was so impressed with Lan Shui’s Seascapes
– see review
I included it among my picks for 2007. As performances
these aquatically linked pieces are remarkable for their
refinement and atmosphere, qualities matched by the glorious
BIS recording. Indeed, I’d go so far as to say Seascapes
one of the most natural-sounding discs I’ve ever heard.
Moreover, Shui’s readings of La Mer
and The Sea
up there with the best; in short, a collection to cherish.
new Rachmaninov disc – which marks the Singapore Symphony
anniversary – is a tougher
project altogether. Both works are so overexposed that
any newcomers need to be pretty special to challenge the
best, among them Ashkenazy, Jansons, Previn and Svetlanov.
This is especially true of the 60-minute symphony – much
cut until Previn’s complete EMI recording in the 1970s – which
needs a firm hand if it’s not to outstay its welcome.
the E minor symphony coincides with the composer’s sojourn
in Dresden, where he was able to shrug off memories of
his disastrous First Symphony
and get down to some
serious work. Just as happily, the opening motto theme
on cellos and string basses makes a marvellous impact here.
The strings are silky smooth, the brass well blended, and
Shui shapes this twisting, turning music very persuasively
indeed. Its thematic material is laid out methodically,
but make no mistake this isn’t just about attention to
detail. There’s an ebb and flow to the music-making, a
sense of the larger structure, which is most welcome.
Singaporeans are a very accomplished band indeed, capable
of a full and cultured sound, but there were moments in
the Largo-Allegro moderato
where I longed for a
bit more passion – turmoil even. That said, some listeners
might well prefer this more self-effacing approach to that
of, say, Svetlanov and Jansons, even if does sell the music
short. The unison horns that announce the second movement
are a case in point; they sound splendid but perhaps they’re
a little too polite for this feisty scherzo. No quibbles
about the surge and thrust of the strings, though, which
are always deftly articulated.
Adagio contains some of Rachmaninov’s loveliest writing,
its inwardness well served by the Singapore band’s inherent
glow. The solo clarinets sound particularly lovely, the
music’s gentle pulse just audible below those soaring melodies.
The recording team certainly captures the detail and dynamics
of this performance, but then they are aided by the warm,
sympathetic acoustic of Singapore’s Esplanade Concert Hall.
It’s not in the same league as Seascapes,
there, but ear-catching nonetheless, especially in the
serene glow of the Adagio’s closing bars.
The more robust final
movement holds no surprises, either; Shui is alert to the
music’s broad rhythms and the brass are suitably bracing
throughout. It’s in this potentially overblown movement
that the conductor’s more controlled approach pays dividends.
There is a pleasing sense of scale, the percussion imparting
just enough tingle to the proceedings. Although the pace
flags at times Shui is quick to tighten the reins and drive
the music onwards once more. And whatever one’s other reservations
the climax to this symphony is weighty enough.
the last of his Fourteen
Op. 34 which, at just under six minutes, makes
for a light dessert. Again, the music’s chamber-like intimacy – it
always reminds me of Wagner’s Siegfried Idyll
well with these thoughtful and committed players. My only
caveat, and it’s a big one, is that the performance is
short on personality, a criticism that applies to the symphony
pleasant tipple then, but if you like your vodka neat you’ll
have to look elsewhere. For all its technical and musical
strengths this recording never really catches fire; that’s
a pity, as I so wanted to like this disc. Furthermore,
I was puzzled by the quality of the stereo SACD layer,
which sounds rather diffuse and biased towards the left
channel. The CD layer is fine, though, so I can only assume
this is a glitch on my review copy.