NEW YEAR'S CONCERT 2015
Vienna Philharmonic / ZUBIN MEHTA
Sony Classical 88875035492 / ****1/2
Another year passes, and another New Year's Concert by the Vienna Philharmonic thrills its well-heeled audiences and is recorded for posterity. The 2015 edition was Bombay-born conductor Zubin Mehta's fifth time on the podium, and the theme was programmed around the 200th anniversary of the founding of the Imperial & Royal Polytechnic Institute in 1815. That explains the engineering-themed works including Johann Strauss the Younger's Accelerations Waltz (Op.234), Electromagnetic Polka (Op.110), Perpetuum Mobile (Perpetual Motion, Op.257), Explosions Polka (Op.43) and his younger brother Eduard's Mit Dampf (At Full Steam).
Studious keepers of the tradition, the orchestra performs with refinement, precision and energy. This concert also unveiled five first performances at the New Year's Concert, including the inevitable Student Polka (Op.263) and An Der Elbe (By The Elbe, Op.477), the last waltz to be premiered by Johann himself. A tribute to conductor Mehta's origins also takes the form of Fairy Tales From The Orient (Op.444), which hardly sounds exotic, to be honest. Traditions die hard, so the orchestra shouts its new year's greeting before finishing off with the Blue Danube Waltz and Radetzky March. Very enjoyable and entertaining, as usual.
ZUBIN MEHTA AND THE
ISRAEL PHILHARMONIC ORCHESTRA
80TH ANNIVERSARY CONCERT
Esplanade Concert Hall
7 January 2016, 7.30 pm
Limited tickets available at SISTIC
ECHOES OF CHINA
SUSAN CHAN, Piano
Naxos 8.570616 / ****1/2
There are three World Premiere recordings in this survey of contemporary Chinese piano music by Hong Kong-born pianist Susan Chan. Zhou Long's Pianobells (2012) is a play on tintinnabulation, simulating the sound of bells in ceremony and nature. Bass strings of the piano struck by the hand make startling contrasts with the tinkling of high treble keys. His Mongolian Folk-Tune Variations (1980) are more conventional in idiom, employing traditional Chinese melodies as is his wife Chen Yi's Northern Scenes (2013).
Macau-born Doming Lam's Lamentations Of Lady Chiu-Jun (1964) is an arrangement of an ancient Lingnan melody in variation form with the piano mimicking Chinese instruments like the guzheng and pipa. Canadian-Chinese Alexina Louie's Music for Piano (1982) and Tan Dun's Eight Memories in Watercolor (1979) are already fairly well-known and regularly programmed. Both are suites of short character pieces that are engaging and ear-catching.
Louie's pieces are impressionistic in feel but with pedagogy in mind, while Tan's are childhood reminiscences based on folk songs and dances from his native Hunan, bringing to mind similar compositions by Bartok. Pianist Chan is a persuasive colourist who brings a wide range of nuances from the keyboard, and this anthology deserves to be heard for its variety.