Thursday, 7 August 2014

CD REVIEWS (The Straits Times, August 2014)

BEETHOVEN Piano Concerto No.3
MOZART Piano Concerto No.23
Minnesota Orchestra / Osmo Vänskä
BIS 1978 / ****1/2

This masterful coupling brings together the two piano concertos by Mozart and Beethoven set in the key of C minor, often associated with tragedy and high drama. Russian pianist Yevgeny Sudbin performs the concertos in chronological order, revealing how Mozart’s 1786 masterpiece may have influenced Beethoven in his composition completed in 1804. The main themes in the first movements of both are related to the C minor triad, with Mozart being the more harmonically adventurous. Ultimately both composers find a catharsis in their own unique and inimitable ways. While Mozart remains gloomy to the end, Beethoven unreserved joy caps his only minor key concerto, a gambit that is later repeated in his Fifth Symphony.  

Being a composer himself, Sudbin crafts his own cadenzas for the Mozart, which are bold and innovative. Although departing from the classical sensibilities of the rococo period, Mozart would have heartily approved. Beethoven’s own cadenza is used for his concerto although one wonders what Sudbin might have come up with. There is little to be found wanting in both performances, excellently supported by the Minnesota Orchestra and its Finnish Music Director Osmo Vänskä, who has since returned after the orchestra’s period of lockdown. More can be hoped from this successful partnership. 

CATOIRE Piano Trio / Piano Quartet
Hyperion 67512 / ****1/2

This is not a new disc but one that merits highlighting because the music of Russian composer Georgy Catoire (1861-1926) deserves revival, to be heard in concert now and then. He was a contemporary of Anton Arensky and Alexander Glazunov but studied with the German Karl Klindworth, a disciple of Wagner. Thus his music is more Germanic and modern-sounding in character but retaining the typically dark hues of Slavic melancholy. The Piano Trio in F minor (1900) in three movements is a good start point as it regularly reminds the listener of early Rachmaninov but with the chromatic colourings of the Wagner-influenced Belgian Cesar Franck. A rather enjoyable 27 minutes of late Romanticism it is.

The Piano Quartet in A minor (1916) is rather denser in textures and not as readily approachable. Although slightly shorter than the trio, it does have a number of memorable moments, including in the paradoxical fairy-tale lightness and irony of its finale. Repeated listening will be readily repaid in dividends. In between is a short Elegy in D minor (1916) for violin and piano, which serves like a welcome interlude. These very convincing performances come from Room Music, formed by pianist Stephen Coombs, violist Yoko Inoue and two members of the renowned Chilingirian Quartet. Here is a much-needed tonic for those who tire of Tchaikovsky and his circle.

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