Wednesday, 23 December 2015

CD Reviews (The Straits Times, December 2015)

The Nutcracker
Steinway & Sons 30040 / ****1/2 

Here is an unusual version of Piotr Tchaikovsky's popular ballet The Nutcracker for the festive season. The entire ballet in 24 movements has been arranged for piano solo by Canadian pianist Stewart Goodyear. Some of the dances like the Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy, Trepak (Russian Dance) and Pas de deux, and numbers like the Miniature Overture and March are very popular and music lovers are already well-served by the extremely handy Nutcracker Suite in eight movements.

However, Goodyear’s transcription is a very pianistic one that is also highly virtuosic. Unlike Mikhail Pletnev’s famous concert suite which takes liberties by adding lots more notes or Percy Grainger’s florid version of the Waltz Of the Flowers, Goodyear is more faithful to the original orchestral score and closely follows the sequence of the story. 

By packing all the music into the album’s 82 minutes, there is a harried and hectic quality to some of the faster movements. One would have liked more breathing space but that means having to spill onto a second disc. This is nevertheless a very good listen from a very good pianist.

Universal 00028948121441 / ***1/2

Never thought this pair of ears might enjoy a disc by the massively-hyped vocal superstar Andrea Bocelli. That is probably because the album is produced by David Foster, and Bocelli is not singing the classics or attempting major opera house roles, but songs made famous by movies.

His English is highly accented, such as in Leonard Bernstein's Maria (from West Side Story), Henry Mancini's Moon River (Breakfast At Tiffany's) and Andrew Lloyd Webber's Music Of The Night (Phantom Of the Opera), which does not help. He is clearly out of his depth in Jerome Kern's Ol' Man River (Show Boat), usually sung by a bass, or baritone at the very least. So it is a relief to hear the songs in Italian, despite the English versions being better known.

He is joined by popstars Ariana Grande in Ennio Morricone's (Once Upon A Time In America), Nicole Scherzinger in No Llores Por Mi Argentina (Don't Cry For Me Argentina from Evita), and Karen Mok in Irving Berlin's Cheek To Cheek (Top Hat). The orchestrations are redolent of film music and the amplified Bocelli completely dominates the airwaves. Good if you adore him, but not a disaster if you are a neutral. Easy listening, nonetheless.

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