New albums by Lady Gaga, Nelson Freire and more

New albums from American singer Lady Gaga and Brazilian classical pianist Nelson Freire, as well as other musicians.
New albums from American singer Lady Gaga and Brazilian classical pianist Nelson Freire, as well as other musicians. PHOTO: UNIVERSAL MUSIC SINGAPORE & DECCA

What does Lady Gaga do to try to reclaim her space in the pop pantheon after the misfire that was 2013's Artpop? She goes country.

Coming in the wake of her break-up from long-time actor boyfriend Taylor Kinney earlier this year, Joanne is unsurprisingly filled with heartbreak and girl-power anthems.

A clear bloodline of rootsy country and blues runs through the 14-track deluxe version of the album. There are the singer-songwriter guitar ballads straight out of country music capital Nashville, such as the eulogical Joanne, for her aunt who died at 19 ("Heaven's not ready for you/Every part of my aching heart/Needs you more than the angels do").

Million Reasons ("I've got a hundred million reasons to walk away/But baby, I just need one good one to stay") is powerful and mournful.

  • POP


    Lady Gaga


    2.5/5 stars

Despite sounding like Carrie Underwood numbers, both songs have a decidedly Gaga stamp.

Yet ditching the Gaga-type disco and glam has mixed results on her sixth studio album.

After her stint with jazz great Tony Bennett on 2014's Cheek To Cheek, one would expect a newfound elegance or finesse to her music.

Instead, there are duds such as the insipid John Wayne and inexplicable reggae-tinged Dancin' In Circles, which sounds like something from Gwen Stefani's output in the early 2000s.

Perfect Illusion, the first single, has Tame Impala's Kevin Parker and producer Mark Ronson's hand in it. But between the clunky, awkward key changes and squealing guitars, it's a hot mess.

Ronson proves more helpful on A-YO, with its handclaps and retro beat evocative of Thelma & Louise-type car adventures. It is the sort of track destined for the Top 40 charts. Clearly, Gaga hasn't lost her savvy, despite stripping away the dancefloor-driven numbers of previous albums.

It seems like the natural progression for pop artists to head down the country, blues and rock 'n' roll path when they have lost their way. But the girl from New York should stop trying so hard to be a Southern rock chick.

A pink cowboy hat does not a country star make.

Anjali Raguraman

The music of Bach has not featured in the recordings of Brazilian piano virtuoso Nelson Freire until now. This is a surprise, given how well attuned he is to the baroque idiom.



    Nelson Freire, Piano

    Decca 478 8449

    5/5 stars

It might be argued that Johann Sebastian Bach (1685-1750) never conceived his keyboard music for the modern piano, but if one considers these works to be transcriptions, Freire's view of Bach originals and hyphenated Bach (other composers' arrangements) can rank with the very best.

Four major works - Partita No. 4 In D Major, Toccata In C Minor, English Suite No. 3 In G Minor and the Chromatic Fantasy & Fugue - are played first on this album, illustrating his utter clarity, immaculate phrasing and total command of counterpoint and infectious dance rhythms.

There is a joie de vivre, which he makes entirely his own. Bach's own transcription of Alessandro Marcello's Adagio (from the Oboe Concerto In D Minor) and transcriptions by Busoni (of three Chorale Preludes) and Siloti (Prelude In G Minor) are elegant and sound freshly minted.

Freire concludes with the familiar Myra Hess version of Jesu, Joy Of Man's Desiring, a seamless reading that caps a totally enthralling recital - all 82 minutes of it.

Chang Tou Liang

This anthology is a showcase of the solo violin's "brave new world" and it is not as forbidding as one might think. Its title comes from Sofia Gubaidulina's Dancer On A Tightrope (1993) for violin and piano, which opens with a repetition of the A note and builds up into a formidable caprice. Like a stuntman's balancing act on a high wire, it is a hair-raising experience for the listener.



    Bartosz Woroch, violin

    Mei Yi Foo, piano

    Champs Hill 114

    5/5 stars

The idea of polyphony on a violin began in the baroque era with Biber and Bach, and modern composers developed further ideas from there. Grazyna Bacewicz's thorny Sonata No. 2 (1958) is such a work and so is Paul Hindemith's fairly accessible Sonata Op. 34 No. 2 (1924), which culminates in variations on a song that also appears in Mozart's Piano Concerto No. 27.

Prokofiev's Sonata Op. 115 (1947) is the most approachable piece, a tuneful neo-classical look back at old dances, meant to develop a violin student's technique.

Likewise, Alfred Schnittke's Fuga (1953), a student work discovered after his death, is a far cry from his atonal and polystylist style of mature years.

Polish violinist Bartosz Woroch's highly impressive technique ultimately serves the music's digital and spiritual challenges. He is joined by Malaysian pianist Foo Mei Yi on prepared piano in John Cage's Six Melodies (1950), short studies in zen-like serenity.

This is a stunning show of violin virtuosity, comparable with Gidon Kremer's legendary Paganiniana album from the 1980s.

Chang Tou Liang

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 26, 2016, with the headline 'Hot Tracks'. Print Edition | Subscribe