What: Debussy: Sonatas and Piano Trio (Rattle, through Ode Records)
Rating: 4/5
Verdict: Down under Debussy reveals the flair and style of Kiwi musicians

Wellington's Te Koki Trio explores the music of Claude Debussy (1862-1918) on its debut CD, with works from both ends of the composer's career. This is a recording that falls easily on the ear, thanks to skilful production by Dave Lisik, in the studios of the New Zealand School of Music.

An early Piano Trio by the teenage Debussy offers no hint of his L'apres-midi d'un faune, still more than a decade away. Honeyed in sound and autumnal in mood, this is chamber music for the delectation of the fashionable Parisian salons of the late 1870s; the musicians do captivating justice to the subtle ebb and flow of its first movement, with its curious tempo direction of Andantino con moto allegro.

Two sonatas, for cello and violin, come from a projected half-dozen that occupied Debussy during his last years.


Cellist Inbal Megiddo and pianist Jian Liu make a suitably dramatic team in their 1915 sonata, particularly in its central Serenade. Beguiling pizzicato that originally would have evoked a Spanish ambience, now has a new earthiness, with the sometimes jazzy tang of Megiddo's plucked vibrato.

Martin Riseley and Liu catch the whimsical capriciousness of the Violin Sonata, Debussy's last completed score, although there are moments when the violin line is slightly lacking in bloom.

Inspired by the same Commedia dell'Arte characters that run through Schumann's Carnaval, there's an underlying mood of melancholy in this work, as the composer remembers his earlier music, along with an unexpected nod to Stravinsky's The Rite of Spring, only four years old at the time.

What: Wagner, Siegfried (Naxos)
Rating: 5/5
Verdict: Kiwi heldentenor proves himself Wagnerian kingpin

In January, Hong Kong audiences were privileged to attend a series of concert performances of Wagner's Siegfried, destined to reach a global audience as the third instalment of the Naxos Ring cycle project.

Deftly edited, we can now enjoy the insightful Jaap van Zweden conducting his Hong Kong Philharmonic Orchestra in this mammoth four-hour music drama, with new names in the cast reflecting the ongoing narrative of Wagner's timeless saga.

Siegfried introduces the hero that gives the opera its title, played by our own Simon O'Neill, whose clarion heldentenor portrays the son of Siegmund and Sieglinde with appropriate vigour and freshness.

The first act is brilliantly sustained: 80 minutes of interaction and intrigue between Siegfried, the sly and villainous Mime (brilliantly characterised by David Cangelosi) and Matthias Goerne as the disguised Wotan. O'Neill brings it all to a mighty climax with sword and anvil, sparking a spectacular Wagnerian blaze of D major.

Act 2 continues with more plotting and intrigue, its dark, brooding launch being just one instance of producer Phil Rowland's skill in catching Wagner's extraordinary orchestral palette. Again, O'Neill carries this act to its conclusion, when the beautiful song of Valentina Farcas' forest bird distracts him with visions of love.

Some of Wagner's loveliest, quintessentially romantic music comes in the final act, its closing 50 minutes encompassing a searing love duet between Siegfried and Brunnhilde.

Rescued from her rock-bound capitivity, Heidi Melton's Brunnhilde is an effective soulmate for O'Neill, especially when strains of the well-known Siegfried Idyll play in the background.

However, in terms of vocal finesse, she cannot eradicate fond memories of the radiant Christine Goercke when she sang this same music with O'Neill two years ago, signing off the New Zealand Symphony Orchestra's Wagner Gala.