Thursday, 19 March 2015

CD Reviews (The Straits Times, March 2015)

BRUCKNER Symphony No.9
Lucerne Festival Orchestra
Deutsche Grammophon 479 3441 / *****

It seems ironic that Italian conductor Claudio Abbado's last concerts, held from 21 to 26 August 2013 at the Lucerne Festival, had programmed the great unfinished symphonies by Franz Schubert and Anton Bruckner. That was not his original intention, but Fate meant it to be, as he succumbed to a long battle with cancer the following January. This live recording of Bruckner's Ninth Symphony in D minor, engineered from those concerts, however does not quite have a ring of finality to it. Such was Abbado's quest to continue probing and demand answers for the imponderables of music, and life itself.

He adds almost 3 minutes to his 1996 live recording of the same work with the Vienna Philharmonic, mostly in the first two movements. Both these edifices are breathtaking in scope, building up to the Adagio, Bruckner's crowning achievement of symphonic writing. This remains remarkable constant in both recordings, its magisterial pacing seems immoveable in its timelessness, but stultifying it is not. Like Bruckner who struggled but ultimately failed to complete his masterpiece dedicated “to the Glory of God”, Abbado finds peace in the movement's final bars which fade to nothingness. Rightly all applause has been edited out and the listener is left with his or her innermost thoughts. This is a fitting memorial to two great lives, Bruckner's and Abbado's.

Universal Music 4706533 / ***1/2

It might appear out of character that Croatian pianist Maksim (Maksim Mrvica) gets a review in these pages. Self-styled so presumptuously as “The Piano Man”, and a tattooed and heavy metal Slavic version of Richard Clayderman, his electronically enhanced cover versions of classics and pop songs have done little to convince this listener that he is more than just another well-remunerated popular entertainer. One half of his latest album however suggests he may even be considered a serious artist.

That he has decided to record Modest Mussorgsky’s piano suite and immortal classic Pictures At An Exhibition complete and without any additions of any kind is a new turn for the books. As an interpreter, this is as good a performance to be found in any concert hall or international piano competition. He takes the opening Promenade in good stride, and its subsequent variations are sufficiently characterised to be interesting, as are the movements like Gnomus, The Old Castle, Bydlo or Ballet Of The Unhatched Chicks. His technique is more than up to scratch in the more virtuosic pieces such as Market Place In Limoges, the terrifying Baba Yaga's Hut and The Great Gate Of Kiev. On these counts, this classical “debut” may be considered an unqualified success.    

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