Thu, Oct 29, 2015 - Page 11 News List

Classical CD reviews

By Bradley Winterton  /  Contributing reporter

Virtuosity, by Christopher Wilkinson

Virtuosity, Christopher Wilkinson, 2013 Van Cliburn Piano Competition, EuroArts 2061288 [DVD]

Earlier this month the 2015 Chopin Competition in Warsaw was won by the 21-year-old South Korean pianist Cho Seong-jin. The event is celebrated on by a video of him playing Chopin’s 1st Piano Concerto with the Warsaw Philharmonic, conducted by Jacek Kaspszyk. It’s free of charge to watch, and a delight from start to finish. Cho also won the Frederyk Chopin Society Prize for the best performance of a Chopin polonaise. Interesting points are that Cho has been studying in Paris since 2012, and that the celebrated Chinese pianist Yundi was one of the competition’s jurors.

In parallel, there’s a fine documentary called Virtuosity on another piano contest, the Van Cliburn Piano Competition, held in Fort Worth, Texas every four years. This DVD covers the 2013 event. By the end of its 90 minutes you’ve come to know some of the young contestants very well. Do they like hip-hop? On no, replies one US competitor with a grimace. There are no extended musical extracts, though innumerable short ones. You quickly become involved, nevertheless, and the announcement of the winner is kept to the very end. This EuroArts DVD can be seen for free by subscribers to the Naxos Video Library, a collection by no means limited to Naxos products.

The contest is named after Harvey Lavan Cliburn, the US pianist who won yet another piano contest, the 1958 International Tchaikovsky Piano Competition in Moscow, at the height of the Cold War. He was 23, and instantly became a celebrity. Fort Worth was his home for most of his life, and he died there in 2013.

The Record of Singing (Volume 5), From the LP to the digital era, EMI 50999 2 28956 2 2 [10 CDs]

EMI’s The Record of Singing is a project with a long history. Its purpose was and is to bring together examples of a huge number of mainly operatic soloists who appeared in EMI and some other recordings, giving one track only to each, whether they were major celebrities or relatively minor contributors to the scene.

Volume 5, consisting of 10 CDs, covers the years 1953 to 2007. Volume 3, also 10 CDs, covered the years 1926 to 1939, and Volume 4 1939 to the mid-50s (the arrival of the LP). The first two sets covered the very earliest years of sound recording. In this review we’ll consider Volume 5, and return to consider Volumes 3 and 4 in later columns.

The main thing to say is that the allocation of singers to items sung is unexpected to say the least. It appears to have been a principle of those responsible, who of course had a huge amount of material to choose from, to select relatively unknown singers for the most famous items, and to show the celebrated names singing more or less obscure pieces.

Thus Maria Callas is heard in an aria from Verdi’s only occasionally produced opera I vespri siciliana, Luciano Pavarotti in an aria from Mascagni’s very rarely performed L’amico Fritz, Christa Ludwig in a Mahler song from the Ruckert-Lieder, Franco Corelli in an item from Donizetti’s little-known La Favorita, and Montserrat Caballe in an item from the Bellini rarity Il Pirata.

By contrast, Verdi’s famous Caro nome is sung by Reri Grist , and Walter’s Prize Song from Wagner’s Die Meistersinger by Rudolf Schock, neither household names even in classical circles. Sometimes, though, names and arias are indeed closely matched, so we have Hans Hotter in Wotan’s Farewell from Die Walkure, and Amy Shuard in In questa reggia from Turandot.

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