Wednesday, 10 August 2016

CD Reviews (The Straits Times, August 2016)

QEC 2016 / ****1/2

Hot off the press, this 4 CD box-set of highlights from the 2016 Queen Elisabeth International Piano Competition was issued within a week of its conclusion in Brussels. The performances demonstrate the extremely high levels of artistry achieved at the world's top concours today. Predictably it was with warhorse concertos that the top prizes were sealed. 

Lukas Vondracek (Czech Republic, 1st prize) gave a sizzling reading of Rachmaninov's Third Concerto, with Henry Kramer (USA, 2nd prize) not far behind in barnstorming Prokofiev's Second Concerto. Both pianists and Alberto Ferro (Italy) who garnered 6th prize with Rachmaninov's First Concerto were partnered by the National Orchestra of Belgium conducted by Marin Alsop.

Vondracek, who performed at last year's Singapore International Piano Festival, also capped a fine performance of Mozart's Piano Concerto No.21 with his own cadenzas. The competition's set piece concertos, Fabian Fiorini's Tears Of Lights and Claude Ledoux's A Butterfly's Dream, received world premiere recordings from Alexander Beyer (USA, 3rd prize) and Han Chi Ho (South Korea, 4th prize) respectively. 

A departure from the norm was a fourth disc with solo performances selected by a peer jury of young pianists, with the music of Ravel and Prokofiev featuring prominently. All in all, this is a feast of youthful and exuberant pianism. 

Landmark: The above was my 2000th review / article for The Straits Times, a music journey which began with my review of Evelyn Glennie's percussion recital, which was published on 20 June 1997.

Warner Classics 2175002 (16 CDs) / ****

Now that we are well into the 21st century, here is a fond look back in time on the epoch-making classical works of the preceding hundred years, represented by works of 52 composers drawn from the vast back catalogues of the EMI labels of old. 

The journey starts in 1901 with Rachmaninov's Second Piano Concerto (with pianist Leif Ove Andsnes), a vestige of late Romanticism and ends with Thomas Ades' kinetically exciting Asyla of 1997 (conducted by Simon Rattle). In between are the great -isms that defined the breadth and depth of 20th century music, including impressionism, atonalism, neoclassicism, minimalism and post-modernism.

A slice of sheer diversity may be sampled in Disc 12 (spanning 1956 to 1961) which includes Walton's bittersweet Cello Concerto, Boulez's atonal songs of Le Soleil Des Eaux, Penderecki's shrieking shocker Threnody For The Victims Of Hiroshima and Bernstein's irrepressible Symphonic Dances from the musical West Side Story

Most of the works have with time become concert hall staples, but surely some space could have been reserved for the likes of Scriabin, Szymanowski, Ligeti, Stockhausen and Philip Glass. The only Asian work included was Toru Takemitsu's Water-Ways (1982). Despite the caveats, here is almost 20 hours of absorbing listening.

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