31 January, 2011

CD (DVD) Recommendations: Paavo Jarvi's Beethoven cycle

CD (DVD) Recommendations: Paavo Jarvi's Beethoven cycle

I cannot begin to tell you how this set has shaken me and instantly superseding all other versions to become my favorite. All I can say is grab them!

Paavo Jarvi, son of the wonderful Neeme Jarvi, is a conductor that I admire greatly. Very much his own man, and of the modern age. Here, his Beethoven cycle with the Deutsche Kammerphilharmonie Bremen out-HIPs any of the period specialists. Interpretively fresh as daisy, the performances are fast, rhythmically propulsive, texturally lean, very much sturm und drang, and shed light on every symphony. On the way were countless rhythmic felicities and unusual sonorities, bringing Beethoven much closer to Haydn. The playing was excellent throughout.

The sound on my set of DVD (Sony) is first-class, but you could also collect them on CD/SACD (Sony/BMG). This is a set I'd not do without.

Concert Review: Yevgeny Sudbin recital

Concert Review: Yevgeny Sudbin recital

19 Jan, 2011
Concert Hall, Academy of Performing Arts

Sudbin first caught my attention on the BIS CDs available in the HKPL. Hearing his 2009 recital in NYC affirmed my belief he is destined for greatness.

The HK recital is part of a series organized by Premiere Performances. I'd urge you to pay attention to this organization's offerings, all artists of the highest caliber (last Ning Feng recital too). There is a discount for subscription. The staff is small, and executive assistant Sharon Lam mans the telephone herself and was very helpful to our needs. Many thanks.

Sharon told us that booking a venue was difficult, but I was glad they ended up in the APA concert hall, an acoustically wondrous small venue, packed on this night.

Like the NYC recital, program opened with 3 Scarlatti sonatas. I think this time he allowed a little more play and humor to come across. It also struck me by his clean playing he tried to emulate the harpsichord, more successfully than some.

Following with 4 classically based Shostakovich Preludes was logical. His complete understanding of the quirkiness of the music and rhythmically masterful playing was a sheer delight. I think that was the best of the evening.

Despite the virtuosity, Chopin's Ballades 3 and 4 were objective and symphonic, finely held together but lacking just a little in poetry and heroism (brought out more successfully in the SZ recital of Zhang Haocheng in recent memory) .

The second half began with a beautifully atmospheric Liszt Transcendental etude, "Harmonies du Soir". Ravel's Gaspard de la Nuit followed, played with staggering technique and aplomb.

The program notes by Sudbin himself were uncommonly fine, pointing out many relationships, not least between Chopin's Ballade No. 3 and Ravel's Ondine.

10 January, 2011

CDs from the Hong Kong Public Library: Listening Log (4)

CDs from the Hong Kong Public Library: Listening Log (4)

It's been frustrating that due to family affairs (renovation and moving in NYC) I have not attended even a single concert in almost 3 months (and thank you RC for your concern). Hopefully that should be rectified soon.

Fortunately there is still home listening. And some CDs I recently borrowed from the library have been exceptional.

Foremost have been 2 Mahler recordings issued by the superb RCO Live label. These Dutch recordings are always superbly recorded in DSD, by the same Polyhymnia team responsible for Pentatone etc. Even if you cannot play the SACD layer, the CD layer sounds superbly natural. Jansons' Mahler 5 is absolutely splendidly controlled, yet exciting, that is, until the last movement, which seemed willful and anti-climatic. Nonetheless, it's better than his Mahler 1 on the same label, a much blander reading. Spontaneity also characterized Haitink's Mahler 4. People who have heard this great conductor live knows his studio recordings are much more cautious. On both, the playing of the RCO is beyond imagination, I think unparalleled (even taking the VPO into account).

We all criticize record companies, yet sometimes they surprise us. Ravel cannot possibly sell very well, yet EMI recently recorded some familiar staples with their new artist, Yannick Nezet-Segun, a rising star familiar from other labels such as Pentatone. The playing of the Rotterdam PO, of which he is now music director, is exemplary. The interpretation is fresh and the sound is excellent. If you don't have much Ravel, grab this one. Bravo, EMI, for showing support for their artists (other examples include Argerich's Lugano series and their popular budget Debut series).

On a lighter note, I think current baroque music playing overall is simply divine. Even HIP, gone are the austerity, replaced by warmth and flair. This is much evident in Vivaldi playing, of which this Naive CD (part of their generally excellent Vivaldi edition) of "Il Ballo" is a superb example. Sonically spectacular too.

I have never encountered Nicolai Kapustin, a Russian composer known for his difficult "jazzy" compositions, which he himself played magnificently. Thanks to the library I was able to sample some of his unusual and worthwhile output on the rare Japanese Triton label. These works are definitely "jazzy" and should turn anyone's head.