Thursday 16 April 2015

CD Reviews (The Straits Times, April 2015)

Alessandro Marangoni, Piano
Malmo Symphony / Andrew Mogrelia
Naxos 8. 572823 / ****1/2

Guitar-fanciers will forever be in the debt of Italian composer Mario Castelnuovo-Tedesco (1895-1968) for his light and sparkling Guitar Concerto. His two piano concertos are virtually unknown with pianophiles, which should not be the case. After all, he had fled fascist Italy before the Second World War, settling in Los Angeles where he became a prolific film composer and composition professor. His students included John Williams, André Previn and Henry Mancini. Like Rachmaninov, his influences may be discerned in Hollywood movie music, but unlike the brooding and melancholic Russian, his style is far sunnier and Mediterranean in outlook.

Both Concerto No.1 (1927) and Concerto No.2 (1936-37) are Romantically conceived, playing for a half-hour and in three movements. The carnival-like atmosphere of the former is contrasted with the dramatics of the latter, but both have central slow romances with an Italianate air. The rousing tarantella that concludes No.1 and scintillating finale of No.2 are given their due by Italian pianist-scholar Alessandro Marangoni, who makes a convincing case of the concertos. Included as bonus are premiere recordings of Four Dances from the unpublished Love's Labours Lost (1953), edited by Marangoni, more light-hearted music based on the Shakespearean comedy. This is an enjoyable disc of rarities that repays repeated listening.    

Piano Duo Takahashi Lehmann
Audite 97.706 / ****1/2

It was the standard practice in much of the 19th century for composers to write piano transcriptions or reductions (for two or four hands) of their orchestral works. This helped dissemination of their music by providing study material for students and entertainment for amateur musicians. This debut recording by the Berlin-based piano duo of Norie Takahashi and Bjorn Lehmann showcases three such arrangements, all of which are seldom performed in concert.

Arnold Schoenberg's Chamber Symphony No.1, a breakthrough work scored for 15 instruments, has four hands on the piano perfectly capture tonality in its finals legs. The jarring dissonances come through vividly in this taut and thrilling reading. A similar precedent had been set much earlier by Beethoven in his Grosse Fuge (Great Fugue), originally for string quartet, which becomes ever more startlingly modern on percussive keyboards.

The four-hands version of Robert Schumann's Second Symphony, here receiving its premiere recording, sounds much pared down but benefits from its transparency. The Scherzo now comes across as a virtuoso study but the slow movement suffers a little when it cannot luxuriate in its longeurs. The performances here are fluent and committed, which should please the most ardent of pianophiles.   

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