Wednesday, 9 December 2015

CD Reviews (The Straits Times, December 2015)

EuroArts (2 DVDs) / *****

Ever wondered what Martha Argerich's home videos were like? This beautifully-made 2012 documentary, directed by the Argentina-born piano virtuoso's third daughter, Stephanie Argerich, strips away the mystique and reveals a warts-and-all story of familial intrigue, dysfunction but ultimately tenderness. 

Its title refers to an endearing term used by Stephanie's father, the American pianist Stephen Kovacevich, as well as the complicated and sometimes fraught relationships between the Argerich women. Martha comes across as bohemian and cavalier about her daughters’ upbringing, to the point of denying their schooling, while her own mother Juanita, of Ukrainian Jewish descent, remains an enigma even to herself. 

Despite being one of the world's great pianists, Martha displays an ambivalence to a life of endless concertising. Stephanie also touches base with her elder sisters Lyda (a violist, daughter of Chinese composer-conductor Robert Chen), Annie (daughter of Swiss conductor Charles Dutoit) and her own father, who despite being a distant figure also shows a sympathetic side. A scene where all the four Argerich women, mothers and daughters, share a picnic together, painting each other’s nails, is priceless. 

The second DVD features a 2010 concert in Warsaw of Argerich in Chopin's First Piano Concerto with the Sinfonia Varsovia conducted by Jacek Kaspczyk, which finds her in typically fiery form. A must-see for Argerich fans and pianophiles alike.  

SHEN LU, Piano
Steinway & Sons 30039 / ****1/2

This is the debut recording of young Chinese pianist Shen Lu, an excellent programme that highlights a certain kinship between the aesthetics of Chinese piano music and Western impressionist repertoire. He opens with Chen Peixun's arrangement of Lu Wenchang's Ping Hu Qiu Yue (Autumn Moon On A Calm Lake), its flowing melody accompanied by the filigree of harp-like arpeggios and tremolos. This is followed by Maurice Ravel's five-movement suite Miroirs (Mirrors), with its descriptive titles: Night Moths, Sad Birds, A Boat In The Ocean, Morning Song Of The Jester (the popular Alborada Del Gracioso) and the Oriental-influenced Valley Of Bells. These are well characterised and played with sensitivity and finesse.

Although there are no titles attached to Rachmaninov's eight √Čtudes-Tableaux Op.33, the aural imagery to be found suggests secret programmes of marches, raindrops, eulogies, whirlwinds, bells, and more bells. This sense of nostalgia continues into Chinese composer Tan Dun's Eight Memories In Watercolor, based on songs and dances heard in his childhood. The folk-influenced numbers (Staccato Beans and Sunrain) are reminiscent of the Hungarian composers Bartok and Ligeti, while the mimicry of Chinese instruments and drums resounds with clarity and vividness. Lu is beautifully recorded, and this album makes enjoyable listening.

No comments: