Wednesday 19 October 2016

CD Reviews (The Straits Times, October 2016)

SG50 Celebration Fund / ****1/2

Here is a neat collection of short pieces for violin and piano from that “golden generation” of Singaporean composers born in the 1980s to early 1990s. The best-known of the five composers featured is Chen Zhangyi, who was the first local composer to be commissioned by the Singapore Symphony Orchestra for its overseas concert tours since the 1980s. 

His Sandcastles is dreamy and builds up with waves of sound, while Ground from his single-act opera Window Shopping (for solo piano) ambles like a jazzy improvisation. Phang Kok Jun, a favourite of the Singapore Chinese Orchestra's, offered two solos. Hustle Bustle (violin) rustles with a frenetic Paganini-like quality while Wind Chimes (piano) resounds in the tintinnabulation of bells.

Chew Jun An's Lucid Dreamer conjures a sense of isolation, while In The Wind, A Lonely Leaf (violin), a pentatonic tune takes on a life of its own through its discursive 10 minutes. Tan Yuting's still and evocative Water uses recorded sounds and Fantasy Lights captures a dazzling nocturnal view of the skyline from the Singapore Flyer. Wynne Fung's In A Quiet Grey lyrically fantasises on clouds and skies, and ponders on their ephemeral and ever-changing nature. 

National Violin Competition champion Alan Choo possesses the technical know-how to match the thorniest of scores, and his sympathetic partnership with pianist Lin Hengyue scores on all counts. Produced for the SG50 celebrations, this is a souvenir to treasure.

Complete Works for Solo Piano
ABC Classics 481 1181 (2 CDs) / ****1/2

If there were a composer who fathered a distinctive “Australian sound” in music, that would be the Tasmania-born Peter Sculthorpe (1929-2014). His music sympathetically combined 20th century modernism with Asian (particularly Japanese and Balinese) and Australian aboriginal influences. 

His output for piano, dating from 1945 to 2011, reflects that eclecticism and exoticism. In this complete edition, there are first performances of his juvenilia, mostly short tonal pieces from his years of study at the Melbourne Conservatory. A more personal voice is later heard in his Sonatina (1954) and Sonata (1963).

The Japanese influence comes in Night Pieces (1971), Landscape (1971), Koto Music I & II (1973 & 1976), while his stock in trade Aboriginal sound – filled with dreamy resonances, echoes and silences – are best appreciated in Djilile (1986), Nocturnal (1983/89) and Harbour Dreaming (2000). 

His Little Passacaglia (2004) was written memory of victims of the 2002 Bali Bombings, while his final and longest work Riverina (2011) is a summation of all his styles in five movements, including quote from Home Sweet Home and the Chinese song Molihua. Australian pianist Tamara-Anna Cislowska has lived with Sculthorpe's music since her early teens and is a most persuasive advocate. The recorded sound is also excellent.   

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