Wednesday, 3 August 2016

CD Reviews (The Straits Times, August 2016)

SCARLATTI 18 Sonatas
BIS 2138 / *****

The Russia-born London-based pianist Yevgeny Sudbin made his big first splash in 2005 with a debut recording of keyboard sonatas by Domenico Scarlatti (1885-1757) that garnered rave reviews. 

He comes full circle with a latest recording of 18 more sonatas by the Italian composer who was domiciled in Madrid as the personal keyboard teacher of the Queen of Spain. Most of his 555 or so sonatas were originally conceived for harpsichord but Sudbin regards these as transcriptions when heard on the modern piano.

He takes great liberties in creating new sonorities and textures, by adding octaves, harmonies and sometimes altering the registers of certain voices. All this makes for a refreshingly different listen, even if purists may baulk at the excesses. 

There are five sonatas in the key of D minor alone, and all of these sparkle like multi-faceted gems. The famous “Pastoral” (D.9) is taken at a brisk clip, while the “Aria” (K.32) benefits from harmonic augmentation at its repeat. The little known K.417 is a fugal study that J.S.Bach would have been proud of, while the virtuosic “Guitar” (K.141) revels in repetitive strumming and orchestral effects. Here is a most invigorating release.       

Warner Classics 0825646011360 / ****1/2

One might not expect such a glamorous cover design for a disc of music by 20th century French composer Olivier Messiaen (1908-1992), but this recording is more about the Naughton twins, Christina and Michelle, who are the modern American counterpart of the celebrated Labeque sisters. 

The main work is Messiaen's Visions De L'Amen (1943), a massive seven-movement work which plays for almost 45 minutes, pondering on the spiritual, terrestrial and celestial aspects of being from his devout Roman Catholic perspective.

Far from being too abstract, each movement which is an “Amen” reflects on a different act of joy, from massive chords representing the creation, the kinetic energy of stars and revolving planets, the excitable fluttering of angels and birdsong, all through to the ecstatic carillons of final consummation. 

This love-in continues by way of a simple Bach chorale (from the cantata Actus Tragicus) to the three movements of American minimalist John Adams' Hallelujah Junction (1996), also infectiously driven pieces. One can scarcely find a better ambassador for these highly charged works than the Naughtons, who perform with sympathy, conviction and no little virtuosity.    

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