Wednesday, 11 May 2016

CD Reviews (The Straits Times, May 2016)

GINASTERA Complete Piano Music
Brilliant Classics 94736 (2CDs) / ****1/2

The year 2016 marks the birth centenary of Argentina's most important composer Alberto Ginastera (1916-1983). His legacy is not unlike that of Heitor Villa-Lobos (in Brazil) and Carlos Chavez (Mexico), for he used popular vernacular melodies, folk idioms and dance rhythms in his compositions, creating a unique sound that become representative of his land and people.

Ginastera's piano music is dominated by three piano sonatas and sets of short pieces, mostly dances and preludes. The most performed of these is his First Piano Sonata (1952) and Three Argentinian Dances (1937), the latter a favourite of Martha Argerich's. These are imbued with a vigorous penchant for fast rhythms, sometimes bordering on the violent, which Italian pianist Mariangela Vacatello captures trenchantly.

Do also listen to his Second and Third Sonatas (1981 and 1982), which are more compact and ups the volume quotient. The Twelve American Preludes (1944) and Suite Of Creole Dances (1946) display a special sympathy for miniatures. The works are performed in chronological order, and one gets a good feel of Ginastera's unique Argentine musical nationalism.   

ABC Classics 481 0853 (2 CDs) / ****1/2

This unusual double-disc set has the immortal music of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1756-1791) rearranged and re-imagined by other composers, from his time and after. Listen first to Disc 2, which opens with a string sextet transcription (arranger unknown) of the famous Sinfonia Concertante for violin & viola in E flat major (K.364). Here the solo parts are absorbed into and shared by the general ensemble of two violins, two violas and two cellos, but the music's essence is gloriously retained. 

Slightly more problematic are the string quintet arrangements of the Clarinet Quintet (K.581) and Horn Quartet (K.507) where the winds are eliminated, but the Australia Ensemble @ University of New South Wales is still an excellent and persuasive advocate.

There is anarchic fun to be had in Edvard Grieg's piano duet amplifications of Mozart piano sonatas on Disc 1. One pianist plays the original version over which the second pianist elaborates with added harmonies, counter-melodies and surprise cadences, which often alters the mood and complexion of the original. 

The drawing room pleasures of the G major (K.283) and C major (K.545) sonatas are heightened, while the dramatics of the Fantasy and Sonata in C minor (K.475 and 457) are somewhat trivialised. Purists will decry the graffitisation of music, but excellent duo pianists Julie Adam and Daniel Herscovitch cannot help but having a ball of a time.     

No comments: