Wednesday, 29 June 2016

CD Reviews (The Straits Times, June 2016)

EIGES Piano Music
Toccata Classics 0215 / ****1/2

If one is familiar with the piano music of Scriabin, Rachmaninov and Medtner, the works of their contemporary Konstantin Eiges (1875-1950) would prove equally appealing. Born of Jewish ancestry in Ukraine, he studied both medicine and music, but devoted his life to music education. 

This first ever recording of Eiges' piano music by British pianist Jonathan Powell reveals a style common to Russian composers of the late Romantic era, stretching from the more traditional Glazunov and Liadov to the rising iconoclast Prokofiev.

Eiges acquits himself as a perfect miniaturist in the Skazki (Fairy Tales), Preludes and Poems, forms frequented by his more famous colleagues. Scriabin's febrile and volatile sensibilities, Rachmaninov's lyricism and passion, and Medtner's economy and development of simple motifs are all present. 

In the two more extended single-movement Sonatas-Poems, a heady union of Scriabin and Medtner is the result. More traditional are the Theme And Variations and Cuckoo, a short piece based on the familiar birdcall. Powell is a most persuasive advocate whose understated virtuosity and razor-keen reflexes are wholly in the service of this underrated and unjustifiably neglected music.

DANIEL HOPE, Violin et al
Deutsche Grammophon 479 5305 / ****1/2

This year marks the centenary of the birth of the great violinist and musical statesman Yehudi Menuhin (1916-1999). British violinist Daniel Hope was a student, and whose mother served as Lord Menuhin's manager for many years. 

This touching tribute to his “music grandfather” includes music closely associated with Menuhin as well as pieces which teacher-and-student worked on together. It was Menuhin who gave the first performance of Mendelssohn's very early Violin Concerto in D minor, a work of Mozartian charm and simplicity which Hope plays with much sympathy and wide-eyed directness.

In Vivaldi's Concerto For 2 Violins in A minor and a selection of Bartok Duos, Hope is partnered by Simos Papanas and Daniel Lozakovitj, where he takes on the Menuhin mantle as mentor. Although Menuhin was unlikely to have known or heard the short pieces by Steve Reich, Hans Werner Henze, John Tavener, Jo Knumann or Bechara El-Khoury, the cosmopolitanism of the selection reflected his ethos and worldview. 

There is much poignancy to the last piece, Ravel's Kaddisch, a Jewish song of mourning which Hope performed in the very last concert Menuhin conducted, which made for a most moving tribute.       

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