Thursday, 18 September 2014

CD Reviews (The Straits Times, September 2014)

Viktoria Mullova &Friends
Onyx Classics 4130 / ****1/2

This is Russia-born violinist Viktoria Mullova’s third non-classical album, literally thousands of miles away from her baroque violin renderings of Bach and famous Tchaikovsky, Sibelius and Shostakovich concerto recordings. The music of Brazil in arrangements by guitarist Carioca Freitas allows her to let down her hair in tunes by Antonio Carlos Jobim, Zequinha de Abreu and others. There is an element of improvisation on her part but not on the same level as Stephane Grappelli, Roby Lakatos or Mark O’Connor, just to name great fiddlers on the other side of the crossover divide. Classical musicians tend to be more linear in their approach and extemporise far less freely.

Nevertheless, Mullova brings a wistful singing tone in numbers like Arnaldo Baptista’s Balada de um Louco, Pixinguinha’s Rosa and Jobim’s Falando de amor and Dindi, but can swing with the best in Abreu’s Tico Tico no fuba, Claudio Nucci’s Toada or Waldir Azevedo’s Brasileirinho. Her stock-in-trade acerbic tone is no impediment here, instead her Stradivarius positively shines through the rhythmic landscape like a laser beam. She is partnered by husband cellist Matthew Barley, guitarist Freitas with Luis Guello and Paul Clarvis on a host of traditional Brazilian percussion instruments. The only regret is the disc’s short timing, just 48 minutes of musical sunshine.

The King’s Singers
Charivari Agréable /Kah-Ming Ng
Signum Classics 198 / *****

Its seems that posterity has decided that German composer Johann Pachelbel (1653-1706) is remembered only by his Canon in D, played ad nauseum in wedding ceremonies the world over. His musical career as church organist and provider of sacred music was centred in and around Thuringia, and he had close links with the famous Bach family. His Vespers, dating from the 1790s, were composed for late night services, taking the form of a liturgical Ingressus (a call to God for help) and Magnificat (Mary’s song of praise magnifying the Lord). These scores would have been lost if not for Pachelbel’s fourth son Carl Theodorus depositing the manuscripts in Oxford on his emigration to the New World.

The music contains the charm and purity of the German baroque, yet to be touched by the contrapuntal complexities of J.S.Bach or Handel’s propensity for theatricality and the spectacular. This collection performed by the all-men voices of The King’s Singers and Oxford-based ensemble Charivari Agréable led by Malaysia-born harpsichordist Ng Kah-Ming includes five Ingressi and two Magnificats. Two purely instrumental Sonatas by Pachelbel’s contemporaries Johann Krieger and Johann Kerll have been inserted into this marvellously conceived programme. Listen and be enchanted and spiritually moved.

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