Wednesday, 31 August 2016

CD Reviews (The Straits Times, August 2016)

ROZYCKI Piano Concertos
BBC Scottish Symphony / Lukasz Borowicz
Hyperion 68066 / ****1/2

The Polish composer Ludomir Rozycki (1883-1953), a contemporary of his celebrated compatriot Karol Szymanowski, was an arch-traditionalist. While the latter was experimenting with new-found harmonic directions, Rozycki, better-known for his symphonic poems and operas, was stuck in the hallowed past. 

However his model was not Chopin, but rather Liszt, Paderewski and the Russian Romantics, particularly Rachmaninov. Both the First Piano Concerto (1917-18) and Second Piano Concerto (1941-42) were composed during wartime years but there is little or no hint of strife or tragedy.

The First is more ambitious at 32 minutes in three movements, almost over-shadowing the more compact Second in two movements. With lush harmonies and luscious melodies, and British pianist and authority of all things Polish Joanathan Plowright in commanding form, the results are nothing short of spectacular. Both finales are touched with the glitter of show business and film music, especially the Second's. 

The 10 minutes of the single-movement Ballade in G major (1904) brings to mind British film composer Richard Addinsell's Warsaw Concerto, but with a major difference. All of Rozycki's were actually written in Warsaw, which make for enjoyable invigorating listens for the jaded.

ELGAR Symphony No.1
Staatskapelle Berlin / DANIEL BARENBOIM
Decca 478 9353 / *****

The first of Edward Elgar's two symphonies, in A flat major and first performed in 1908, has been described as the musical equivalent of St Pancras Station, London's neo-Gothic edifice. That is a fair assessment, given its grandiose stature and length over four movements: almost 52 minutes. 

To sustain that duration in concert or recording is no mean feat, and the Berlin led by veteran pianist-conductor Daniel Barenboim give a magnificent performance. There is no pompous, flag-waving histrionics, and the broad Andante nobilmente e semplice (Slow, noble and simple) of the opening movement gets exactly what it deserves.

There is a Brucknerian grandeur, that later escalates to extremes of vehemence at the pinnacle of climaxes, which the far from dispassionate Germans totally appreciate. The mercurial second movement, by contrast generates plenty of excitement before cooling off in the sublime longeurs of the Adagio

The exciting finale builds up inexorably to a massive standoff, where the first movement's theme of nobility returns with the warmth of a familiar embrace. Elgar certainly knew how to stoke emotions to feverish highs. This new album matches the best of the Brits on record and has become a must-listen.    

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