Wednesday, 2 November 2016

CD Reviews (The Straits Times, November 2016)

The Teng Ensemble
Cross Ratio Entertainment A21 / ****1/2

Here is a very enjoyable exercise in nostalgia as The Teng Ensemble, Singapore's hip Chinese chamber crossover ensemble, applies a new twist to the melodies we sang during our younger days. Forget those National Day Parade mash-ups; what we have instead are slicked up versions of old friends in spiffy outfits by Chow Jun Yi (composer) and Huang Peh Linde (arranger). 

The first track, Childhood, packs in four songs – Ikan Kekek, Burung Kakak Tua, Ni Wa Wa (Mud Doll) and San Lun Che (Tricycle) – while City By Moonlight is an improvisation on Tian Mi Mi, the supposedly subversive Chinese hit which originated from the Indonesian song Dayung Sampan.

The eight-member Teng Ensemble cleverly merges the sounds of electronic and acoustic instruments in a seamless manner, with melodic lines led by Samuel Wong's pipa, Yang Ji Wei's sheng, Gerald Teo's cello and Phua Ee Kia's falsetto vocals. 

Listen for some very astute juxtapositions, such as in Gratitude, with familiar songs involving mothers and fathers, or Journey which merges Geylang Sipaku Geylang with Rasa Sayang where Syafiqah Sallehin's accordion makes a cameo. This listener’s favourite tracks are Fusion (Chan Mali Chan) and Storm War (Munneru Valiba), which make this disc worth listening over and over again.     

STRAVINSKY Piano Ballets
Petrushka & The Rite Of Spring
& CHARLES OWEN, Piano 4 Hands
Quartz 2117 / ****1/2

It was an established fact that Russian composer Igor Stravinsky (1882-1971) composed at the piano. His frenetic and rhythmically complex orchestral scores were all conceived with ten or twenty fingers on a keyboard. 

While instrumental colour may be wanting, harmonic lushness and rhythmic vibrancy could still be reproduced in such piano transcriptions. Petrushka (1911) was his second ballet, making advances from the late-Romantic opulence of The Firebird, such as the introduction of his “Petrushka chord”, a classic example of polytonality. The exuberance of the Russian Dance and Shrovetide Fair sections are headily recreated with the percussive sonorities from the piano.  

His next masterpiece, The Rite Of Spring (1913), took piano textures and by extension symphonic writing to a new dimension. The ballet music heard on piano still provides an equally vivid experience, especially with the rapid-fire interplay of four hands in a very narrow space. 

The Russian Apekisheva and the Briton Owen, co-founders of the London Piano Festival, make excellent partners, complimenting each other's sensitivity with outright virtuosity, and vice versa. There are recent excellent recordings on 4 hands of The Rite Of Spring, notably by Martha Argerich and Daniel Barenboim (on Deutsche Grammophon), but the London-based duo more than holds its own.  

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