Wednesday, 22 July 2015

CD Reviews (The Straits Times, July 2015)

Warner Classics 0825646134601 (3 CDs) 

The one defining feature of the Lugano Festival's Martha Argerich Project besides the legendary Argentine pianist's infectious musicianship is the sheer wealth of programming diversity on display, combining the familiar with the arcane. Her appearance in Mozart's popular Piano Concerto No.20 with the Orchestra della Svizzera Italiana conducted by Jacek Kaspszyk finds her in typically fiery form, revelling in the music's stürm und drang (storm and stress).

There are two piano quintets offered, a sassy arrangement of Milhaud's jazz ballet La Creation du Monde (Creation of the Earth) and Borodin's lovely but rarely-heard Piano Quintet. An absolute rarity is Busoni's transcription of Mendelssohn's Mozart-influenced First Symphony for two pianos and eight hands shared by Akane Sakai, Lilya Zilberstein, Anton & Daniel Gerzenberg, who rip into the work with real relish.

Cello fanciers will enjoy the sonatas by Frank Bridge and Francis Poulenc, performed by Gautier Capucon with pianists Gabriela Montero and Francesco Piemontesi respectively. Argerich's favourite chamber music partners, the veterans Mischa Maisky and Gidon Kremer also make cameos in Beethoven's Bei Männern Variations from Mozart's The Magic Flute and Polish-Russian composer Miecyslaw Weinberg's Violin Sonata No.5. These sparkling live performances capture the true collegial spirit of chamber music, and this budget-priced box-set should be snapped up without delay.

BIS 2004 / ****1/2

This album may have alternatively been named “Future of the Étude”, as it follows the piano study from its humbler origins as mere finger exercises well into the 21st century. It was Chopin and Liszt in the early to mid-19th century who transformed the étude into an aesthetically pleasing art form. The Russian Sergei Lyapunov was clearly inspired by Liszt to write his own 12 Transcendental Études (1900), of which three – Terek, Nuit d'ete and Tempete - have been chosen for their variety of expressive devices. Here the prodigious pianism of Liszt is united with the Russian nationalism of Balakirev and Borodin.

The 12 Studies Op.33 (1916) of Pole Karol Szymanowski are barely one minute long each, but filled with light and colour which take on the hues of Debussy's impressionism. The Korean Unsuk Chin was a student of the Hungarian György Ligeti and her Six Études (1995-2003) pay tribute to his own Etudes, wondrous essays of rhythmic and textural complexity which are modernistic, dissonant yet totally engaging. Finally, the Ukrainian Nikolai Kapustin's 5 Études in Different Intervals Op.68 (1992) employ the blues, jazz harmonies and syncopations in service of entertaining finger-twisters. The young British pianist Clare Hammond's readings of divergent styles are a revelation, and make a welcome entry into an over-populated world of recorded pianophilia.

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