cast of soloists as the conductor, chorus and orchestra. In this La Scala live recording, released to commemorate the Verdi bicentenary in 2013, boasts of as stellar and balanced a foursome as tenor Jonas Kaufmann, bass Rene Pape, soprano Anja Harteros and mezzo Elina Garanca.

Their impressive entries in that order of appearance in the Kyrie Eleison pretty much sets the tone for the rest of the 85 minute long masterpiece. Their arias, duets and ensembles are equally touching, not least the unison voices of the Agnus Dei. The chorus is magnificent in its portrayal of shock and awe in the fire and brimstone Dies Irae (returning ever so often as to remind the listener of the doom to come), as well as the fugal intricacies of the joyous Sanctus. It is Barenboim’s masterly pacing of the epic and attention to detail that also makes this outing rather special. By the rapt and quiet end of the Libera Me, one is chastened and humbled, which was the original intention of the work anyway.           

PROKOFIEV Complete Works for Violin
BBC Phiharmonic / Gianandrea Noseda
Chandos 10787 (2 CDs) / *****

After the critical success in the Violin Sonatas and Violin Concertos of Bela Bartok, young American violinist James Ehnes now surveys Russian composer Sergei Prokofiev’s violin sonatas and concertos, conveniently housed in two well-filled discs. He successfully negotiates the virtuosic turns, vitriolic dissonances and bittersweet lyricism which distinguish Prokofiev’s style. The fairy tale world in the First Violin Concerto (1923) seems at odds with the brusque percussive manner of the First Violin Sonata (1946), but both receive convincing and stylish performances that emphasise beauty over brutality.

The Second Violin Concerto (1935) and Second Violin Sonata (1944, derived from the Flute Sonata), are mellower and more inviting works which come from the same world as his popular and melodious ballets. The generous fillers are two further sonatas (for unaccompanied violin and two violins) and the melancholic Five Melodies (Op.35bis) which are transcriptions of his wordless vocalises. Ehnes gets premium support from pianist Andrew Armstrong in the sonatas and a very sympathetic BBC Philharmonic led by Italian conductor Gianandrea Noseda in the concertos. This sonatas and concertos appear on separate discs, and this set is hard to better.

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