Wednesday, 17 August 2016

CD Reviews (The Straits Times, August 2016)

BIS 2148 / ****1/2

This is a handy anthology of 20th century French music, with the composers casting a fond retrospective glance at musical forms and compositional styles of the past. The term “neoclassical” comes to mind but that does not apply to all works, which are tonal with the tendency to twelve-tone technique strongly resisted. 

Jehan Alain's brief Prelude & Fugue (1935) is a neo-Bachian tribute by a composer better known as an organist. Henri Dutilleux's only Piano Sonata (1946-48), in three movements, is both lyrical and jazzy in its resourceful use of harmonies, capped by an imposing yet free-wheeling Chorale and Variations as a finale.

The best known work is Maurice Ravel's La Tombeau De Couperin (1914-17), with six movements including a prelude, fugue, baroque dances and toccata to close. Each piece was written in memory of a friend killed in the Great War. British pianist Kathryn Stott is sensitive to all form of rhythms, idioms and nuances which make for very lively performances. 

She concludes with Olivier Messiaen's Le Baiser De L'Enfant-Jesus (Kiss Of The Infant Jesus) from the massive 20-piece cycle Vingt Regards Sur L'Enfant Jesus (1944), a gentle lullaby built over a repeated ground bass. New is old, and old is new in this revelatory recital disc.

Warner Classics 0825646008971 / ****

Every young musician's dream is to cut a debut recording, and American violinist Benjamin Beilman, winner of the 2010 Montreal International Violin Competition, shows his mettle in an interesting programme of contrasted works. In Schubert's lyrical Grand Duo in A major (D.574) that opens, Beilman crafts a tone that is wiry, incisive and always on-edge. 

This might come across to the listener as acidic and unyielding for Romantic repertoire, and is far better suited to the two 20th century works that follow. The mystery and folk-inflected pages of Janacek's Violin Sonata however benefit from this direct, full-frontal approach.

For Stravinsky's Divertimento, an adaptation of music from the ballet The Fairy's Kiss (which in turn uses Tchaikovsky's music), the narrative qualities and sense of fantasy are well brought out. The recital comes full circle with the Vienna of Fritz Kreisler's Viennese Rhapsodic Fantasietta, a single-movement violin concerto in all but name. 

Unsurprisingly, it is based on the waltz, opening in a tonally ambiguous haze before relaxing into the congenial dance that is so beloved. Beilman and the ever-sensitive Korean pianist Yekwon Sunwoo, himself a multi-award winner, ably provide the enjoyable conclusion that this disc deserves.

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