x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 23 July 2017

Classics for Japan - Music for Healing

Decca's album of Classics for Japan is for a good cause and offers a gently enjoyable listen.

Various
Decca Crossover
****

Since the terrible events of March 11, fund-raising to help stabilise and rebuild Japan has been a preoccupation throughout the cultural world, with numerous charity events and releases.

This album is a contribution from the classical music scene, with Decca and Deutsche Grammophon donating 100 per cent of the profits from sales to the Japanese Red Cross.

Two hours of classical music is on offer here, with recordings by some of Japan's best artists and by musicians who have made a particular impression in Japan. Thus the pianist Mitsuko Uchida sits next to the violinist Anne-Sophie Mutter, the young German-Japanese pianist Alice Sarah Ott and the great Vladimir Ashkenazy. The subtitle, "Music for Healing", gives some indication of what the listener is in for: a selection of gently soothing works, comfortingly familiar, such as Saint-Saëns's The Swan from Carnival of the Animals, the second movement of Mozart's Piano Concerto No 21, and Gabriel Fauré's Pavane.

All very beautiful, of course, though perhaps en masse tending towards the dreary. Luckily there are a number of darker and livelier pieces to keep things moving: Beethoven's dark second movement from the Seventh Symphony; the frantic attack of Akiko Suwanai playing the C minor Scherzo from Tchaikovsky's Souvenir d'un lieu cher; and Ott's energetic rendition of Liszt's La Campanella. And while perhaps the heart-wrenching Lacrimosa from Mozart's Requiem is not exactly what you'd expect on a CD that was presumably intended to cheer people up a bit, it would have been a wonderfully grave and solemn work with which to end the album.

Unfortunately, that's not what happens: it is, instead, succeeded by Beethoven's Moonlight Sonata, a Chausson Poéme and - a piece that has no place on this otherwise enjoyable record - Hayley Westenra singing a cloying, sickly version of Amazing Grace: an unnecessary dip into crass crossover. Still, 19 good tracks out of 20 and a very worthy cause make this a good buy.