Wednesday, 19 August 2015

CD Reviews (The Straits Times, August 2015)

J.S.BACH Concertos for 2 Harpsichords
Bach Collegium Japan
BIS 2051 / *****

Johann Sebastian Bach (1685-1750) left the world with just three concertos for two keyboards (all dating from 1736), which seems like a real pity. These are some of his most enjoyable concertos, not just because of its melodic content or digital virtuosity but also its immaculate play of counterpoint. No autograph scores exist, but two of these - both in the key of C minor - will be familiar to listeners in other guises. The best known is BWV.1062, which has the same music as the famous Double Violin Concerto in D minor (BWV.1043). The work sounds slightly different now, with the busyness of both harpsichords replacing the more pared-down violin textures.

The other, BWV.1060, is more regularly heard as the Concerto for Violin and Oboe, distinguished by one of Bach's most beautiful slow movements. The Concerto in C major (BWV.1061) is his most cheerful and extroverted keyboard concerto by far. The father and son combo of Masaaki and Masato Suzuki on two harpsichords are ideally matched, and the balance struck with the accompanying string players is close to perfection. The bonus is Masato's transcription for 2 keyboards of Bach's Orchestral Suite No.1, conceived idiomatically as if the master wrote it himself. A delightful disc all round.     

with the Singapore Symphony Orchestra
Victoria Concert Hall
27 & 28 August 2015 at 7.30 pm
Tickets available at SISTIC

Taipei Chinese Orchestra 
Chung Yiu-Kwong (Conductor)
BIS  2104 / ****1/2

Given China's inexorable rise as economic power and cultural giant, Chen Gang and He Zhanhao's Butterfly Lovers Concerto sitting pretty alongside with violin repertoire favourites has become inevitable. Gil Shaham had previously coupled Butterfly Lovers with Tchaikovsky's Violin Concerto (with the SSO), but this new recording is wholly accompanied by Chinese instruments. Chinese violinist Lu Siqing cements his place as one of the work's most persuasive advocates with this moving account which also boasts of the best sound on CD.

The traditional instruments of the Taipei Chinese Orchestra, in the arrangement by its conductor Chung Yiu-Kwong, also lend a touch of the authentic. Does the evocative introduction not sound better with dizi than the modern flute? At its climaxes, the piercing sound of suonas add to the pathos of the music. Its fillers include Chen's Sunshine On Taxkorgan, Ma Sicong's Nostalgia (from Inner Mongolian Suite), Kreisler's Tambourin Chinois (now sounding even better with Chinese percussion), Tchaikovsky's Melodie (from Souvenir D'un Lieu Cher), Sarasate's Gypsy Airs and Wieniawski's Legende. The last receives an idiomatic arrangement by award-winning young Singaporean composer Wang Chenwei. That's globalisation for you.

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