Thursday 7 February 2013

CD Reviews (The Straits Times, February 2013)

MARTHA ARGERICH Lugano Concertos
Deutsche Grammophon 477 9884 (4 CDs) / *****

Live recordings from the Martha Argerich Project in Lugano, Switzerland have been documented in series of EMI Classics albums over the years, however this handsome anthology houses concerto performances that for whatever reason have been missed out from editions 2004 through 2010. These are not outtakes and represent a genuine treasure trove from the mercurial Argentine phenomenon.

Particularly interesting are concertos new to her discography, including Francis Poulenc’s Piano Concerto for Two Pianos and Mozart’s Concerto for Three Pianos. In the latter, she partners Paul and Rico Gulda, sons of her former teacher and mentor Friedrich Gulda. This is a breezy reading that includes an extended jazz-inflected improvisation (which quotes the slow movement of Mozart’s Piano Concerto No.21) in its finale.

She has previously recorded concertos by Beethoven (Nos.1 and 2), Schumann, Liszt (No.1), Prokofiev (Nos.1 and 3) and Bartok (No.3), however in front of an audience, the livewire in Argerich and the resident Orchestra della Svizzera Italiana positively sizzle. There are also extras where Argerich plays merely a supporting role, such as in Brahms’s Liebeslieder Waltzes and Stravinsky’s choral ballet Les Noces with the excellent Swiss Radio Television Chorus led by Diego Fasolis. Four hand piano works by Mozart, Schubert and Milhaud complete this feast of music making, which is an irresistible and positive steal at budget price.

KOSHKIN Megaron Concerto, Guitar Quintet
Singapore Symphony / LAN SHUI
BIS 1846 / ****1/2

Here is a new recording by the Singapore Symphony Orchestra fulfilling its dutiful role as a crack recording ensemble. None of the music by Russian composer Nikita Koshkin (born 1956) has figured in the SSO’s subscription concerts, but that does not mean that the works are any less good or interesting. Koshkin writes in a tonal and accessible manner, lightly spiced by dissonance for effect rather than for its own sake.

The ambitious 38-minute Megaron Concerto (2005) was commissioned by Athens Concert Hall (also known as the Megaron or “great hall” of music) and does not outstay its welcome because of its thematic richness. Dedicated to Greek guitar virtuoso Elena Papandreou who performs it with virtuosity and missionary zeal, it may yet become the modern counterpart of popular concertos by Rodrigo, Villa-Lobos or Castelnuovo-Tedesco.   

The Guitar Quintet (2004), where Papandreou is joined by the New Hellenic Quartet, is more adventurous and edgier in spirit, coloured by grinding discords that recall the late Russian composer Alfred Schnittke. Koshkin’s L’istesso Tempo (2010) with cello combines Slavic melancholy with Mediterranean warmth, while the jocular Polka Papandreou (2000) – just a minute and a half - is possibly the shortest-ever work for guitar and orchestra. These world premiere recordings await discovery with open and receptive ears. 

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