This obscure album has just been remastered for iTunes and will be a pleasant surprise for fans and a must-have for completists. While it was produced by the legendary Norman Granz, who oversaw Ella Fitzgerald's herculean Songbook series organised around the great American composers, this charming trifle throws together a programme that ranges over tunes by a motley crew of lesser-known composers. Backed by a studio orchestra with composer/arranger Frank De Vol's stoutly serviceable charts, Fitzgerald swings lightly through the brisk programme.
There are the classic touches by Granz and Fitzgerald which set this apart from a throwaway pop recording. The rarely heard verse introductions to Makin' Whoopee and That Old Feeling, for example, give these familiar chestnuts a fresh spin.
De Vol also offers neat remakes that frame Fitzgerald's warm, sweet balladry. Listen to his bright combination of brass and strings for a heraldic introduction to Moonlight Serenade. This fades into minimal brushes and piano, which transform Glenn Miller's perky big band dance number into a tender ballad.
This tactic of a brash musical introduction followed by gentler strings and bare instrumentation seems to be a favourite with De Vol, which he uses to great effect in East Of The Sun (And West Of The Moon), where Fitzgerald's silky croon carries the melody beautifully.
ELLA FITZGERALD SINGS SWEET SONGS FOR SWINGERS
A thoroughly satisfying listen that will appeal to both new fans and old aficionados.
Ong Sor Fern
In the homes of 19th-century and fin de siecle bourgeoisie, before the advent of radio and gramophones, musical entertainment took the form of the pianoforte and arrangements for multiple hands on the keyboard. Here are two classics of chamber music, heard in versions for four hands or two pianos.
BRAHMS SONATA FOR 2 PIANOS
SCHUMANN PIANO QUINTET
Cyprien Katsaris & Helene Mercier, two pianos Piano 21 044-N
Johannes Brahms' Sonata In F Minor Op. 34b for two pianos is the better known because it has exactly the same music as his popular Piano Quintet. One simply does not miss the strings here, as Brahms' conception was more symphonic than texture-based.
The duo of French-Cypriot Cyprien Katsaris and French-Canadian Helene Mercier are musical throughout, yet able to summon the forces of passion for the tempestuous Scherzo and the fourth movement's final showdown.
A true rarity based on another popular work is Robert Schumann's Piano Quintet In E Flat Major Op. 44 in a transcription for piano four hands by his wife Clara Schumann.
She was the bona fide piano virtuoso of the couple and the result is so idiomatic that one wonders why this is not played more often. This disc is a gem that deserves many listens.
Chang Tou Liang
Longing for a symphony cycle by Jean Sibelius (1865-1957) from the Singapore Symphony Orchestra (SSO)? This is the closest thing to it.
SIBELIUS THE SYMPHONIES
Lahti Symphony Orchestra Okko Kamu
BIS 2076 (3 CDs)
SSO's Finnish principal guest conductor Okko Kamu has recorded all seven symphonies in his homeland with the Lahti Symphony Orchestra, for which he is principal conductor. It is a magnificent set that captures Sibelius' heroic and often rough-hewn music.
A way of listening is to follow his progression from first-time symphonist to that of a visionary. Symphony No. 1 (1900) on Disc 1 follows from Tchaikovsky's model, then cut to Disc 2 for the popular Symphony No. 2 (1902) as Sibelius is established as Finland's patriot. This is followed by Symphony No. 5 (1919), which shares its bluster and rhetoric.
Disc 3 brings together the lightly textured Symphony No. 3 (1907) and Symphony No. 6 (1923) as well as the compact Symphony No. 7 (1924), which is the shortest one comprising his longest single movement.
Then return to Disc 1 to conclude with the enigmatic Symphony No. 4 (1911), the most bleak of utterances that ponders the future, as if staring into an abyss. Sibelius' conception revolutionised the 20th-century symphony form in the manner Beethoven did a century before.
Chang Tou Liang