Thursday, 12 February 2015

CD Reviews (The Straits Times, February 2015)

Decca & CD-Rama 4785609 (6 CDs) / ****

How does one fit 101 tracks of German composer Johannes Brahms (1833-1897) onto 6 discs? By using the pop music’s one-song-one-track model, which means all the Hungarian Dances (played by Ivan Fischer’s excellent Budapest Festival Orchestra with some traditional Magyar instruments in the mix) constitute 21 tracks and Variations on a Theme by Haydn (The Concertgebouw with Bernard Haitink) is split into 10 tracks. The same applies to the Liebeslieder Waltzes, which account for 18 tracks, but in the enchanting company of John Eliot Gardiner’s Monteverdi Choir with pianists Robert Levin and John Perry. The performances here are superb.

All four of Brahms’s symphonies get solid performances from the Vienna Symphony led by Wolfgang Sawallisch, recordings which date from the early 1960s. Great Belgian violinist Arthur Grumiaux also gets a look in with his classic performances of the Violin Concerto and Violin Sonata No.3 (Op.108). The single recital of piano music (Two Rhapsodies Op.79, late pieces Op.117, 118 and 119) from the legendary Romanian Radu Lupu is indispensible, easily the pick of the crop. The sublime Alto Rhapsody and choral music led by Herbert Blomstedt fill up the balance of the final disc. This well-compiled collection is most probably aimed at beginners, so why was basic programme notes on the composer’s life and legacy not included? A valuable opportunity in music education had been spurned!

Decca 4811350 / ****

Was not the world waiting for coming of The Three Samoan Tenors? If truth be told, brother tenors Pene and Amitai Pati and their baritone cousin Moses Mackay, all residents of New Zealand, make a quite decent trio. After spending a small fortune having lessons with legendary tenor Dennis O’Neill in Wales, they had better be good. In this debut album, there are two versions of Ernesto di Capua’s O Sole Mio (their signature tune, accompanied by guitars and orchestra), which thankfully avoid the contrived vibes of the original Three Tenors. For one, they blend better and secondly, they have a more natural feel to the popular songs.

Whether it is Amanda McBroom’s The Rose, Paul Anka’s My Way, Gordon Mills’s Ten Guitars or Ennio Morricone’s Nella Fantasia, they avoid sounding strained or grating. In songs from musicals, Maria (West Side Story), Bring Him Home (Les Miserables), or hymns like Amazing Grace, O Holy Night and Silent Night, a touching sincerity is evident. The most rousing tracks: Jerome Grey’s We Are Samoa and World In Union, the rugby World Cup anthem based on Holst’s Jupiter. No doubt they have been properly tutored and primed for Bizet’s Pearl Fishers Duet and Puccini’s Nessun Dorma (Turandot), so they do not sound embarrassed alongside established opera singers. In short, this is an encouraging start and more is to be expected. 

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