Thursday, 6 November 2014

CD Reviews (The Straits Times, November 2014)

The Collector’s Edition
Deutsche Grammophon 479 2343 (40 CDs) 

Collectors in the 1950s and 60s will remember Westminster, the American label which produced long-playing records or LPs as the medium was becoming the main carrier of recorded classical music. Tapping into a wealth of musicians and institutions in post-war Vienna helped establish its name as a leader in the catalogue. The Vienna State Opera Orchestra led by Hermann Scherchen was a mainstay of the label. With them, one will not find faster readings of Beethoven’s Symphonies Nos.2,3,4,6 and 8, recorded between 1954 and 1958, packed within two discs. Also unusual is the first uncut recording of Reinhold Gliere’s 80-minute-long Third Symphony based on the Russian legend of Ilya Mouromets, arguably the repertoire’s most unjustly neglected symphony.

Chamber music is a strong suit in this collection, with excellent readings of Mozart, Beethoven, Schubert, Mendelssohn and Dvorak from the Vienna Konzerthaus, Smetana, Janacek and Amadeus Quartets and their associates. There are appearances by rising young pianists of the time, including Daniel Barenboim (Mozart’s Piano Concerto No.22 and sonatas), Paul Badura-Skoda (Schubert recital), Jörg Demus (Franck and Fauré) and the late Raymond Lewenthal (Rachmaninov’s Piano Concerto No.2 and Paganini Rhapsody). Not to be missed are a selection of spectacular bel canto opera and French arias from soprano Beverley Sills. All in all, this set provided many hours of pleasurable listening to be enjoyed.

MARTIN FRÖST, Clarinet et al
BIS SACD-1823 / *****

From one of the world’s great clarinet virtuosos, comes this highly enjoyable collection of encores which demonstrates the Swede Martin Fröst’s multi-faceted talents. This not just a grab bag of virtuoso showstoppers, but one that highlights his gorgeous, full-ranged tone. His cantabile in the slow pieces are breathtaking, as in Rachmaninov’s Vocalise, Chopin’s well-known Nocturne (Op.9 No.2), a transcription of Brahms’s song Wie melodien zieht es mir and a Scriabin Prélude. The lingering legato line seems to go on forever.  

For a taste of his sheer bravado, try the Presto finale from Bach’s Violin Sonata in G minor, Monti’s Csardas, Andre Messager’s Solo de Concours (written as a competition test piece) or Rimsky-Korsakov’s Flight of the Bumble Bee, the latter as a tandem with mezzo-soprano Malena Ernman’s mercurial vocals.

His extemporising skills are no better heard in the Improvisation, a cadenza written specially for Malcolm Arnold’s Clarinet Concerto No.2, now a stand-alone concert showpiece, and the traditional Klezmer number Let’s Be Happy! There are several contemporary works, not least his brother Goran Frosts’s Brudvals (Bridal Waltz), written for his wedding, and pianist Roland Pontinen’s insouciant arrangement of Charlie Chaplin’s Smile from the movie Modern Times. All in all, this is an hour in pleasurable musical company.

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