Wednesday, 16 December 2015

CD Reviews (The Straits Times, December 2015)

ROGER-DUCASSE Complete Piano Music
Nimbus Records 5927 (3 CDs) / ****1/2

The French composer Jean Roger-Ducasse (1873-1954), who should not be confused with Paul Dukas (composer of The Sorceror's Apprentice), was an important musical establishment during his time. Pupil of Gabriel Fauré, classmate of Maurice Ravel and close friend of Claude Debussy, his music fell into neglect thanks to the inexorable rise of modernism and atonality during the first half of the 20th century. 

There is little that is academic, formulaic or reactionary about his piano music, composed between 1899 and 1923, and presented here complete for the first time. His style is allied to Fauré's love of melody, and progresses through dense contrapuntal mastery to the subtle dissonances of Debussy's impressionism.

Like Chopin, he favoured smaller forms like Études and Préludes, and composed three Barcarolles, the first of which was a conscious tribute to the Polish genius. Descriptive titles were shunned, which may led to this absolute music to be virtually forgotten. 

The first two discs are devoted to solo music, with the third disc featuring music for four hands, which include three books of Études.  Heard alongside Debussy's Études, composed around the same time, Roger-Ducasse sounds almost conservative by comparison. The indefatigable English pianist Martin Jones, who revels in arcane French and Spanish repertoire, is a totally musical and persuasive guide, bringing much colour and beauty to these unknown gems. 

BRAHMS Serenades
Gewandhausorchester / RICCARDO CHAILLY
Decca 478 6775 / *****

Johannes Brahms (1833-1897) had to wait until he was 43 before he completed his first symphony, so daunted by the prediction that he was to become Beethoven's successor. He however had practice in symphonic writing with the two Serenades, his earliest orchestral pieces composed between 1857 and 1859. These are works in six and five movements respectively, which have models in Mozart and Haydn, but point to the very promising future of his later works. 

The First Serenade (Op.11) is longer than any of his four symphonies, and is filled with the same expressive devices to be found in those masterpieces. Its Scherzo second movement uses a similar theme that occurs in the corresponding movement of the Second Piano Concerto.

The shorter Second Serenade (Op.16) omits violins completely and has the feel of the wind serenades that Mozart so loved. Although less popular than its predecessor, the work is unique in its conception. Italian conductor Riccardo Chailly and the Gewandhausorchester of Leipzig, recipients of the Gramophone Award for Brahms' symphonies, deliver the same dedicated and refined performances that so distinguished those readings. This disc completes their Brahms orchestral cycle which is essential listening, and must be savoured in its entirety.

No comments: