Thursday, 5 March 2015

CD Reviews (The Straits Times, March 2015)

Operatic Overtures & Ent'ractes
New Zealand Symphony Orchestra 
Naxos 8.573195 / ****1/2

Giacomo Meyerbeer (1791-1864) was one of the great opera composers in the first half of the 19th century. Born Jakob Beer in Berlin to a Jewish family of means, he studied with Clementi and Salieri and took on an Italian first name to boost his fortunes in the operatic world. A contemporary of Weber and Rossini, he developed the concept of “grand opera” was to influence a generation of composers, among them Wagner, Verdi and even Offenbach. His operas, usually a romance set to some earthshaking historical context, are rarely performed now because of their immense length and scope, difficult solo parts and the accusation of pandering to mass popular appeal. This collection of operatic overtures and entr'actes (music played between acts) provides a clue to his early Romantic and effulgent melodic style.

Six of Meyerbeer's most famous operas are represented, including Les Huguenots (the best-loved), Robert le Diable, L'Etoile du Nord and L'Africaine (unfinished at the time of his death. The Overture to Dinorah, although light-hearted in parts, plays like a Lisztian tone poem and can stand alone as a concert piece. The Coronation March from Le Prophete has a touch of the familiar as it looks forward to the Triumphal March from Verdi's Aida. Singaporean conductor Darrell Ang's recording debut does not stint on Meyerbeer's spirit of the epic spectacle and the Wellington-based orchestra performs with conviction and authority. This music deserves to be better known, and is no better served in this recording.

Bavarian Radio Chamber Orchestra
Deutsche Grammophon 479 2479 / *****

Georgian violinist Lisa Batiashvili's album of J.S.Bach's violin music is a delight. Her study of period performance practice lends a litheness and vibrancy to her renditions of Bach's E major Violin Concerto (BWV.1042) and Sonata No.2 in A major (BWV.1003). Her vibrato is sparing but that does not detract from the sweetness and luminosity of her tone. She is joined by her husband, French oboeist Francois Leleux, in the Concerto for Violin & Oboe in C minor (BWV.1060R), which boasts one of Bach's finest slow movements, with exquisite interplay between both instruments.

This loveliness continues in a transcription of Erbarme Dich, Mein Gott from St Matthew Passion where the oboe d'amore replaces the alto's voice. In the same vein, the Sinfonia in F from Cantata No.156, which also exists as the slow movement of Violin Concerto BWV.1056, provides a serene interlude between the longer works.  Still within the family, Carl Philippe Emmanuel Bach's Trio Sonata in B minor gets a lively and sensitive reading, with flautist Emmanuel Pahud, cellist Sebastian Klinger and  Peter Kofler on harpsichord. Here is baroque instrumental music at its finest.

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