Thursday, 20 November 2014

CD Reviews (The Straits Times, November 2014)

SAINT-SAENS Cello Concertos
BBC Scottish Symphony / Andrew Manze
Hyperion 68002 / *****

The French composer Camille Saint-Saëns (1835-1921) has been often accused of over-prodigiousness, conservatism and style over substance, but this cannot apply to his two cello concertos, where he weds poetry and virtuosity to near perfection. Both works play under 20 minutes; everything that is needed to be said is sung with slickness and brevity. Cello Concerto No.1 in A minor (composed in 1872) is by far the better known, with its fiery rhetoric and showiness accomplished in a single movement. Cello Concerto No.2 in D minor (1902) is seldom heard because of its immense technical difficulties required of the cellist.

British cellist Natalie Clein, a former BBC Young Musician of the Year, crafts a gorgeous tone above all the surface glitz and display. This disc, part of Hyperion’s Romantic Cello Concertos series, is a first choice for listeners who want to hear both concertos in succession. Clein is joined by German violinist Antje Weithaas in The Muse and the Poet (1910), a lovely double concerto in all but name. Here both instruments resonate as one sublime whole. Two encores, Allegro Appassionato and The Swan from Carnival of the Animals, enhance the desirability of this winning album.

Book It:
Saint-Saëns Cello Concerto No.1
with Singapore National Youth Orchestra
conducted by Jason Lai
27 November 2014 / Esplanade Concert Hall at 7.30 pm
Tickets available at SISTIC

SCHUMANN Piano Works
Sony Classical 88697719262 / *****

Nobody understands piano music of the Romantic era better than Vladimir Horowitz (1903-1989). That assertion is no idle fantasy, as which pianist dead or alive could claim equal ownership to the works of Chopin, Schumann, Liszt, Rachmaninov and Scriabin? This all-Schumann disc, of works recorded between 1962 and 1969, finds the Ukraine-born legend at his most genial yet volatile. Such are the extremes to be encountered in the German Romantic composer’s music. The pianist as poet shines through in Kinderszenen (Scenes from Childhood) Op.15, including that gem called Träumerei (Dreaming), and the short single-movement Arabeske Op.18 and Blumenstück (Flower Piece) Op.19. The simplicity evinced is just disarming.

For sheer dramatics, the 1965 Carnegie Hall live performance of the Fantasy in C major (Op.17) has it all – flubbed notes, ecstatic climaxes and full-blooded pianism, all captured in the heat of his comeback recital. The Variations on a Theme by Clara Wieck from the Third Sonata Op.14 is a microcosm of his finest qualities, but reserve the last listen for Horowitz’s jaw-dropping account of the Toccata in C major Op.7. Nobody has played it faster without sacrificing musicality and the spirit of spontaneity. This disc is a “must listen” for students of Romantic piano-playing.  

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