Thursday, 16 October 2014

CD Reviews (The Straits Times, October 2014)

The Deutsche Grammophon Recordings
DG 482 0593 6 (10 CDs) / ****1/2

Those fortunate to have caught Russian pianist Lazar Berman (1930-2005) in concert and recital in Singapore during the mid- to late-1990s witnessed an old keyboard lion at the tail end of an illustrious but politically chequered career. His technique had already frayed at the edge but he was still able to make the piano roar with a clangourous and majestic sonority. This box-set documents his short but meteoric partnership with the German yellow label, which lasted only five years (1975-80) and covered a narrow repertoire of Romantic and Russian music. First listen to the concertos – Tchaikovsky’s First (conducted by Herbert von Karajan) and both Liszt concertos (with Carlo Maria Giulini) for a glimpse of his broad sweep and firm grasp of the epic.

For the solos, the three books of Liszt’s Années De Pélérinage (Years Of Pilgrimage) are a must-listen, where passion and poetry find a heady confluence in his hands. His Rachmaninov is limited to the early Six Moments Musicaux Op.16, which he championed brilliantly, the Corelli Variations and a small selection of Préludes. Mussorgsky’s mighty Pictures At An Exhibition receives a trenchant exposition, which is repeated in Prokofiev’s Second and Eighth Sonatas. For some reason, Prokofiev’s Romeo And Juliet (Op.75), Chopin’s mature Polonaises and Shostakovich’s Preludes Op.34 were not recorded complete. For old-school Russian school pianism in an unabashed grand manner, Berman is still the man to beat.

ROZSA Film Music
BBC Philharmonic / RUMON GAMBA
Chandos 10806  / *****

It was the looming threat of the Second World War that sent Hungarian composer Miklos Rozsa (1907-1995) fleeing from Europe to London and later Hollywood where he established himself as one of the great movie composers. Between 1937 and 1985, he composed for 95 films, garnering 13 Academy Award nominations and 3 Oscars. This instalment of Chandos’s highly-acclaimed Film Music series draws from four movies, displaying his exotic and lushly-orchestrated scores to spectacular effect.

Over half an hour is devoted to Rudyard Kipling’s Jungle Book (1942), of which the suite with narration was made in the manner of Prokofiev’s Peter And The Wolf. Even without the words, the score is highly evocative even if it sounds more like music for a story set in China rather than India! These were the days before the rise of ethnomusicology. Arguably more convincing was his music for epics on Middle Eastern themes, such as The Thief Of Baghdad (1939-40), which effectively uses techniques he learnt from compatriot Bela Bartok’s music.

Most familiar is his suite from Ben-Hur (1960), which truly deserved an Oscar for its portrayal of its quasi-Biblical subject. One can already envision Charlton Heston’s escapades, his romance with Haya Harareet and the rousing Parade Of The Charioteers. These performances by the BBC Philharmonic under Rumon Gamba elevate film music to the realm of concert classics.    

No comments: