Thursday, 1 January 2015

CD Reviews (The Straits Times, January 2015)

LEON FLEISHER, Piano left hand
Bridge 9429 / ****1/2

For the most part of his later career, the American pianist Leon Fleisher was afflicted with focal dystonia which seriously curtailed the use of his right hand. Although he has now returned to performing the piano with both hands, this disc is a sample programme of his left handed repertoire, including new works dedicated to him. It opens with Brahms’s transcription of Bach’s Chaconne in D minor, a simpler and more faithful version of the original violin classic than the better-known Busoni conflation. Fleisher’s control and authority is immediately apparent, where the left hand’s ability of crafting both melody and harmony simultaneously gives the illusion of polyphony.

Written specially for him are Leon Kirchner’s L.H.(1995), George Perle’s three atonal Musical Offerings (1997-98, for his 70th birthday) and Dina Koston’s Thoughts Of Evelyn (2000), which receive definitive readings. Less astringent are Federico Mompou’s Prelude No.6 and two transcriptions of popular songs. Earl Wild’s alternative take on Gershwin’s Embraceable You, conceived as a virtuoso ├ętude, and Stephen Prutsman’s reworking of Jerome Kern’s All The Things You Are are bound to raise a smile in this hour-long anthology. Recommended for all committed pianophiles.

Vienna Philharmonic / NIKOLAUS HARNONCOURT
Sony Classical 888430825321 (2CDs) / ***

After the unmitigated successes of his Liszt and Chopin albums, Lang Lang’s take on Mozart comes with a more qualified recommendation. It appears that Artur Schnabel’s adage that “Mozart is too simple for amateurs, and too difficult for professionals” applies here; the Chinese phenom does not always seem to know what to do with Mozart. In Piano Concerto No.24 in C minor (K.491), dawdling pacing inflates the work to about 33 minutes, but is redeemed by Piano Concerto No.17 in G major (K.453), which is free-flowing and cheery. Little wonder that veteran conductor Nikolaus Harnoncourt is quoted in a Gramophone interview referring to Lang’s “very open spirit and unmoulded musicality”, probably an euphemism for “unformed musical mind”.

In three of Mozart’s sonatas, there are more extremes in dynamics. He is plodding in the 1st movement of the E flat major Sonata (K.282) but speeds up the finale as if to compensate. He takes an epic view of the A minor Sonata (K.310), which means playing very loud, emphatically and clamping on the sustaining pedal. Only the G major Sonata (K.283) remains relatively unscathed. There are four short encores, crisply dispatched for the first three but a crude and aggressive Rondo Alla Turca sticks sorely in the mind long after the music has ended. Hold on to your Andras Schiff and Mitsuko Uchida recordings; this one is mostly for Lang Lang diehards. 

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