Thursday 30 April 2015

CD Reviews (The Straits Times, April 2015)

BRAHMS Piano Concerto No.2
Staatskapelle Dresden 
Christian Thielemann, Conductor
Deutsche Grammophon 479 2384 / *****

This 2013 live recording of Johannes Brahms' Second Piano Concerto completes Italian virtuoso Maurizio Pollini's third recorded cycle of the German Romantic's piano concertos, and it is also his best. At 71 and despite rumours of ill health, there is no diminishing of his physical abilities or interpretive powers. Playing for 47 minutes, the four movements reveal supreme faculties at work, where strength of projection is finely balanced against sensitivity of touch. The monumental first movement and imposing Scherzo that follows do not betray a hint of labouriousness, instead offer a wellspring of youth and vitality.

The orchestral partnership in integral in this “symphony with piano obbligato”, providing an unwritten tension that challenges yet abets the pianist at every turn. The tuttis are magnificently hewn, and on the solo front, French horn and cello acquit themselves perfectly at the opening and slow movement respectively. Brahms eventually lightens the Atlas-like load for the finale half, but there is no let up for Pollini, with startling swings of dynamics in the Andante and lightness of skating-on-ice distinguishing the jocular finale. Is this the dream version of an often-elusive masterpiece? It might very well be.    

Reinhard Schobersberger, Piano
Ars Production 38 752 / ****1/2

Brendan Goh is a 15-year-old Singaporean cellist studying in Vienna, where he was recently accepted by the Konservatorium Wien University. His teachers have included Qin Li-Wei of the Yong Siew Toh Conservatory and Pierre Bartolomey, Principal Cellist of the Vienna Philharmonic. His second CD recording is a quantum leap from his debut album at 12, with playing of depth and maturity. His artistry is immediately discerned in Bach's unaccompanied Cello Suite No.3 in C minor (BWV.1009) where he coaxes a lush, full-bodied tone from his 1842 J.B.Vuillaume cello, and positively revels in its dance movements.

This recital also showcases a wealth of responses in diverse repertoire. The lyricism of Schumann's Fantasy Pieces Op.73 prepares the way for the impassioned plaints of Fauré's Elegie. The heartfelt playing here truly moves, regardless of age. His phrasing in a slow movement from Haydn's Concerto in D major is simplicity itself, contrasted with the hot-blooded moves and swagger in Gaspar Cassado's Requiebros and Astor Piazzolla's Le Grand Tango. For sheer pyrotechnics, look no further than the transcription of Paganini's Caprice No.9, which is simply astounding. The mind boggles at what he will come up with at 18.

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