Wednesday, 24 February 2016

CD Reviews (The Straits Times, February 2016)

MAHLER Symphony No.2 “Resurrection”

Arrangement for 4 hands 
by Bruno Walter
  Nakazawa & Athavale (Piano)
  Naxos 8.573350 / ****

Arrangement for 8 hands 
by Heinrich von Bocklet
  Cutting, Turner, Emmerson & Kelly 
  (2 Pianos)
  Melba 301144 / ****1/2

A symphony by Gustav Mahler hardly qualifies to be an obscure classic these days, but arrangements of his symphonies for piano are still rarities. These were transcribed mostly for the purpose of study as well as home entertainment by skilled amateurs. 

Here are two world premiere recordings for piano of Mahler's Second Symphony, called the Resurrection Symphony because its choral finale makes use of Klopstock's poem Die Auferstehung (The Resurrection) as the culmination of a journey from death to redemption. This is a 5-movement work, opening with a funeral march, ponders with life's vagaries before an apocalyptic but ultimately victorious ending.

Voices are dispensed with but the musical architecture and narrative still captivates. Mahler disciple and conductor Bruno Walter's version of piano duet offers the bare bones but does not skimp on the harmonic subtleties or dynamic pacing of the original. Heinrich von Bocklet's edition for 2 pianos provides a fuller sound and more details beyond the skeletal framework. It is a wonder how four different performers in this Australian recording could coordinate their resources as skilfully as they do. 

The Walter recording is the slightly swifter of the two, clocking in at just over 76 minutes. Both are worth experiencing, if only to take a break from the orchestra's glorious excesses. 

Singapore Chinese Orchestra / Yeh Tsung
SCO Recordings / ****

Chinese New Year music, you either love it or loathe it, especially when it comes blaring out through supermarket loudspeakers. This 51-minute long anthology from the Singapore Chinese Orchestra conducted by its Music Director Yeh Tsung is rather special because it includes perennial favourites and provides a Singaporean twist. 

Popular hits like Li Huan Zhi's Spring Festival Overture and Peng Xiu Wen's Zhen Yue Yuan Xiao (Lantern Festival) are the ubiquitous rousers that set the mood. Tan Dun's Shi Ban Yao Gao is percussive, martial, ceremonial and employs the voices of the orchestra's men.

Two movements from Gu Guan Ren's Singapore Glimpses, Niu Che Shui (Kreta Ayer) and Jie Ri (Festival) sound unexpectedly exotic. The latter employs Chinese, Malay and Indian themes, and might even be mistaken for something out of Central Asia. Lin Wei Hua's Gong Xi Fa Cai delights in reedy bird calls from the suona but the campest number is Law Wai Lun's He Xin Nian medley. 

His transcription unabashedly relives the outlandish sounds of a 1960s Geylang cabaret in songs like Chai Shen Dao and Ying Chun Hua, and has the inevitable Gong Xi Gong Xi dressed up as a sultry tango. Have fun.    

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