Wednesday, 20 January 2016

CD Reviews (The Straits Times, January 2016)

The Philadelphia Orchestra 
Yannick Nezet-Seguin
Deutsche Grammophon 479 4970 / *****

This 80-minute-long album brings together the three great sets of variations for piano by Russian composer-pianist Sergei Rachmaninov (1873-1943). The most popular is his Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini ,one of his last works, based on Paganini's Caprice No.24 for unaccompanied violin, with a prominent role offered by the medieval chant Dies Irae. Its first ever recording was made in 1934 by Rachmaninov himself, partnered by The Philadelphia Orchestra, the same orchestra on this recording.

Young prize-winning Russian pianist Daniil Trifonov proves himself to be the composer's equal on the technical front, but goes one further with the Chopin Variations (1904) and Corelli Variations (1931) for solo piano, which Rachmaninov never recorded. The former, based on Chopin's Prélude in C minor (Op.28 No.20), is longer and more discursive, and Trifonov closes with a restatement of the original piece. In the latter, he adds his own individual touches by highlighting secondary voices.

His personal contribution is the 4-movement suite Rachmaniana, a tribute to Rachmaninov's skill in writing miniatures, crafted in the stylistic manner of the master himself. An impressive show of pianism all round.  

RESPIGHI Complete Orchestral Works
Orchestra Sinfonica di Roma 
Francesco la Vecchia
Brilliant Classics 94900 (8CDs) / **** 

Despite its title, this slim-line budget box set does not contain the complete orchestral output of Italian composer Ottorino Respighi (1879-1936). For example, it does not include the ballet music of La Boutique Fantasque or Belkis, Queen Of Sheba, both excellent examples of his orchestration skills, nor his orchestrations of Rachmaninov Etudes-Tableaux

His most important works are here. The Roman TrilogyFestivals, Fountains and Pines – is a good place to start for the taste of his sumptuous and opulently canvases. The early hour-long Sinfonia Drammatica in three movements is overblown with Wagnerian gestures, but is made up by its mastery of form.

Respighi's forté was dressing up old music and antique forms in Romantic shades and colours, such as the three suites of Ancient Airs And Dances, The Birds (based on baroque keyboard pieces), Botticelli Triptych and Church Windows, which include elaborations on medieval chants. These are skilfully crafted as are the concertos built upon ancient modes. 

The best of these is the Concerto Gregoriano for violin (with excellent soloist Vadim Brodsky) and the Concerto In Mixolydian Mode for piano which in parts sounds like Rachmaninov and even Gershwin. There may be better performances on record of the Roman Trilogy but the Roman forces here score on authenticity. With excellent programme notes, here is a handy start to exploring this fascinating composer.  

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