Thursday 29 January 2015

CD Reviews (The Straits Times, January 2015)

Deutsche Grammophon 479 3922 / *****

It seems strange that the two most celebrated musicians born in Buenos Aires, Argentina in the early 1940s, pianist Martha Argerich and pianist-conductor Daniel Barenboim have seldom performed on two pianos together. Their joint recital on 19 April 2014 in the Berlin Philharmonie was a celebration of sorts, a meeting of music’s two most brilliant spirits, Barenboim’s intellect with Argerich’s fire. And how sparks flew and the house erupted. There may be “cleaner” versions of Mozart’s Sonata in D major (K.448), but few capture the sense of freedom and frisson in this live reading, where spontaneity is never sacrificed for correctness. Despite the prestidigitation involved, lightness, elegance and ebullience prevailed. 

The relative rarity is Schubert’s Variations on an Original Theme (D.813), which is totally engaging and deserves to be better known. The “main event” was Stravinsky’s own four hand transcription of his ballet The Rite of Spring, notorious for its stark dissonance and jangling percussiveness. Here is a no holds barred performance that literally lifts the roof. A virgin dancing to her death in ritual sacrifice could not have sounded this vehement, with such reckless regard for health and sanity. Living and dying on the edge seems to be the duo’s credo, putting into the shade the recent studio recording by Alice Sara Ott and Francesco Tristano (also on the DG label), which sounds sanitised by comparison. Here, the rough and tumble of oldies but goodies reign supreme.

Images Pour Orchestre
Singapore Symphony / SHUI LAN
BIS 1837 / *****

This is the Singapore Symphony Orchestra’s first disc in a projected cycle of Claude Debussy’s orchestra works. Having made its mark in the three Rachmaninov symphonies, this outing is no less impressive. The titular La Mer (The Sea) is the same 2004 recording that was issued in the highly-acclaimed album Seascapes, and it sounds as fresh and evocative as when it first appeared. Shui Lan’s attention to detail, nuances and subtle shadings come through equally clearly in the three Images for Orchestra. Musical portrayals of Britain, Spain and France in Gigues, Iberia and Rondes de Printemps respectively draw on orchestral colours that are pensive, festive and celebratory, but become ultimately indelible in these lively yet subtle performances.

SSO faces incredible competition, present and past in multiple legendary recordings (Haitink, Previn, Dutoit, Ansermet et al come to mind), in this repertoire but more than holds its own. On hearing Jin Ta’s sensuous flute solo that opens the Prelude to the Afternoon of the Fawn and the orchestra’s ensuing languid wallow in the woods, who can deny that the national orchestra has attained the coveted status of being a world class (a much bandied-about description) recording outfit? Sequels to this marvellous album, possibly SSO’s finest to date, are keenly awaited.    

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