Wednesday, 14 September 2016

CD Reviews (The Straits Times, September 2016)

Danacord 779 / *****

The world’s musical capital of piano esoteria is surely the north German town of Husum, where an annual summer festival is held to celebrate the forgotten alleys and byways of the piano repertoire. The 2015 festival again unearthed a rich vein of gems in the form of concert pieces and encores.

It takes something to omit the likes of Chopin, Schumann or Rachmaninov to present instead music by Alkan, Hummel, Harold Craxton and Mompou, performed with refinement and dedication by the likes of Yuri Favorin, Florian Uhlig, Jonathan Plowright and Jonathan Powell. What about the the music of Issay Dobrowen's Poem (Powell again) or the delights of Carlos Guastavino's La Nina Del Rio Dulce from the loving fingers of Martin Jones? One is unlikely to hear these performed better anywhere else.

Improvisations and jazzed up numbers have a prominent place, not least in Cyprien Katsaris's 18-minute mash-up through Romantic operas, concertos, symphonies and ballets in the manner of Liszt, which was his pre-recital preamble. See if you can name all the tunes. 

Whoever remembers Alexander Zfasman, a Soviet-era bon vivant (an oxymoron if any) whose Fantasy On Themes By Matvei Blanter matches the syncopated best of Zez Confrey or Billy Mayerl? Played with infectious verve by American Alex Hassan, this sums up the heady spirit of one of the world's most special piano festivals bar none.

NITIN SAWHNEY, Producer/ Composer
Deutsche Grammophon 479 3426 / **1/2

Even for fans of French pianist Helene Grimaud, this release may come as somewhat of a disappointment. First the music: there are eight short movements of composers musing on the watery realm. The usual suspects are there, with Liszt's Les Jeux D'Eau A La Villa D'Este and Ravel's Jeux D'Eau depicting fountains, Debussy's La Cathedrale Engloutie (The Engulfed Cathedral) and Takemitsu's Rain Tree Sketch II

Lesser-known pieces like Faure's Barcarolle No.5, Berio's Wasserklavier, Albeniz's Almeria and a movement from Janacek's In The Mists are also given a hearing. She plays these well but the recorded sound is tinny and over-reverberant, as if to lend the music an added mystique.

Each of the pieces are separated by an interlude, entitled Water – Transition (and there are 7 of them) by British composer-producer Natin Sawhney. These are little more than bitty morsels of recorded electronic or ambient sounds which do little to enhance the understanding or appreciation of the actual music. 

To conclude, there is an 11-minute so-called bonus track Water Reflections, which reprises a few bars from earlier music and Grimaud plainly reading out their titles and spouting a few choice words. All in all, there are just over 50 minutes of real music in this concept album; the rest is pretentious dross.

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