Wednesday, 8 June 2016

CD Reviews (The Straits Times, June 2016)

OF THE 30'S & 40'S
Hsu Feiping, Piano
Chen Dong, Baritone
Hong Kong Philharmonic 
Kenneth Schermerhorn (Conductor)
Marco Polo 8.225829 / ****

There is a pleasing symmetry to this disc of Chinese music, recorded in 1985 by the fledgling Hong Kong Philharmonic for the small Hong Kong-based label that was destined to become a world leader: Naxos. Leveraging on the success of the Butterfly Lovers Violin Concerto from 1958, Chen Gang – one half of the duo that composed it – wrote a piano concerto in 1985 from the same music. 

Slightly longer than its violin counterpart, it contains a virtuoso solo cadenza past the 18-minute mark which does not feature in the original. This first recording by the late Xiamen-born pianist Hsu Feiping is had a less elegiac feel and is possessed with a heroic edge, bringing it closer to the spirit of the Yellow River Concerto.  

Coupled with it are nine popular Chinese songs by Chen Gang's father Chen Gexin. These are sung by baritone Chen Dong, Chen Gang's brother, who is more of a crooner than operatic hero. Watch out for some approximate intonation and dodgy English in the hit Rose, Rose, I Love You

Even more familiar is the Chinese New Year favourite Congratulations (Gongxi Gongxi) heard at its correct tempo, which is very fast indeed. In songs like Eternal Smile and Live Through The Cold Winter, he brings out a nostalgic air that make this disc an enjoyable collectible.

J.S.BACH Mass in B minor
Soloists with Concerto Copenhagen
Lars Ulrik Mortensen (Conductor)
CPO 777 851-2 (2 CDs) / *****

Although Johann Sebastian Bach (1685-1750) was not a Roman Catholic, his setting of the Latin liturgical mass remains a classic in the time-tested musical form was well as a personal statement of his own Lutheran faith. 

There have been many excellent albums of his Mass in B minor through the decades, but this recording by Lars Ulrik Mortensen and Concerto Copenhagen is unusual as it employs one voice per part in the choral movements accompanied by period instruments. Thus there are only ten singers (five concertino soloists, backed by just five ripieno voices) in this version.

This practice and its scholarship remain controversial, but it is totally conceivable that Bach did not exclude its possibilities, as this recording persuasively demonstrates. Far from sounding thin or small-scaled, each and every of the movements are projected with clarity and depth. The voluminous and congested sonorities of modern orchestra versions have also been eschewed for lighter and more transparent textures. 

From the opening Kyrie Eleison to the final Dona Nobis Pacem, this is a glorious performance, filled with detailed insight, interpretive vigour and even grandeur. A sitting through its 104 minutes will help redefine what the words “divine” and “beautiful” really mean.  

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