Thursday, 11 June 2015

CD Reviews (The Straits Times, June 2015)

CHEN SA, Piano
Taipei Chinese Orchestra
Chung Yiu-Kwong
BIS 1974 / *****

This is an excellent new album of contemporary Asian but mostly Chinese works for the piano. It opens with Turkish pianist-composer Fazil Say's Third Piano Concerto or Silence of Anatolia (2001), where the piano imitates traditional instruments and percussion of Asia Minor, much of which is now part of Turkey. It is a truly exotic work that evokes the incense and flavours of the Middle East.

The longest work at 30 minutes is Wang Xilin's Piano Concerto Op.56 (2010), an anti-Yellow River Concerto that used Beijing opera and Chinese folk music instead of patriotic or socialist songs. The violence was also a conscious reaction to the barbarism of the Cultural Revolution. Both works have been successfully transcribed for Chinese orchestra, and brilliantly partnered by the Taipei Chinese Orchestra.

Of the piano solos, Taiwanese pianist-composer Hsiao Taizen's Farewell Etude and Memory are obvious sweeteners, combining the pleasantries of Chopin and Rachmaninov. Julian Yu's Impromptu is exactly as the title implies, a spur-of-the moment keyboard doodle memorably captured. More Chinese in feel are Chen Qigang's Instants d'un Opera de Pekin, which cleverly incorporates the sound world of his teacher Olivier Messiaen, and Wang Xiaohan's A Song in the Childhood is a wistful meditation on the popular song Xiao Bai Cai (Little Cabbage). Chinese pianist Chen Sa has developed a solid career without the circus that surrounds compatriots Lang Lang and Yuja Wang, and deserves to be heard for her rare blend of poeticism and technical mastery. Highly recommended.   

Peter Sheppard Skaerved (Violin)
Aaron Shorr (Piano) et al
Metier 2008 / ****1/2

Volume 6 of the ongoing Beethoven Explored series by the duo of violinist Peter Sheppard Skaerved and pianist Aaron Shorr, this is a rare performance of Beethoven's Third Symphony in E flat major (Op.55, also known as the Eroica Symphony), for piano quartet. Published in 1807, its arranger remains unknown, but is likely to be someone within the composer's inner circle. Such is its idiomatic scoring for piano, violin, viola and cello (with violist Dov Scheindlin and cellist Neil Heyde) that it does not feel like a mere transcription. Like Beethoven's violin and cello sonatas, the piano gets a central role, around which the other parts revolve. Yet it is not a piano concertante work in the usual sense.

The musical material remains intact, and one gets the grasp of Beethoven’s compositional intent and development of the form in place of his mastery of orchestration. Listening to all its four movements in a single sitting, which includes the opening movement's grandeur, pathos of the funeral march, the Scherzo's high spirits and the joyous The Creatures Of Prometheus variations in the finale, remains a highly satisfying experience. Rarely does one miss the glory of the full orchestra. Despite the multiple recordings of Eroica, this revelatory chamber version is well worth 

No comments: