CD Reviews (The Straits Times, August 2012)

Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini 
Singapore Symphony / SHUI LAN
BIS SACD-1988 / ****1/2

This is a rather obvious coupling, of two late Rachmaninov works (his Opus 43 and 44), but one strangely never previously attempted on disc. The Paganini Rhapsody, effectively his fifth piano concerto, is well trodden territory but young Russian pianist Yevgeny Sudbin gives a splendid account, equal to the best in the catalogue. His lightning fast reflexes are put to the test in the mercurial passages, and the requisite element of barnstorming is achieved without trivialising the music. In the famous 18th Variation, he attempts to put a stamp on it by slowing down the tempi, and why not? A little sentimentality (and Rachmaninov is full of this) should not be considered misplaced.

The Third Symphony is less popular than the Second, but its relative compactness may be seen as an advantage. The hallmark aching nostalgia is still there, but this reading does not have the sense of wallowing that characterised SSO’s recording of the Second Symphony. The second movement is particularly well brought out, telescoping melancholy and the hyperactive central march into a trenchant and coherent whole. Rachmaninov’s hasty conclusion to the finale may be a downer but the orchestra makes the best of it to end on a high. Could recordings of the First Symphony and Symphonic Dances from the SSO be next?  

Homage to Fritz Kreisler
Deutsche Gammophon 477 9942 (2CDs) / *****

This year marks the 50th anniversary of the death of great Viennese violinist Fritz Kreisler (1875-1962), whose many delicious original short pieces and transcriptions are the joy of violinists and audiences alike. In 1935, a scandal erupted when it was announced that works by the old masters “unearthed” by him were in fact his own compositions. A number of these, originally attributed to Pugnani (Prelude And Allegro), Martini (Andantino), Couperin (La Precieuse) and Francoeur (Sicilienne And Rigaudon), appear on this budget-priced tribute. Although much his music harked back to antique traditions, Kreisler’s unaccompanied Recitative and Scherzo-Caprice, and its play on dissonance, belonged remotely to the 20thcentury.

Deutsche Grammophon’s vast back catalogue ensures that performances by the legendary Ruggiero Ricci (with 14 tracks, the most) and the late Christian Ferras from the 1960s are not forgotten. Even Jascha Heifetz and David Oistrakh get a look in, in very decent 1940s monoaural sound. Six tracks by Kreisler himself, dating back a century, reveal him to be a relaxed player with a natural way that comes as easily as breathing. Never mind the hiss, crackle and pop from the old shellacs.

Shlomo Mintz weighs in with 9 tracks, mostly transcriptions. There are three recordings each of Liebesleid (Love’s Sorrow) and Sch√∂n Rosmarin, favourite old Viennese waltzes, by Anne-Sophie Mutter, Ricci and Kreisler himself. In their hallowed company, who are we to complain?