Reviews of Jill Barber's new EP, familiar favourites by Respighi and Rachmaninov

Canadian singer Jill Barber started out in folk and switched to jazz. In my review of her 2012 album, Mischievous Moon, I said her light soprano warble sometimes sounded disconcertingly like the Chipmunks. Her voice is still on the girlishly high side, but in this four-song EP, there is not a single Chipmunk-like note.

Of course, it could be the brevity of the programme, which ambles gently from the pre-World War II ballad Ev'ry Time We Say Goodbye to the unjustly ignored A Kiss To Build A Dream On to the jazz standard Lullaby Of Birdland to the unexpected chestnut Sukiyaki.

From the moment the EP opens with the gently rolling ride cymbal introduction to Ev'ry Time We Say Goodbye, Barber's sultry coo takes centre stage.

  • JAZZJILL BARBER SINGS THE STANDARDS - EP

    Jill Barber

    Outside Music

    3.5 sars

The canny orchestration of piano and drums layered with violins cushions her crisp articulation and clear singing. The walking waltz time of A Kiss To Build A Dream On is especially beguiling, with bluegrass-tinged violin trills dipping around her confident melody line.

Lullaby Of Birdland benefits from the same bluegrass-influenced violin, but Sukiyaki provides a surprising fillip to the song choices. No cornball Asiatic effects, just a clean balladic rendition that rescues the song from cheesey pap. More, please.

Ong Sor Fern


  • CLASSICAL

    RESPIGHI THE COMPLETE ORCHESTRAL WORKS

    Orchestra Sinfonica di Roma/ Francesco la VecchiaBrilliant Classics 94900 (8CDs)

    4 stars

Despite its title, this slim-line budget box set does not contain the complete orchestral output of Italian composer Ottorino Respighi (1879-1936). For example, it does not include the ballet music of La Boutique Fantasque or Belkis, Queen Of Sheba, both excellent examples of his orchestration skills, nor his orchestrations of Rachmaninov Etudes-Tableaux.

His most important works are here, though. The Roman Trilogy - Festivals, Fountains and Pines - is a good place to start for a taste of his sumptuous and opulent canvases. The early hour-long Sinfonia Drammatica in three movements is overblown with Wagnerian gestures, but its mastery of form makes up for that.

Respighi's forte was dressing up old music and antique forms in Romantic shades and colours. The best of these is the Concerto Gregoriano for violin (with excellent soloist Vadim Brodsky) and the Concerto In Mixolydian Mode for piano, which in parts sounds like Rachmaninov and even Gershwin.

There may be better performances on record of the Roman Trilogy, but the Roman forces here score on authenticity. With excellent programme notes, this is a handy start to exploring this fascinating composer.

Chang Tou Liang


  • 20TH-CENTURY CLASSICS

    RACHMANINOV VARIATIONSTRIFONOV The Philadelphia Orchestra/ Nezet-SeguinDeutsche Grammophon 479 4970

    5 stars

This 80-minute album brings together the three great sets of variations for piano by Russian composer- pianist Sergei Rachmaninov (1873-1943).

The most popular is his Rhapsody On A Theme Of Paganini, one of his last works, based on Paganini's Caprice No. 24 for unaccompanied violin, with a prominent role offered by the mediaeval chant, Dies Irae.

Its first recording was made in 1934 by Rachmaninov, partnered by The Philadelphia Orchestra, the same orchestra on this recording.

Prize-winning Russian pianist Daniil Trifonov proves himself to be the composer's equal on the technical front and goes one further with the Chopin Variations (1904) and Corelli Variations (1931) for solo piano, which Rachmaninov never recorded.

The former, based on Chopin's Prelude In C Minor (Op. 28 No. 20), is longer and more discursive and Trifonov closes with a restatement of the original piece. In the latter, he adds his individual touches by highlighting secondary voices.

His personal contribution is the four-movement suite Rachmaniana, a tribute to Rachmaninov's skill in writing miniatures, crafted in the stylistic manner of the master himself. An impressive show of pianism all round.

Chang Tou Liang

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 20, 2016, with the headline 'Hot Tracks'. Print Edition | Subscribe