Wednesday, 22 June 2016

CD Reviews (The Straits Times, June 2016)

Piano Classics 0033 (10 CDs) / *****

The Italian Sergio Fiorentino (1927-1998) was possibly the greatest pianist nobody has ever heard of. His promising early career was curtailed by injuries sustained in an airplane accident, and he spent an inordinate span of his life teaching the piano. 

The great Arturo Michelangeli Benedetti referred to him as “il solo altro pianista” (the only other pianist), and these recordings made near the end of his life are a testament of a visionary musical mind coupled with transcendent technique.

His repertoire was immense, spanning Bach (original as well as his own transcriptions) to the late Romantics, with Schubert, Chopin, Schumann, Franck and Liszt in between. Just hear his magisterial performances of sonatas by Liszt, Rachmaninov (both), Scriabin (Nos.1, 2 and 4) and Prokofiev (No.8) which capture the spontaneity and risk-taking of live performances which are rarely found in studio recordings. 

The bonus disc of Schumann's Carnaval and shorter pieces by Debussy, Scarlatti, Moszkowski, Fauré and more Liszt is sheer pleasure, comparable with the vaunted treasures of Horowitz or Rubinstein. Listen and believe!      

Canary Classics  CC10 / *****

Nigunim is the Hebrew word for music-making, and it is the title of Israeli American composer Avner Dorman's Third Violin Sonata. In four movements and playing for almost 20 minutes, it is the longest work in this album of Jewish-inspired music by celebrated American violinist Gil Shaham and his sister Orli. 

Although the work does not quote pre-existing melodies, it is imbued with the universal feel of deep contemplation, inconsolable sorrow and unbridled celebrations associated with the trials and tribulations of God's chosen people.  

The term can be both sacred and secular. Its singular, Nigun, is the soulfully voiced slow movement of Ernest Bloch's well-known Baal Shem Suite, which encompasses different aspects of Hassidic traditions in music. In the same vein are Joseph Bonime's Danse Hebraique and Leo Zeitlin's Eli Zion, which are equally evocative as Russian Joseph Achron's Hebrew Melody Op.33 (his most popular work) and Two Hebrew Pieces Op.35. 

Although not Jewish himself, American film composer John Williams wins himself a special place for his score for Steven Spielberg's Oscar-winning Holocaust movie Schindler's List, of which three pieces have been included here. The Shaham siblings' advocacy of their musical heritage is heartfelt and they are resonantly recorded.  

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