Tue, Jun 25, 2013 - Page 12 News List

DVD and CD reviews

GIULIO CESARE IN EGITTO, by Handel; THE WELL-TEMPERED CLAVIER Book 1, by Peter Hill; TRADITIONS AND TRANSFORMATIONS, by Chicago Symphony Orchestra and Yo-Yo Ma

By Bradley Winterton  /  Contributing reporter

As for the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment conducted by William Christie, they play with great gusto, and the harpsichord is clearly amplified; in other productions it’s inaudible when this isn’t the case. At one point a solo violinist plays on stage, while Cesare resorts to whistling to keep up with it — all very much par for the course in this inventive enterprise.

The only real objection is that it’s too long. You rarely hear this complaint with Mozart or Wagner, but somehow Handel’s music is too unvarying to sustain four hours and more.

I’ve recently got round to listening to the Chicago Symphony Orchestra’s CD Traditions and Transformations which aspires to bring together works that demonstrate an indebtedness to Asia. So-called “art music,” in other words classical music, has always taken a lot from its local folk music, and sooner or later Asian music too was going to be tapped for inspiration by European composers.

It’s a bit of a mish-mash. There’s a forgettable piece about the Biblical King Solomon, made no better by having Yo-Yo Ma (馬友友) as cello soloist; another by a modernist who used to make instruments from items found lying around in junk yards, played here by Ma’s Silk Road Ensemble; and a concerto for pipa (a Chinese lute) and orchestra, two elements that manifestly don’t go together. By far the best item is the Scythian Suite, the youthful Prokofiev’s answer to the older Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring. But there are plenty of other recordings of this.

Finally, Peter Hill’s brand new recording of Book One of Bach’s set of 48 preludes and fugues, The Well-Tempered Clavier, is exceptionally attractive. Hill plays the music as if it’s a secret between you and him. The contrast with, say, Sviatoslav Richter’s more dynamic rendering, fine though it is, couldn’t be more marked. Hill’s piano-playing whispers to you, as it were, with the result that your attention’s immediately caught. And the more you hear in this style, the more you’re convinced the music is a spell that’s being cast over you, something magical -- which of course is exactly what it is.

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