Wednesday, 15 July 2015

CD Reviews (The Straits Times, July 2015)

SCRIABIN The Complete Works
Decca 478 8168 (18 CDs) / *****

To commemorate the death centenary of Russian composer Alexander Scriabin (1872-1915), the Decca label has assembled this handsome box-set of every note he wrote and more. Scriabin was primarily a pianist-composer, whose pieces ranged from early Chopin-influenced miniatures to phantasmagorical dances, poƩmes and single-movement sonatas which characterised his dissonant, mystical and orgiastic late style. New recordings by Vladimir Ashkenazy and Valentina Lisitsa have been commissioned to complement those by Gordon Fergus-Thompson, Sviatoslav Richter, Roberto Szidon and others. These are laid out on 9 discs in order of Opus numbers and one can trace his progression from naive to carnal.

Scriabin composed five symphonies, represented by recordings conducted by Ashkenazy, Eliahu Inbal and Valery Gergiev. The last of these, Prometheus, The Poem Of Fire was scored for piano, chorus and large orchestra, which laid the groundwork for his ultimate composition, Mysterium, which was to involve multi-media and be performed in a Hindu temple overlooked by the Himalayas. He died from septicaemia before these dreams could be fulfilled. It was left to Alexander Nemtin (1936-1999) to create a 160-minute long Prefatory Action, in three parts, based on Scriabin's sketches. Ashkenazy's sumptuous recording, spread over 3 discs, gives a clue to Scriabin's narcissism and megalomania. Here is a worthy portrait of an eccentric and self-absorbed visionary, no doubt about it.    

BRIGHT SHENG The Blazing Mirage
Hong Kong Philharmonic
Naxos 8.570610 / ****1/2

Bright Sheng (born 1955) belongs to the generation of Chinese composers who lived through the ravages of the Cultural Revolution, spending time in exile in China's Far West where he absorbed and assimilated the cultures of its indigenous peoples into his compositions. This album is devoted to works inspired by the ancient trade routes linking East with West. The Song and Dance of Tears (2003), revised in 2013, is the composer's impressions of a visit to the Silk Road with substantial solo parts for pipa (played by Hui Li), sheng (Tong Wu), piano (Sa Chen) and cello (Trey Lee). If parts of its 23 minutes sound familiar, it is because Sheng shares common musical inspirations as Bartok in his Concerto for Orchestra

Colors of Crimson (2004) was written for percussionist Evelyn Glennie, a meditation on a love song from Qinghai province which finds a mellow but passionate voice on the marimba, performed by Pius Cheng. The Blazing Mirage (2012) for solo cello (with well-known Hongkonger Trey Lee) and strings portrays the diverse cross-cultural heritages of Dunhuang and its ancient cave temples in a dizzying display of virtuosity. All the recordings here are world premieres, and one will not find more authentic or authoritative performances than these by Chinese soloists conducted by the composer himself. A more absorbing listen of contemporary Chinese music would be hard to find.    

No comments: