Wednesday, 15 June 2016

CD Reviews (The Straits Times, June 2016)

DEBUSSY Piano Works Vol.1
ICSM Records 007 / ****1/2

It has been a long time since Penang-born pianist Dennis Lee last made a solo recording. His all-Szymanowski recital disc on the Hyperion/Helios label from 1990 was a landmark as it ushered in a new era of rethinking and recording of the 20th century Polish composer's music. He however enters into a crowded field with this first volume of piano music by Frenchman Claude Debussy (1862-1918). A most satisfying primer for listeners new to his music, it includes both “belle epoque” works alongside his trademark impressionism.

Particular astute is the programming of Estampes (Imprints, 1903) alongside Images Oubliees (Forgotten Images, 1894), the latter published as recently as in 1977. Jardins Sous La Pluie (Gardens In The Rain), the final piece of Estampes and its counterpart both quote the nursery song Nous N'irons Plus Au Bois (We Go No More In The Woods), which comes across differently in each guise.

The waltz La Plus Que Lente (Slower Than Slow) and Two Arabesques are elegantly performed, contrasted with the shimmering textures in Reflets Dans L’eau (Reflections On The Water) from the First Book of Images and L'Isle Joyeuse (The Joyous Isle), where the splashes of sound are indelibly captured. The recorded sound is warm and spacious, with Lee's sensitivity and virtuosity being very well served. 

London Symphony Orchestra 
Keith Lockhart (Conductor)
Evosound EVSA334 / ****1/2

The crossover look of this album by American-Japanese violinist Anne Akiko Meyers is a canny marketing ploy. Fortunately there is nothing cheesy in her clever juxtapositions, combining a serious 20th century violin concerto with arrangements of film music. 

It opens with Leonard Bernstein's de facto violin concerto, the Serenade inspired by Plato's Symposium, a treatise on the subject of love. Its five connected movements, each named after Greek philosophers, find a rare blend of lyricism and jazzy syncopations that almost approaches the spirit of his masterpiece, the musical West Side Story.

Seven composers were commissioned to arrange ten popular movie themes and show tunes, including Ennio Morricone's Cinema Paradiso and The Mission, Gershwin's Summertime and Someone Over To Watch Over Me, Leigh Harline's Wish Upon A Star, David Raksin's Laura and Bernstein's own Somewhere

The arrangements are lush and sumptuous, even cheeky such as the appropriation of Tchaikovsky's Violin Concerto in Matthew Naughtin's take on Jakob Gade's Tango Jalousie. Meyers' plays with passion, and her luscious tone lights up this stimulating and ultimately entertaining anthology.

No comments: