Wednesday, 9 September 2015

CD Reviews (The Straits Times, September 2015)

Champs Hill 104 / ****1/2

From the “Land of Smiles” comes this ultra-serious recital programme by young pianist Poom Prommachart. He studied in Singapore's Nanyang Academy of Fine Arts and London's Royal College of Music, and has won 1st prizes at international competitions in his native Thailand, Serbia and England. The meat comes in two major works celebrating the theme and variations form. Liszt's Variations on Weinen, Klagen, Sorgen, Zagen is a formal edifice built upon an austere motif from the Bach cantata of the same title, and closes in a blaze of major key fireworks.

The other is Nikolai Medtner's Second Improvisation Op.47, a massive half-hour'a meditation on The Song Of The Water-Nymph with 15 variations which run the full gamut of a pianist's technical armamentarium. There are not many recordings of it, and Poom's very well thought out and paced account ranks high along with the best of them, including Earl Wild and Hamish Milne's famous readings. The fill-ups are Scriabin's Ninth Sonata (known as the Black Mass), with its murky necromancy balanced by the Rachmaninov's brilliant transcription of Fritz Kreisler's Liebesfreud. This is an impressive debut CD and excellent calling card for a rising musician with a lot to say.   

SHOSTAKOVICH Piano Concertos
Lahti Symphony / OKKO KAMU
Mirare 155 / ****1/2

The two piano concertos of Dmitri Shostakovich (1906-1975) are without doubt the lightest of his six concertos, and are also among his most popular works.  The First Concerto in C minor (Op.35) is unusually scored with solo trumpet and strings, a double comedy act with both solo instruments cocking a snook at the classical conventions of Beethoven and Haydn while channelling popular cabaret and dancehall music. Its rip-roaring finale could easily be the soundtrack of a 1920s silent movie starring the Keystone Cops. It is best heard played with a poker-face and tongue firmly in cheek.

The Second Concerto in F major (Op.102) was composed for his teenaged son Maxim, and for once Shostakovich's stock-in-trade sarcasm and irony is held at bay until the finale's spoof on Hanon's laborious finger exercises. Both enjoyable concertos get sparkling performances by young Russian pianist Andrei Korobeinikov and SSO Principal Guest Conductor Okko Kamu's Finnish orchestra.  In between the concertos is a kaleidoscopic reading of Shostakovich's 24 Preludes (Op.34), which opens with a brief salute to Bach before going its own iconoclastic path, alternating droll and uproarious numbers, which only he knows how. Here Korobeinikov is his own master, and this wonderfully nuanced reading ranks among the best in the catalogue.      

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