Wednesday, 29 March 2017

CD Review (The Straits Times, March 2017)

Music In Turbulent Times
Deutsche Grammophon 
479 6969 (2 CDs) / ****

Exactly one hundred years ago, Europe was mired in the bloodiest war civilisation had ever known, and within months, Tsar Nicholas II of Russia was overthrown in the Bolshevik Revolution, ushering in the most brutal political regime of modern times. 

Music was still being composed, distinguished by iconoclasm and modernity, but indelibly influenced by global events of the time. This double-disc set surveys works written in the momentous year 1917, encompassing late Romanticism, neoclassicism and the rise of avant-gardism. Composers like Respighi (Fountains of Rome), Holst (The Planets), Bartok (The Wooden Prince), Stravinsky (Les Noces) and Prokofiev (Violin Concerto No.1) all figure in this musical montage through excerpts from major repertoire works.

There is a complete performance of Erik Satie's dadaist ballet Parade (performed by the Monte Carlo Opera Orchestra led by Louis Frémaux), which employs non-musical sounds of the typewriter and sirens. Ravel's piano suite La Tombeau de Couperin (comprising 6 movements dedicated to friends who died in the Great War) performed by Monique Haas, and Debussy's last piano piece, a little prelude entitled Les soirs illumines par l'ardeur du charbon (Evenings Lit By Burning Coals) with Philippe Cassard. 

The centrepiece is Shostakovich's Twelfth Symphony “The Year 1917”, a 1961 programmatic pot-boiler commemorating the October Revolution and dedicated to the memory of Lenin. Neeme Järvi conducting the Gothenburg Symphony gives a straight forward account without any hint of irony. Recommended for history buffs. 

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