Wednesday, 2 December 2015

CD Reviews (The Straits Times, December 2015)

Unreleased Live Recordings 1966-1983
Sony Classical 88843054582 (50 CDs) 

It has been 26 years since the death of Russian-American pianist Vladimir Horowitz (1903-1989), yet his legend resonates strongly among those who were fortunate to have experienced him live in concert, and those who can only dream. 

This massive box-set brings to the public unedited recordings by Columbia Masterworks and RCA Victor of concerts which have never been previously released in full. These include 25 solo recitals and a sizzling 1978 performance of Rachmaninov's Third Piano Concerto with the New York Philharmonic led by Zubin Mehta (previously only available on DVD). However its contents may only satisfy diehards who must hear every note he played.

Although his repertoire was vast, he only showcased a small segment and had distinct preferences. There are 7 performances of Beethoven's Sonata No.28 in A major (Op.101) alone, which makes for fascinating comparisons. His highly-strung performances of the Second Sonatas by Chopin and Rachmaninov should not be missed for their sheer voltage alone. His love for Schumann was incomparable, as the performances of the Concerto Without Orchestra, Kreisleriana and Humoreske attest. 

Appearing for the first time are two readings of Carnaval from recitals in 1983, by the time his playing had become clearly ragged, erratic and fragmented. The contrast between his peaks and troughs is sometimes distressing to behold. This lavish set tips the scales at almost 2 kilograms, but is well worth its weight in gold.      

Itzhak Perlman, Violin
Samuel Sanders, Piano
Warner Classics (3CDs) / *****

Fritz Kreisler (1875-1962) was best known for his Viennese waltz miniatures for violin like Liebesfreud, Liebesleid and Schön Rosmarin, which are all included in this slim-line 3-disc album from Warner Classics' Itzhak Perlman retrospective. Kreisler also wrote plenty of transcriptions of other composers' music, from songs like the traditional Irish tune Londonderry Air to Lehar's Serenade from Frasquita, showpieces by Paganini and Tartini (Devil's Trill Sonata) and dances galore with Dvorak, Brahms and de Falla among them.

More controversially, he had passed off several original compositions in the antique style as long-lost works of long-dead Baroque composers like Couperin, Boccherini and Dittersdorf but eventually owned up to the deception. These are charming works which find veteran American fiddler Itzhak Perlman in the best mood for delightful bonbons. His ever-sweet tone, fulsome yet never cloying, is ideally suited to this evergreen repertoire and favourite encores. Recorded during the mid-1970s, these performances will never lose their shine.

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