Wednesday, 8 July 2015

CD Reviews (The Straits Times, July 2015)

VIVALDI The Four Seasons
Australian Chamber Orchestra
BIS 2103 / ****1/2

Does the world yet another recorded version of Antonio Vivaldi's most famous and overplayed quartet of violin concertos from The Contest Of Harmony And Invention Op.8, better known as The Four Seasons?  A resounding yes, if the results are as good as this. The Australian Chamber Orchestra does not sell itself as a period instrument band, and its version strikes a good middle ground between that of a vibrato-less thin-sounding group and those stodgy big-orchestra textures of old. Its leader Richard Tognetti's solo playing is vibrant and full of character, bringing to life the stories of poetic changing seasons without being afraid of contributing individual touches of his own.  

Several movements of lesser-known concertos, with thematic links and references to the Seasons, have been included for good measure, bringing this disc to well over the hour mark. The icing on the cake is the almost-as-famous Concerto in B minor for 4 violins, which features among its soloists Singapore's own homegrown talent Ike See (See Ian Ike). The performance is just as lively and polished, which plainly goes to show that the best of the “Little Red Dot” can also stand proud in any top-notch ensemble in the world.  


GNATTALI Chamber Works
Franz Halasz, Guitar
Debora Halasz, Piano
BIS 2086 / ****1/2

Sometimes the line drawn between classical and popular music is so blurred that it is nearly impossible to make a clear distinction between the two. Such is the case of Brazilian composer Radames Gnattali (1906-1988), following in the example of his famous compatriot Heitor Villa-Lobos who so skilfully married indigenous Brazilian folk music with classical forms that only respect could be is commanded. One short piece for guitar so captures this ethos, entitled Alma Brasileira (Brazilian Soul), also the title of a similar work by Villa-Lobos, is one of Gnattali's best-known tunes. The selection of dances for guitar, including Danca Brasileira, Saudade, Petit Suite and two Toccatas In Samba Rhythm are simply delectable.

The longer works, Sonatina No.2 (for guitar and piano) and Sonata (for cello & guitar), both in three movements, are true classical-popular music hybrids and represent the best of “crossover”. The husband and wife team (German and Brazilian respectively), joined by Swiss-Chinese cellist Wen-Sinn Yang, give idiomatic and exciting performances, and there is no hiding their pedigree. The solo piano works are true virtuoso numbers, with dances like Negaceando, Capoeirando, Batuque and the modernistic Toccata, which make for excellent encores. Over 70 minutes of infectiously toe-tapping music to be found here. 

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