Thursday, 23 October 2014

CD Reviews (The Straits Times, October 2014)

The Early Years
Deutsche Grammophon 479 2936 (5 CDs) / ****1/2

Like a certain Vanessa-Mae, David Garrett is today acknowledged as a highly successful crossover violinist with definite pop-star appeal. Like EMI Classics which trotted out Vanessa-Mae’s childhood classical recordings, the German yellow label has done the same, but Garrett’s portfolio appears more substantial and far better marketed. The German-American, born in 1980 as David Christian Bongartz, was recorded between 1993 and 1997, revealing an astounding maturity in repertoire works. Listen to his refreshingly unmannered and regal way in Bach’s Second Partita, with a leisurely, almost timeless look at the Chaconne, which lasts almost 20 minutes!

The firebrand, who studied with Ida Haendel and Itzhak Perlman, also delivers the goods in Tchaikovsky’s Violin Concerto and the little known but engaging E minor Concerto of Julius Conus, partnered by the Russian National Orchestra and Mikhail Pletnev. The obligatory virtuoso fare continues in Paganini’s 24 Caprices, with Schumann’s piano accompaniment, a highly enjoyable account with Italian pianist Bruno Canino. Also gratifying are his encounters with Mozart and the Chamber Orchestra of Europe under Claudio Abbado – the two D major concertos (No.4, where he plays his own cadenzas and K.271a), a sonata and the Adagio K.261. A final disc of short pieces and encores with pianist Alexander Markovich, only recently released, completes this portrait of a prodigy. One wonders what might have been had Garrett continued on this trajectory. 

The Collector’s Edition Volume 2
Universal Music 478 5092 (55 CDs) / ****

After the roaring success of Volume 1 of the Mercury Living Presence Collector’s Edition, Volume 2 follows up with those recordings that have not been earlier cherry-picked. The collector’s dilemma is this: Will the general listener be equally drawn to Antal Dorati’s Bartok, Beethoven, Dvorak and Tchaikovsky recordings, Paul Paray’s famous French music sojourns with the Detroit Symphony, diverse wind band repertoire from the Eastman Wind Ensemble under Frederick Fennell and the Eastman-Rochester Orchestra with Howard Hanson in contemporary American music? Chances are only the interminably curious will muster enough interest to go through the entire contents of this cornucopia.

The must listens: a thrilling Stravinsky’s The Rite Of Spring from the Minneapolis Symphony (Dorati in 1953), all of Dorati’s Bartok recordings, Ravel and Debussy with Paray (from 1955 to 1961), the Chicago Symphony in Hindemith, Schoenberg, Kodaly and Bartok (Rafael Kubelik and Dorati in 1953-54) and the bonus disc of John Corigliano’s Piano Concerto and Richard Strauss’s Parergon for piano left hand (with pianist Hilde Somer). If there is more time, sample the excellent wind discs, harpsichord recitals by Rafael Puyana, the Howard Hanson symphonies (conducted by the composer) and a delightful cello recital by Janos Starker in Chopin, Mendelssohn, Debussy and Bartok. All these feature the then-revolutionary trademark house sound of the label perfected by founders Robert and Wilma Cozart Fine. Inquisitiveness and patience will be more than amply rewarded.     

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