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Reviews: Yellow River Concerto, Butterfly Lovers Concerto

Reviews: 1

Review by Dinko November 22, 2004 (5 of 5 found this review helpful)
Performance:   Sonics:
Daniel Epstein, Eugene Ormandy and The Philadelphia Orchestra open this program with a lovely piano concerto based on Chinese folk tunes. The tunes are well-chosen, all memorable and pleasant, and fairly mainstream in their sound, avoiding some of the harsher sonorities found in other Chinese folk tunes. I cannot shake the impression though that the orchestral parts were written as an afterthought. I'm pretty sure a version for solo piano would work better and could easily stand alone. The orchestral background doesn't add much and at times even works against the piano part. Epstein delivers all the goods, but Ormandy and the Philadelphians sound a little lost. As if they just didn't care about the work and did it out of duty rather than conviction.

The sound is absolutely awful. The whole orchestra sounds distorted. The brass is thin. The strings are acid and shrill. And it sounds like someone constantly had all their fingers on a mixing console pushing buttons up and down, endlessly showcasing some elements then moving them in the background to showcase something else. If given decent sound, the Yellow River Concerto would be a very pleasant piece to listen to. But given the harsh shonics, it's a very unpleasant listeing experience.

Now this on the other hand is ravishing. It is one of Takako Nishizaki's earlier recordings of this piece. Contrary to her latest recording on Naxos ( The Butterfly Lovers Concerto - Nishizaki/NZSO/Judd ), this early effort has all the qualities of an adventurous young violinist out to discover and promote new works. Her playing may not be as relaxed as in her later recordings of this piece, but that only makes this one more spontaneous, always keeping it seems the soloist on the edge of her seat (so to speak). She cherishes every twist and turn in the concerto, exposing its beauty, and painting a musical picture about as well as humanly possible. It's easy to imagine the story of the butterfly lovers simply by listening to Takako Nishizaki's portrayal of their story.
She is perfectly matched in her approach by the conductor and orchestra who are also it seems on a mission to discover and promote this piece. Everyone seems to enjoy it. Lim Kek-tjiang creates some seriously frenzied moments during the faster movements when the orchestra gets to shine. It's the type of excitement missing from other conductors' accompaniment during this work. The Nagoya Philharmonic Orchestra has a gorgeous string tone, not completely unlike the famous Philadelphia strings, but wait till the brassy explosions around the 12-minute mark to hear almost Russian-style brass blaring. One wonders if the players' careers depended on blowing those horns like that.
The sound shows its age. No one would confuse this for a modern DSD recording. That said, the actual mixing is very pleasant. There doesn't seem to be any excessive spotlighting of individual instruments. Instead, everything blends together and natural orchestral dynamics take care of whatever clarity or transparancy is necessary.

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