Wednesday, 6 April 2016

CD Reviews (The Straits Times, April 2016)

Cello Sonatas
Decca 478 8416 / *****

Here are two cello sonatas written by composers whose main instrument was the piano, and both are coincidentally in the key of G minor. Rachmaninov's sonata (composed in 1901) is the better known, written at around the same time as his Second Piano Concerto and Second Suite for two pianos, which share a wealth of melody and luscious harmonies. 

Chopin's sonata (1847) was his last published work, filled with mellowness and a rich vein of lyricism. Both are in 4 movements, including achingly beautiful slow movements which have become hits in their own right.

American cellist Alisa Weilerstein coaxes a luxuriant and gorgeous tone, complemented by Israeli pianist Inon Barnatan's virtuosic yet sensitive partnership. The fill-ups are also well-chosen.  Rachmaninov's mellifluous Vocalise is soulfully rendered. 

A transcription by Auguste Franchomme (Chopin's close friend and favourite cellist) of the Etude in C sharp minor (Op.25 No.7), which sometimes carries the nickname “Cello”, seems like a natural choice. Finally, Chopin's early Introduction & Polonaise Brillante (Op.3) closes the recital in a blaze of fireworks. Here are 81 minutes of hugely enjoying listening.     

Champs Hill 059 / ****1/2  

The 1920s ushered in a new era of music in which European composers readily embraced the influence of music from the New World, namely African-American jazz. This interesting anthology by young British violinist Tamsin Waley-Cohen explores both sides of the Atlantic, American composers making their mark in this home-grown musical language and French composers intoxicated by the blues and syncopated rhythms. 

The two main works are the Violin Sonatas of Francis Poulenc (1943) and Maurice Ravel (1927). Poulenc's bittersweet idiom was in this instance inspired by the murder of poet Federico Garcia Lorca during the Spanish Civil War, while Ravel's includes a toe-tapping Blues as its slow movement.

The Americans are represented by Charles Ives and George Gershwin. Ives' Decoration Day was a movement from his Holidays Symphony, where distant memories of old band tunes were being reheard through the prism of time. 

Six popular songs from Gershwin's Afro-American folk opera Porgy And Bess benefit from Jascha Heifetz's slick arrangements, and the rarity is Heifetz's last transcription, a 6-minute distillation of tunes from An American In Paris (and completed by his Indonesia-born assistant Ayke Agus), which seems all too short. The performances here are marked by an infectious vitality, and deserve repeated listening.

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