CD Reviews (The Straits Times, October 2012)

SAINT-SAENS Carnival of the Animals
BRITTEN Young Person’s Guide to the Orchestra
Singapore Symphony / SHUI LAN / ****1/2

It is good to see the Singapore Symphony Orchestra begin to record popular works with outreach and music education in mind. These two warhorses of young people’s concerts receive solid and sincere performances with a Singaporean twist that are equal to the best in the catalogue. Twin pianists Low Shao Ying and Shao Suan have become the republic’s specialists in the Carnival, having performed it on countless occasions over the years. In The Swan, SSO principal cellist Ng Pei Sian does the honours with utmost grace and aplomb.

The added attractions are narrations by well-known personalities from the local musical scene. William Ledbetter, popular emcee and host for The Philharmonic Orchestra and re:mix concerts, narrates his own well-chosen verses for the Saint-Saëns. The tandem of Andrew Lim and Koh Chieng Mun (Symphony 92.4 FM’s The Morning Show, Under One Roof) present Angelena Lim’s script of the Britten Guide with their usual chemistry and enthusiasm. Both are pitched at the upper primary school level and avoid technical jargon and musicalese. Sold at $12 during SSO concerts, these make thoughtful gifts for the young and young at heart.   

Fabula Classica 2224 / ****

Was Jascha Heifetz (1901-1987) the greatest violinist of the 20th century? On the evidence of this selection, the Lithuania-born naturalised American makes very strong claims. Both recordings of the Tchaikovsky Violin Concerto (with the London Philharmonic conducted by John Barbirolli) and Cesar Franck Sonata in A major (partnered on piano by Arthur Rubinstein) date from 1937, and reveal a fluid and near-effortless technique. Often criticised by his detractors as cold and clinical, these accusations are nowhere to be found. More often, he sounds warm, totally lyrical and in tune with the spirit of the music.

He takes certain liberties, even as far as to rewriting passages of the Tchaikovsky to make himself more brilliant. The only caveats are the crude edits and distortions of speed encountered in the remastering process. Four bonus tracks come from his prodigious teenaged years, virtuoso fodder including Sarasate’s Gypsy Airs and Zapateado, Bazzini’s Dance of the Goblins and Wieniawski’s Scherzo-Tarantella. The playing fully confirms the excitement and trepidation his first appearances aroused, when it was suggested that all other violinists might as well break their violins across their knees. This is mandatory listening for serious students and lovers of the violin alike.