January 12, 2011
CD and Other Review

Review: BACH Keyboard Works (piano: Angela Hewitt)

The sheer beauty of these recordings (all of Bach’s major solo keyboard works in a 15-disc set) lets one forget the years of intense labour that lie behind it. Angela Hewitt began recording this cycle at her own expense back in 1994, with the Fantasia in C Minor, Two-Part Inventions, Three-Part Inventions and Chromatic Fantasia and Fugue. She had intended releasing the disc as an independent, but then offered it to Hyperion who accepted enthusiastically, also accepting the greater challenge of recording the complete major solo works. This was an odyssey of more than a decade, and Hewitt’s detailed notes gives an absorbing guide to her quest for perfection. Most of the recordings were made over just ten years – and then, in 2008, Hewitt decided to re-record the Well-Tempered Clavier using her own piano, an Italian Fazioli, regarded by most professionals as the finest piano made today. This set needs to be absorbed over time, so that one work does not slide into another. If you must choose just one by which to judge the whole, then listen to her magisterial Well-Tempered Clavier, which yields nothing to other Bach masters such as Richter or Schiff. She probes the inner…

January 12, 2011
CD and Other Review

Review: SCHUMANN Davidsbündlertänze; Kinderszenen; Sonata in G minor (piano: Angela Hewitt)

Angela Hewitt has made a seamless and very successful transition from Bach to Schumann with her usual poise, precision, imagination and humanity. The Davidsbündlertänze are, even by Schumann’s standards, a poetic masterpiece. Hewitt is across every nuance, capturing the strangely off-centre melody of the first dance, the even stranger syncopation of the tarantella No 6 and the jolly polka of No 12 to perfection. In the penultimate number, Wie aus der Ferne (“As from afar”) the melody starts without a break from the previous section and then develops into a melancholy ländler. In Kinderszenen (“Scenes from Childhood”), sample the final section Der Dichter spricht (“The poet speaks”), savour the uniquely German quality of Innigkeit or “inner depths” Hewitt brings to this enchanting music. Time really does stand still here. The Second Sonata is more problematic. Although generally regarded as his best keyboard sonata, the form didn’t suit Schumann’s essentially dreamy nature and instinctively discursive expression. What some may see as excessive dramatic urgency I felt sounded more like relentless headlong impetuosity, although this is no reflection on Hewitt’s playing. The lovely song-like slow movement radiates a rapt tenderness. A lovely CD, beautifully recorded.

January 11, 2011
CD and Other Review

Review: Bartók, Ligeti, Kurtag: Quartets (Cuarteto Casals)

This disc features string quartets by Bartók, Ligeti and Kurtag. All three are Hungarian, and while each spent formative years elsewhere it was their relationship to their homeland and its often tragic modern history that so significantly shaped them. The biggest name here is Bartók. His Quartet No 4 is a gutsy, primal work whose angular melodies seem freshly plucked from Hungarian soil. Composed in 1928, it could easily have been written by any number of composers today. Clearly indebted to it is Metamorphoses Nocturnes by Ligeti. This is by the young Ligeti, long before the clocks, clouds and absurdist outbursts took over – yet the later composer is not hard to find. The opening gives things away: ostensibly twelve-tone, its cool overlapping chromatic rising scales gradually warping and spiralling mercilessly out of control. The third work is Kurtag’s aptly named 12 Microludes. Barely a minute long each, these hyper-miniatures are restrained yet astonishingly rich, constantly morphing unexpectedly. The works sound impulsive and fresh in the hands of Cuarteto Casals, whose colour spectrum is unusually wide: at times whisper quiet, other times as gritty as a rock band. A brilliant disc.

January 2, 2011
CD and Other Review

Review: From Shadows (Adam Herd)

Adam Herd is a young prize-winning pianist from Coffs Harbour. Don’t be misled by the “country-and-western” cover shot, or the bio that stresses his interest in sport and surfing: Herd may be a regular guy but he is also a sensitive and accomplished musician. His program is well chosen. Anatoly Liadov was a late 19th-century Russian composer, essentially a miniaturist. His three short pieces (Prelude Op 11, No 1, Barcarolle Op 44, and Novelette Op 20) are pretty but insubstantial; the orchestra was Liadov’s domain. Nonetheless, he was a precursor to Rachmaninov, whose rarely played Variations on a Theme of Chopin follow. The variations are on Chopin’s Prelude Op 28, No 20, a solemn chorale. Solemnity permeates the first ten minutes of this long work, poorly received at its premiere. The composer subsequently cut the 10th and 12th variations and the coda, and Herd plays the shorter version. Although the piece takes a while to get started, it eventually offers the performer opportunities to be fleet, tender, and vigorous. Herd meets these challenges with style and an innate feeling for rubato. Australian composer Carl Vine’s Third Piano Sonata was composed in 2007. In four linked movements, it progresses from a…

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