Wednesday, 12 August 2015

CD Reviews (The Straits Times, August 2015)

Singapore Symphony / CHOO HOEY
Naxos 8.573508 / ****

The name of Mikhail Ippolitov-Ivanov (1859-1935) survives on the strength of his Procession of the Sardar (from Caucasian Sketches) which occasionally appears in pops programmes. A student of Rimsky-Korsakov and good friend of Tchaikovsky, his career took him to Georgia where he encountered Central Asian folk music (which he incorporated into his music) and later became the Director of the Moscow Conservatory. His First Symphony (1908) bears only faint influences of Tchaikovsky and is more aligned to the symphonies of Rimsky-Korsakov and Glazunov. Playing for just over 35 minutes, its generally thin material makes for a pleasant if not utterly memorable listen.  

This was one of the Singapore Symphony Orchestra's earliest recordings of Western classical music, taped in 1984 and appearing on LP on the Hong Kong Records label. The recorded sound is relatively thin but it received a reasonably good review from Gramophone, which also noted the orchestra's inexperience but youthful enthusiasm. Its couplings, Turkish Sketches and Turkish March, like his Caucasian Sketches, are light and enjoyable. These are the only recordings available of this music, and deserve our attention because of its relevance to the SSO's mission of bridging the cultures of East and West.

Mari & Hakon Samuelsen, Violin & Cello
Royal Liverpool Philharmonic
Mercury Classics 481 1487 / ****

The timing of this release could not have been more ironic. Celebrated American film composer James Horner (of Titanic and Avatar fame) had just perished in June, in an accident while piloting his private plane. Pas De Deux, a double concerto for violin, cello and orchestra marked a return to his classically trained roots. In three movements, it was written for the young Norwegian siblings Mari and Hakon Samuelsen as a concert piece. While suitably showy for performers, the work makes little demands for its intended audience, who will wallow in its blend of minimalism, sentimental film music and easy listening.

Made of sterner stuff is Estonian Arvö Part's cult favourite Fratres (1977) in its version for solo violin, strings and percussion. Its staid harmonies and static rhythms still exude profundity after all these years. From Italy comes Giovanni Sollima's Violoncelles, Vibrez! for two cellos (with Alisa Weilerstein) with contrasting sections that are far more interesting than Ludovico Einaudi's rather anodyne Divenire for violin and cello. The album's recorded sound is excellent and fanciers of classical crossover should have no worries making its acquaintance. 

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