CD Reviews (The Straits Times, March 2012)

Quartz 2089 / ****1/2

The German-born Japanese pianist Chisato Kusunoki, now resident in London, has garnered a reputation as a fine interpreter of Russian music. Her début recording on the British Quartz label showcases repertoire favoured by legends like Lazar Berman and Emil Gilels. In this august company, she is far from being overawed. In the six early Moments Musicaux Op.16 by Rachmaninov, she finds the perfect marriage of Schubertian lyricism with coruscating emotionalism. From within also flows a wellspring of bittersweet irony, which also colours the fulminating excesses of Scriabin’s Fantasy Op.28, a transitional work between well-groomed romanticism and more feral tendencies.

Nikolai Medtner’s single-movement Sonata in G minor Op.22 is not often heard these days, a pity as it possesses the same passion and inner fire as the best Rachmaninov scores. The skilful development of its pithy themes is also the work of a master. The positive rarities are three Transcendental Studies by Sergei Liapunov, clearly a tribute to Lisztian virtuosity. Rondo Of Sylphs is the perfect Russian Feux Follets, a luminescent ballet of fireflies, while Tempest draws its inspiration from Chasse Neige, Liszt’s torrid vision of a blinding snow storm. Kusunoki obviously loves this music and it shows in her brilliant and incandescent advocacy.

DUBOIS Orchestral Works
Marc Coppey, Cello
Orchestre Poitou-Charentes / Jean-Francois Heisser
Mirare 141 / ****

The name of Théodore Dubois (1837-1924) is often remembered in a pejorative way in relation with the Ravel Prix de Rome scandal. It was on his watch as head of Paris Conservatory when the obviously talented Maurice Ravel was denied the ultimate prize for young composers not once, but five times. The ensuing uproar resulted in his resignation, and it is not difficult to see why. In the face of modernism and progressiveness. Dubois’s music was one of an arch-conservative. The concertante works on this album, Fantaisie-Stück (Fantasy Piece) and Andante Cantabile for cello and Concerto Capricciso for piano, are highly tonal and do not stray off the beaten track with either idioms or harmonies.

There are many pleasant and hummable tunes, with a high charm factor characteristic of the Belle Époque. The oddity here is the Suite Concertante in four movements, one of very few concertos for cello and piano together, almost an accompanied cello sonata. Both French cellist Marc Coppey and pianist Jean-Francois Heisser (who also conducts) bring a high level of expressiveness and musicianship to these neglected lyrical pieces. If you enjoy the music of Saint-Saëns, Massenet, Bizet or early Fauré, do not hesitate.