Wednesday, 5 August 2015

CD Reviews (The Straits Times, August 2015)

BRAHMS & BRUCH Violin Concertos
Israel Philharmonic / Zubin Mehta
Decca  4701071 / ****1/2

After several years of successfully dabbling in crossover and pop music, the German-American former wunderkind David Garrett has returned to the classical fold with this new recording of Max Bruch's First Violin Concerto and Brahms' Violin Concerto. Some might argue that he never actually left, as he shows utmost respect to these timeless classics by playing as they were written. There are no histrionics, ear-catching gimmicks or untoward gestures, just good solid playing with beauty of tone and just the right quantum of passionate output.

Both concertos share the imprimatur of the great Hungarian violinist Joseph Joachim, who advised the composers on the intricacies of writing idiomatically for the violin. The only departure Garrett takes is in eschewing Joachim's cadenza for the 1st movement of the Brahms, opting for Fritz Kreisler's less opulent and more acrobatic and contrapuntal version instead. The Israel Philharmonic under Zubin Mehta's direction provides excellent support which makes this coupling a competitive one. The Deluxe Edition of this album includes a bonus 24-minute long DVD feature on “The Making Of Timeless” (in English and German), filmed in Tel Aviv. Graced by Garrett's male-model-like presence, this will no doubt please his legion of fans endlessly.   

Camerata Nordica / Terje Tonnesen
BIS 2126 / *****

One might baulk at the thought of listening through 69 minutes of modern string music uninterrupted, but the variety provided by the Swedish string ensemble Camerata Nordica on this disc is rather special. The two main works are Russian violist-conductor Rudolf Barshai's idiomatic arrangements of Prokofiev's Visions Fugitives and Bartok's Divertimento. A full gamut of string effects colours Prokofiev's 15 miniatures (selected from 20 pieces originally conceived for piano), which are more like preludes but each imbued with a distinct quirky character of its own. Its title comes from a line by Russian poet Konstantin Balmont, which refers to worlds of “fleeting glimpses”.  

Bartok's masterpiece is strongly based on folk influences and the string ensemble comes to sound like one large gypsy band, fuelled by the acerbic harmonies and driving rhythms of the Hungarian nationalist composer. The fill-ups are no less interesting and impressive. Hindemith's Five Pieces Op.44 No.4 is neo-Bachian in its play of counterpoint, almost a concerto grosso brought up to date, while Webern's Five Movements Op.5 is an established atonal classic that continues to provide shock value in buckets. The performances, full of cohesion, coherence and incisiveness, make for a revelatory and even enjoyable aural experience. 

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