Thursday, 2 April 2015

CD Reviews (The Straits Times, April 2015)

I Barocchisti / Diego Fasolis
Decca 478 6767 / *****

The indefatigable Italian mezzo-soprano Ceclia Bartoli’s latest concept album explores the little-known world of the Russian baroque. Within is the story of three empresses, Anna, Elizabeth and Catherine the Great, who presided from 1730 to 1796, bringing into their courts composers from Western Europe in an effort to “modernise” feudalistic Russia. Contemporaneous with expanding architectural developments of St Petersburg, the Russian capital became the “Paris of the East”. The Italian Francesco Araia and German Hermann Raupach were the first court composers, later followed by Vincenzo Manfredini and the better-known Domenico Cimarosa.

The slow arias have the simplicity and cantabile of aria antiche, such as Araia's Vado a morir (from La Forza dell'amore e dell'odio) and Raupach's Idu na smert (Altsesta), the latter being sung in the vernacular Russian, with libretti by Alexander Sumarokov. When it came to vocal acrobatics, some are more than a match for Handel's sweeping brilliance. Raupach's Razverzi pyos Gortani (Altsesta) or O Placido il mare (Siroe, Re di Persia), with vehement proclamations and scintillating runs, are right up in coloratura territory.

The elaborately decorative baroque soon gave way to simpler classical lines. Manfredini's Fra' lacci tu mi creda and Non turbar que' vaghi rai (Charlemagne) are Mozartian in their beauty, the latter with a theme reminiscent of the slow movement from Mozart's Clarinet Concerto. Bartoli's breathtaking performances and the vivid accompaniment on period instruments are infectious in their zealous quest for authenticity. One becomes convinced that every song in this anthology is a masterpiece.

Concerto Recordings
EMI Classics 40434827 (6 CDs) / *****

The great German conductor Otto Klemperer (1885-1973) was known to be notoriously difficult to work with, as soloists found out to their expense, but the few concerto recordings he made in the 1960s with The Philharmonia Orchestra (and its successor The New Philharmonic) on the EMI label have deservedly become classics. Credit goes to the legendary India-born recording engineer Suvi Raj Grubb for uniting 82-year-old Klemperer with the rising 24-year-old Daniel Barenboim in Mozart’s Piano Concerto No.25, Beethoven's five piano concertos and Choral Fantasy. The usually stolidity in Germanic repertoire is absent as the performances bristle with brio and vitality, as if the spark of an unlikely collaboration had reignited some latent inner fire.

Just as satisfying are the Hungarian pianist Annie Fischer's performances of Schumann's Piano Concerto and Liszt's Piano Concerto No.1, demonstrating she could barnstorm with the best of men. The two violin concertos in this set come no less from Yehudi Menuhin (Beethoven) and David Oistrakh (Brahms), which are easily among the greatest recordings in the catalogue. British hornist Alan Civil completes the line-up of greats with breezy yet emphatic accounts of the four Mozart horn concertos. The sound is generally excellent and this box-set deserves to be in any self-respecting library.

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