Thursday, 28 August 2014

CD Reviews (The Straits Times, August 2014)

Complete Piano Concerto Recordings
Sony Classical 88843013272 (19CDs) 

The French pianist-turned-conductor Philippe Entremont was only 16 when he won the Marguerite Long Piano Competition in 1951, and was soon signed on a long-term record contract with Columbia Records. These classic recordings with the great American orchestras, mostly under the direction of conductors Leonard Bernstein and Eugene Ormandy, date from 1958 to 1981. Included are a raft of Romantic concertos (Liszt, Tchaikovsky, Grieg and Rachmaninov), major French repertoire (Saint-Saens, Faure, D’Indy and Ravel) and contemporary works (Bartok, Stravinsky, Gershwin, Milhaud, Khachaturian, Bernstein and Jolivet).  

Many of these have been reissued in various guises but remain examples of whole-hearted pianism that is unafraid to wear heart-on-sleeve. His playing was generous, full-blooded and passionate, which won him much favour among the Americans. New to the CD catalogue are his Mozart recordings (Piano Concertos Nos.13, 17 and 22) which reveal much sensitivity and sympathy for the idiom. In honour of Entremont’s 80th birthday this year, all the discs display the original sleeve-art from the LPs as well as the programme notes. Here is a treat and boon for all nostalgics. 

POULENC Complete Chamber Works
London Conchord Ensemble
Champs Hill Records 028 (2 CDs) / ****1/2

Francis Poulenc (1899-1963) was the best loved and universally performed of the French composers known as Les Six, a loosely knit group that made its name in Paris following the First World War. His chamber music has some of his most approachable music, with a gift of lyricism balanced by generous doses of wit, irony and poignancy. He is one of very few composers who could sound both flippant and serious within the same breath.

The five sonatas on the first disc, relatively later works, are already staple repertoire for each of the instruments. The very beautiful Flute Sonata (1957) is the most familiar, followed by the substantial and sometimes jazzy Cello Sonata (1948), with the athletic Clarinet Sonata (1962) and bittersweet Violin (1943) and Oboe Sonatas (1962) not far behind.

The second disc highlights a wealth of music for woodwind and brass, with the gaiety and drollery of the Sextet (1939) and Trio for piano, oboe and bassoon (1926) being particularly infectious. The standout solemn work is the Elegie for horn and piano (1957) written in memory of the British horn virtuoso Dennis Brain. The shorter sonatas and pieces for guitar, clarinet, flute and piccolo also show Poulenc as a master of miniatures. The London Conchord Ensemble led by pianist Julian Milford is an excellent guide to these treasures, on an album which retails at budget price.   

No comments: