Thursday, 28 May 2015

CD Reviews (The Straits Times, May 2015)

Delos 3567 / *****

The young Ukrainian pianist Vadym Kholodenko was awarded the coveted 1st Prize at the 2013 Van Cliburn International Piano Competition in Fort Worth, Texas. This all-Russian recital disc reveals him at his persuasive best, not so much as a barnstorming virtuoso but a thoughtful and sensitive interpreter. Nikolai Medtner's Winter Wind Sonata in E minor (Op.25 No.2) is a dense and contrapuntally complex single movement lasting some 30 minutes, but listen to how he elucidates its simple main theme, adds building blocks and develops a monumental edifice upon its foundations. While not the easiest work to sit through, he makes a strong case as he leads the listener through its seemingly knotty vistas to ultimately a palpable sense of musical enlightenment.

The balance of the recital comes like a sweet dessert with nine of Rachmaninov's stylish transcriptions of popular melodies. There is utter clarity in the articulation of J.S.Bach's Partita No.3 in three movements and Schubert's lilting Wohin? from Die Schöne Müllerin. Kholodenko skilfully negotiates the hairpin turns of Mendelssohn's Scherzo (from A Midsummer Night's Dream), one of the most hair-raising transcriptions ever devised. The Slavic brooding of Tchaikovsky's Lullaby (Op.16 No.1) is contrasted with the gaiety of Rachmaninov's Polka de V.R. (based on a Lehar tune his father once doodled on) and Kreisler's Liebesleid and Liebesfreud. This is playing of an exulted kind, where true musicality triumphs over mere technical know how. 

Piano Recital
Esplanade Concert Hall
Sunday, 7 June 2015 at 7.30 pm
Tickets available at SISTIC

Steinway & Sons 30015 / *****

In 1959, the French composer Francis Poulenc (1899-1963) composed the last of his 15 Improvisations for piano. He titled it Hommage a Edith Piaf, a languorous waltz-song that indelibly captured the insouciant Parisian spirit of the famous diminutive chanteuse who was known as “The Sparrow”. It is not known whether Poulenc ever knew Edith Piaf (1915-1963) personally or even met her, but his admiration was obvious.

This collection of “songs without words” by Italian pianist Antonio Pompa-Baldi brings together his transcriptions of 18 Poulenc's chansons with 10 “elaborations” by Sardinian pianist-composer Roberto Piana of songs immortalised by Piaf. Undoubtedly the best known is La vie en rose, with the famous left hand melody dressed up with playfully contrapuntal and ornate filigree from the right hand. Un grand amour is no less fine, and even cheekily quotes the Rose at its end.

Piana's art borders on the improvisatory, bringing a wealth of feeling and charm to numbers like Hymne l'Amour, Non, je ne regrette rien and Mon Dieu!, which sound truly delicious. Pompa-Baldi's treatment of songs like Le Chemins de l'Amour, Montparnasse, C and Le dernier Mazour are more straight-forward, combining sumptuous melodic lines with Poulenc's own piano accompaniment. Here is just over an hour of nostalgia and gaiety, beautifully realised.

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