Wednesday, 4 May 2016

CD Reviews (The Straits Times, May 2016)

HOROWITZ Return to Chicago
Deutsche Grammophon 479 4649  (2 CDs) 

Some 27 years after his death, new recordings of the Ukraine-born piano virtuoso Vladimir Horowitz (1903-1989) continue to pop up with surprising frequency. His legend still burns brightly, and this one comes from a public broadcast of his Chicago concert on 26 October 1986. It thematically echoed the more famous Moscow concert of the same year, but was caught in better form. 

Two Scarlatti sonatas and two Scriabin Etudes bookend a selection of Mozart, a composer whom he had developed a belated interest. His performances of the cheery Sonata in C major (K.330), austerely beautiful Adagio in B minor (K.540) and Rondo in D major (K.485) were wonderfully contrasted and nothing less than absorbing.

New to the discography was Schumann's Arabeske (Op.18) and Chopin's Mazurka in C sharp minor (Op.63 No.3), works by composers he had special feelings for. In Liszt's Petrarch Sonnet No.104 and Soirees de Vienne No.6 (based on Schubert waltzes), he topped his Moscow effort with cleaner takes and this imperious sweep carried into the rough and tumble of Chopin's Scherzo No.1

Two familiar encores by Schumann (Traumerei) and Moszkowski (Etincelles) completed this splendid recital. The bonus of this album is to hear Horowitz candidly speak in his heavily Russian-accented English in two radio interviews.  

STEIBELT Piano Concertos Nos.3, 5 & 7
Ulster Orchestra
Hyperion 68104 / ****1/2

Here is a new fix for those who have enjoyed the piano concertos of Mozart and Hummel, and wonder what more the classical era has to offer the pianophile. The chief claims to fame of Berlin-born pianist-composer Daniel Steibelt (1765-1823) were to challenge Beethoven to a pianistic duel (and lost) and scoring works to include a tambourine part to be played by his wife!

His virtuosic piano concertos score high on special effects rather than originality, but who is to say Beethoven did not learn something from his old foe. Steibelt's Piano Concerto No.3 (1798) is nicknamed L'Orage (Storm) because its finale cooks up a raging tempest not unlike that in Beethoven's Pastoral Symphony. The title A La Chasse (The Hunt) comes from the hunting horn theme in Piano Concerto No.5 (1802), something which Beethoven fully exploited in his Emperor Concerto, also in E flat major.

The much-maligned tambourine appears in Piano Concerto No.7 (1816), the Grand Concerto Militaire as its employs batteries of wind, brass and percussion to most bombastic effect. British pianist-conductor Howard Shelley has his hands full and cannot but delight in these vulgar but surprisingly likeable novelties.

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