Thursday, 19 February 2015

CD Reviews (The Straits Times, February 2015)

Complete Columbia 
and Epic Album Collection
Sony Classical 88843014762 (21 CDs) / *****

Charles Rosen (1927-2012) was an intellectual among pianists, and a pianist among intellectuals. Best known for his influential tomes The Classical Style (1971) and The Romantic Generation (1995), it is remarkable to note that his original PhD was in French literature rather than music, and he was a student of Moriz Rosenthal, a pupil of Franz Liszt. This collection of recordings from the Epic and Columbia Masterworks labels dates from 1959 to 1972. Like his contemporary the Canadian Glenn Gould, he specialised in music from extreme ends of the historical timeline. His versions of Bach’s Goldberg Variations and The Art of Fugue are justifiably celebrated for their clarity and laser-like projection, while his collaborations with Stravinsky, Boulez and Elliott Carter are close to definitive.

Totally convincing too are his view of Beethoven’s late Sonatas, in particular the Hammerklavier Sonata which he made two recordings in 1964 and 1970. The major surprise and almost forgotten are his forays into Jorge Bolet and Earl Wild territory. There is a disc of Chopin and Liszt piano concertos, and an anthology of Romantic virtuoso transcriptions, including his teacher Rosenthal’s Carnival de Vienne and Chopin’s Minute Waltz in Thirds. The Liszt and Bartok juxtapositions are a curious mismatch but certainly piques one’s musical taste-buds. His Schumann Carnival and Davidsbundlertänze are full of fantasy and how he colours Debussy’s Études and Images (both books) and Ravel’s eternally fascinating Gaspard de la nuit. Here is a thoroughly revealing and inspiring survey of music’s Renaissance man. 

Berlin Radio Symphony / Jochen Rieder
Sony Classical 888430877122 / ****1/2

German tenor Jonas Kaufmann is presently one of the opera world’s hottest properties. An  album of light music has been inevitable, and thank goodness it is one celebrating the great operettas of Berlin during the “Golden Twenties”. The legacies of operetta-meister Franz Lehar and tenor Richard Tauber are represented by hit songs like You Are My Heart’s Delight (from The Land of Smiles) and Girls Were Made To Love And Kiss (from Paganini). For the benefit of Anglophones, he sings these and four other songs including Hans May’s My Song Goes Around The World and Robert Stolz’s Don’t Ask Me Why in accented English, which needs getting used to.

He is more at home in his native German and it one won’t hear better versions of Emmerich Kalman’s nostalgic Grüss Mir Mein Wien (Say Hello To My Vienna) or the Heldentenor strains of Eduard Kunneke’s Das Lied Vom Leben Des Schrenk (from The Sinner). For polar opposites in idiom and mood, he is joined by soprano Julia Kleiter in Paul Abraham’s Diwanpuppchen (Divan Dolly from The Flower of Hawaii), an infectiously playful Vaudeville-like number and the duet Gluck, Das Mir Verblieb from Erich Korngold’s serious opera Die Töte Stadt (The City of the Dead), where the voices blend like a dream out of Puccini and Richard Strauss. For good measure he sings Dein Ist Mein Ganzes Herz in French, which closes the album on a nostalgic high.

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