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  #46  
Old 05-09-17, 08:58 AM
Todd A Todd A is online now
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This disc clinches it. Sung-Won Yang is a great cellist, no ifs, ands, or buts about it. This EMI disc opens with Kodaly's over half-hour Op 8 Sonata for Solo Cello. Yangs writes in his brief liner notes that this piece is as great as Bach's Cello Suites. With him playing, this is a perfectly reasonable proposition. The piece opens with heavy, resonant low frequency notes that favors judicious volume selection, but the piece appears to not challenge the soloist. Kodaly exploits the frequency extremes, and Yang exploits those, demonstrating masterful playing, playing with intense expressiveness, eliciting a "Hungarian" sound, and showing what he can do. You want tightly controlled pizzicato or sul pulticello playing to make your stereocilia flutter with excitement? You got it. And that's just in the first few minutes. The second movement contains not a little profound music, clearly inspired by folk music, but refined by a keen compositional mind, and delivered via the hands of an interpretive genius. The final movements takes the folk element that little bit further, with Yang delivering even more as needed.

The second half of the disc contains works for cello and piano, with Ick-Choo Moon joining Yang. The duo work together swimmingly. The brief Adagio is beautiful and touching, with Kodaly's piano writing betraying some similarity with Liszt in a few passages, which poses no challenges for either artist. The Sonatina is a lighter, happier piece, with the cello often soaring over lovely piano accompaniment that can sound like a most attractive blend of Rachmaninoff and Debussy. The Op 4 Sonata is more folk music infused, more virtuosic, denser, and generally just nifty. It occupies a soundworld close to Bartok's, and as such is all but guaranteed to succeed. When that is paired with playing as fine as that provided by these two artists, it's a slam dunk.

At the time of writing, I have not purchased either of Sung-Won Yang's two recordings of Bach's Cello Suites. That must change. And though it would result in a duplication of this very disc, I'm contemplating dropping some serious coin, in today's big box pricing terms, on the box of Yang's complete EMI recordings, which includes some Tony Faulkner engineered recordings, and both his first set of the Bach Suites and the Beethoven Cello Sonatas, also with Ick-Choo Moon.

SOTA sound.



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  #47  
Old 08-09-17, 06:36 AM
Todd A Todd A is online now
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When I picked up Dong-Min Lim's Chopin, I figured I might as well pick up his other major label release, some Beethoven. Recorded in New York in 2008 and produced by no less a personage than Max Wilcox, the release includes both Korean and English notes, but it is a Korean market only issue.

The disc opens with Op 110. Lim plays the Moderato with a nice blend of clarity and lyricism and deliberate control. The deliberate playing is most obvious about three minutes in when the very controlled left hand playing dominates completely without being overbearing. Such a balance is unusual, though not heard of. As with his Chopin, the degree of tight control sounds more appealing as the playing continues. One thing the playing is not is late-LvB deep/profound/transcendent; the playing is antiseptically clean, yet it's still effective. The Allegro molto is fast and pointed and potent, with supreme dynamic control and ample digital dexterity. There's never a sense of even trying very hard, let alone strain. The final movement opens cold and perfectly paced, and as the first arioso unfolds, it sounds stylistically similar to a revved up Adagio in Op 106. The repeated left hand chords are unusually insistent without sounding overbearing. Given Lim's precision and control, the fugue is very clear and controlled, but a bit cold, which works quite well. The second arioso sounds more resigned but just about as tense and the first one, the repeated chords increase in volume nicely and transition to the inverted fugue splendidly, with the fugue itself very clear and clean, and a bit more intense than the first one and leads to a potent coda. This is a pristinely "classical", more middle period style recording, but it is among the very best of the type.

Next up is the Moonlight sonata. Lim plays the Adagio sostenuto in a steady, cool manner, delivers a crisp but not rushed Allegretto, and a limber, somewhat dynamically constrained, but motoric Presto agitato. Not a great version, but an above average one.

The disc closes with Op 57, and here Lim starts the Allegro assai off tentatively but tensely, then displays superb dexterity and front-loaded chords, and rarely maxxed out volume, with dynamic contrasts adding controlled drama. The Andante con moto stays light and brisk throughout the variations, almost like Lim is itching to get to the final movement, which he starts with biting chords, quickly ratchets back, and then moves to fast and tense playing, with superb clarity of voices throughout. While not the fastest, or the loudest, or the most powerful, Lim does a formidable job generating pronounced forward momentum, and when he backs off, the mastery of every aspect is impressive for a pianist in his 20s at the time of the recording.

With two discs down from both Lim brothers, I'd have to say that Dong-Min is slightly better overall, by which I mean his playing is more to my taste. They can obviously both play at the highest level. Alas, it looks like Dong-Min is not pursuing the international career of Dong-Hyek, though hopefully more recordings will come out from time to time.

Sound is very close and strikingly vivid, which is common to many Wilcox recordings.
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  #48  
Old 11-09-17, 06:37 AM
Todd A Todd A is online now
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I decided against what I initially thought was my better judgment to try HJ Lim's Ravel and Scriabin disc. I don't mind idiosyncratic pianists - I have a boatload of discs from such artists (Barto, Pogorelich, Heidsieck, etc) - but as evidenced by her LvB cycle, and now this disc, HJ Lim's pianism ain't my thing - overall. Ravel's Valses nobles et sentimentales starts the disc, and it starts off aggressively, which is fine, and throughout Lim delivers passages here and there that sound attractive or exaggerated for effect, but they don't really cohere. Too, the rhythmic component is kind of all over the map. It sounds like a collection of momentary flights of fancy that don't amount to much. The Scriabin Fourth and Fifth sonatas follow in order. Impulsive, of-the-moment playing can work well with Scriabin, and Lim does that, and uses rubato generously, but again, the works don't really cohere. There'll be a dazzling section followed by a nicely manic one followed by a more reserved one followed by a harmonically fulsome one, and each one is pretty good, but they don't add up to anything. In the Fifth, some of her loud playing comes mightily close to banging, though, again, with Scriabin this can work, but it doesn't help matters here. Ravel's Sonatine sounds almost manic-depressive, or rather manic-less manic but glum. Again, some portions work well, others less so, and when taken as a whole, it doesn't work. Lim is not a big-picture pianist. The Scriabin Op 38 Waltz starts off promising, and more restrained, but soon Lim resorts to her standard approach. The first of the two Op 32 Poems ends up the second best thing on the disc, sounding rhapsodic and nonchalant and lovely. It's really good, no caveats. The second one is hard and overdone. The disc closes with a surprise: an exceptional performance. In Ravel's La Valse, Lim starts off in menacing fashion, and her manic and impulsive style works here. In her hands, the piece becomes an over the top musical grotesquery, shallow and stinging, with indifference to rhythmic propriety and constraints of good taste. It's the best thing I've heard from her and warrants the price of the disc. (Granted, I got it used and cheap.)

I never cared for Lim's Beethoven overall, though there were some individual works in the set that were good, with Op 57 coming to mind. Given the two successes on this disc, I have to rate it either a failure with two highlights, or a very heavily qualified success. I doubt it earns a lot of spins, but at least the La Valse will receive more airings. It's a bit hard for me to think of other things I really want to hear Lim play, though she might be able to do something interesting with smaller scale works where manic, improvisatory playing can pay dividends - Scarlatti or CPE Bach, perhaps. And though it could be a total trainwreck, Lim's style might also yield intriguing results in some Messiaen. Yeah, I'd go for some Messiaen from her.



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Last edited by Todd A; 11-09-17 at 01:04 PM.
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  #49  
Old 15-09-17, 06:54 AM
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Japanese pianist Motoi Kawashima's first appearance in my collection. The liner notes list a variety of first, second, and third place finishes in various competitions, including, rather obviously, a first place finish at the International Schubert Competition Dortmund in 2005. He studied at the Tokyo College of Music, the Weimar Music Academy, and the Berlin Music Academy. In the course of his studies, he studied with Lazar Berman and Alexis Weissenberg. Those two pianists may have left their marks. He's recorded a handful of discs, and I ended up with this one because it was a bargain bin Amazon Add-on.

The disc opens with Schubert's D958. Kawashima launches into the Allegro. It's fast, hard-hitting, powerful, often aggressive, with steely forte playing. While not devoid of lyricism, this is not about that. Kawashima's playing is unrelentingly forward moving, and displays digital dexterity equal to almost any other Schubertian. He blows right past Julius-Jeongwon Kim, Paul Lewis, and Stephen Kovacevich in his hard-hitting playing. The closest analog in my listening experience is probably Michel Dalberto. But Kawashima is not all hard-hitting pianistic aggression; he slows down and lightens up in the Adagio's first theme. The second theme, though, reverts to a more aggressive, agitated sound, though Kawashima maintains a proper slow tempo. The Menuetto stays taut but more subdued, while the same cannot be said for the concluding Allegro, which is a musical jackhammer. While not especially fast, the rhythmic drive and hardened steel of Kawashima's playing makes listening to the piece somewhat like an especially grueling workout, one that leaves the participant on the verge of collapse or vomiting, yet there's something sort of refreshing and even purifying about it.

The disc then moves on to transcriptions, two Schubert/Liszt jobs, and Liszt's treatment of the Liebestod. In Fruehlingsglaube, Kawashima backs off, but the playing never sounds gentle or nuanced or lyrical, with playing seeming to basically hover in the mezzo-forte to forte range. Auf dem Wasser zu singen is pushed, rushed, and tense. It's the musical equivalent of a trip down Class III rapids, and were it transcribed back to a song, it would be suitable for a young Vince Neil. The Liebestod is also pushed a bit, like maybe Isolde OD'd on meth, or something, with the playing swelling to a pulsing fever pitch before withdrawing to a surprisingly gentle diminuendo ending.

Mikhail Pletnev's transcription of Tchaikovsky's The Nutcracker ends the disc. Kawashima dispatches the music deftly, but his is not a recording focused on nuance and subtle tonal shadings. It's about virtuosic playing, much of it loud and very controlled, with tonal coloring in shades of steel.

I will definitely return to this disc, but I'll have to be in just the right mood, one where I think Michael Korstick is just not forceful enough and I want something more steely.

Sound for the 2006 recording, made in the Thürmer-Saal in Bochum, is clean and clear. It should be noted that the hard, steely sound is much more obvious through speakers as lower registers are reinforced with greater low frequency energy; through cans, it comes across more as bright and metallic and less imposing.


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  #50  
Old 18-09-17, 06:17 AM
Todd A Todd A is online now
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Quynh Nguyen is another pianist new to me. Born in Vietnam, where she received her early training before being shipped off to Moscow for additional training, Nguyen ended up finishing up her studies in New York at Juilliard, the Mannes School, and finally City University of New York. She now does the teaching and concertizing and recording for an indie label thing. Of her several releases, this ditty with Schubert and Chopin caught my eye.

Originally, I was going to do a more detailed summary, but instead I'll just do a tl;dr summary: occasionally lyrical and well done, but also occasionally hard sounding and sloppy, it's not my cup of tea.
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  #51  
Old 22-09-17, 06:39 AM
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My first proper recording from Xiayin Wang; I've heretofore only sampled her artistry on YouTube. Ms Wang was born in China and studied at the Shanghai Conservatory before heading to America to finish her studies at the Manhattan School of Music. Her discography tilts toward Russian composers, so I opted for one of her Rachmaninoff discs.

The disc starts off with the Moments musicaux, and Wang dispatches the pieces with no difficulty whatsoever. Her style is of the steel fingers in a velvet glove variety, with ample power when needed, impressive dexterity, fine dynamic shading, and rhythmic variation, but she doesn't generate as rich a tonal palette as some others. Every piece is excellent, with an especially nice, vigorous, if not ideally flexible Presto. (I would have like it more if she used more rubato, but that is obviously personal preference; it is quite possible to enjoy it completely for what's on the disc.) Wang keeps the Op 33 Etudes-tableux generally light and spunky. Her execution is excellent, her sound never too heavy. I gotta admit, I've become enamored of Nicholas Angelich's more leisurely, darker approach in these works, though that doesn't mean Wang doesn't have oodles of good stuff to offer. She does. Of course, some people want more fire or steel than Wang offers, though she offers nice dollops of both in the Grave. This is a nice middle ground style, which is not meant negatively. Wang starts the Corelli Variations off with a lovely, intimate Andante theme (making me think she could play some of the Preludes very well indeed), and as the variations unfold, she again dispatches them without even the slightest hiccup, playing some in lovely, restrained fashion, and some in more overtly virtuosic fashion, and some with near-bruising power, though without ever banging. This is a very fine version, but as with all lesser mortals, she must cede to Daniil Trifonov's awesomeness in this piece.

So, a very nice first disc from Ms Wang. I will certainly listen to more from her in the future, I just have to figure out what tickles my fancy the most. If she records some solo Schumann, that would settle it.



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  #52  
Old 25-09-17, 06:26 AM
Todd A Todd A is online now
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Buying this disc was a mistake. Not because of the playing. Well, okay, it's because of the playing, but it's not because the playing is bad, it's because the playing is good. Michie Koyama is an accomplished pianist. She placed in both the Tchaikovsky and Chopin competitions back in the early and mid-80s. So that indicates at least competition level quality playing. The real problem is that she has been recording for three decades and has a sizable discography of about a two dozen titles covering core rep. She's Sony Japan's equivalent to RCA Japan's Ikuyo Nakamichi. (Since both labels are owned by Sony, they are both Sony artists, of course.) Unlike many of Ms Nakamichi's releases, Ms Koyama's don't seem to remain as readily available, and some of the titles are of the more expensive than I would like type. That wouldn't be such a problem if she hadn't recorded a lot of repertoire that appeals to me. She has recorded Liszt's sonata. Twice. Fortunately, in that case it seems easy to choose the right one since the second recording is paired with Berg's Sonata. She has recorded Scriabin's sonatas, Rach's Etudes Tableux, various Chopin solo works, and some Schubert, too. But I get ahead of myself. This disc of Chopin's Concertos was recorded in 2009 for the 2010 Chopin year, and it uses the National Edition of the scores first published in Poland in 2005.

I opted not to do A/Bs here, so I can't really say how major the editions of the score may impact the end result, but one thing that is immediately noticeable, aside from the slightly stage right location of the pianist (more so in the First), is the fairly light sound of the orchestral part. Jacek Kaspszyk seems to opt for detail and balance and a clean, more classical sound. At no point does the band drown out the soloist, who is not recorded with too great a scale. Sometimes, the little orchestration details are nifty, and in the first movement of the First concerto, the strings double the piano in most delightful way. Were I to guess, I'd say Sinfonia Varsovia uses smaller than customary forces for this recording, more true to its chamber orchestra roots. When Koyama enters, she immediately offers a lovely sound that is both delicate and cleanly articulated and more bright surface playing than deep key weightiness. She's not a great colorist, but her dynamic gradations are minute and expertly deployed. Like the orchestra, Koyama's style here is not one of grand romantic gestures, and she generally plays with admirable clarity, with some right hand playing crystalline. She rarely seems to be giving her all, instead opting to play with some restraint. In the second movement of the First, her pianissimo playing is of the super soft, Yaeko Yamane variety. Playing by the soloist and orchestra becomes a little more vibrant, at times quite robust, in the Second, and here again Koyama offers her best, most persuasive playing in the slow movement. The finale is satisfyingly done, with the post horn call piano playing managing to sound restrained yet bravura, with some mighty fine independence of hands.

If I have a favorite recording of both concertos paired together, it remains Zimerman's second take with his purpose-built orchestra. This disc doesn't rise to that level, but, unfortunately, it does make me want to hear more from Ms Koyama. That could cause acute wallet pain if proper care is not taken.

Sony farmed engineering out to Tritonus Musikproduktion, with predictably SOTA sound the result.

On a musically irrelevant, presentation detail note, what's up with photoshopping the light fixture on the right out on the front cover, to the point of even eliminating most shadow detail? Maybe it disrupted symmetry somehow.



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  #53  
Old 29-09-17, 07:19 AM
Todd A Todd A is online now
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Time for some more orchestral music. Kazuki Yamada is in his late 30s, studied in Japan and while a student helped form what would later become the Yokohama Sinfonietta, the ensemble for this recording. He has also done a fair amount of conducting elsewhere, and currently is principal conductor for the Monte-Carlo Philharmonic Orchestra. He’s made multiple recordings, but this one of Schubert’s Great C Major tickled my fancy.

The performance starts off with a somewhat old-school Andante, which sounds a bit broad and flexible, but then Yamada speeds things up in the Allegro ma non troppo. He never achieves the same type of speed and precision of contemporary conductors like Manacorda or Hengelbrock, but he never sounds too heavy or thick like some older performances might. Indeed, despite the less than pressed tempi, Yamada keeps things light and transparent. The Andante con moto sounds light and lovely, and some of the string playing evokes a lighter, innocent Wagner at times, and it also sounds relaxed and pastoral in portions. The Scherzo is somewhat leisurely, and sounds like a scaled-up and refined Ländler. The Finale is suitably energetic and vibrant and big in scale for a small orchestra. Somewhat like Manacorda’s recording, the overall performance is quite detailed and transparent, but it lacks the same exuberance of the Italian’s recording. While I can’t say that Yamada’s is my favorite version, it’s good enough so that I would not be averse to hearing him in other core rep.



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  #54  
Old 02-10-17, 06:45 AM
Todd A Todd A is online now
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[This will be cross-posted in "New" Music Log]


My first-ever exposure to the music of Nikolai Kapustin. To be sure, I bought the disc because I was interested in hearing Sun Hee You play, and the disc was a four buck "Add On" at Amazon, but new music is something of a bonus. (I'm finding "Add Ons" to be useful and fun.)

Ms You was born in Seoul, did the wunderkind thing in her home country, attended the Yewon School, and ended up moving to Italy and earning a diploma from the Conservatorio Santa Cecilia and working with Lazar and Valentina Berman, among others. Her bio cites a variety of collaborations with C-list artists and orchestras, but sometimes regional artists are as good as more famous artists.

Kapustin is an honest to goodness living Ukrainian composer, and one heavily influenced by jazz. Indeed, he was apparently known as jazz pianist and composer in the 50s. This disc contains works penned in the 80s and 90s that betray that jazz influence.

The First Sonata definitely sounds sort of jazzy, in a Dave Brubeck meets Oscar Peterson meets Gershwin meets Debussy meets (early) Scriabin sort of way. Much of the music sort of sounds like what might happen if a talented jazz pianist were hired to play piano at an upscale clothing store and decided to go off-program near closing time on a busy Saturday night. It's improvisatory-ish and not easy listening, but it could still fade into the background if the pianist didn't play too loudly. It's certainly not bad and makes for light entertainment, but I can't see listening to this very often. The four Etudes and Bagatelles that follow are more syncopated than the sonata and given their brevity make for a more compelling experience. The Seventh Sonata sounds like a jazzed up mix of Prokofiev and subdued post-war avant-garde writing, in a generic sense. There's ample virtuoso writing in faster passages of the opening Allegretto, and the Adagio amoroso, possessed of a slow overall pulse, is stuffed with notes that fall not always beautifully on the ear. That's perfectly alright, but I'm not sold on the amoroso bit. Nor am I sold on the almost jazz-infused Boulez-meets-Schulhoff march that is the Minuetto being a Minuetto, though it sounds intriguing. The concluding Allegro vivace is even more vibrant and intense than the opening movement. This more abstract work is the best thing on the disc. The concluding Variations take as their theme part of the opening of The Rite of Spring. The music subjects the original to syncopated, vibrant, and colorful treatment, and it makes for an enjoyable enough listening experience.

Ms You most certainly possesses the technical equipment to play the music on offer here, and I would wager a whole lot besides. Her recordings to date have focused on lesser-known composers and works, which is one way to make a name in a crowded marketplace, but I'd like to hear her in more standard rep, even if it is lesser works by greater composers. Of course, I'd prefer to hear her take on more substantive fare even more. The Chopin Etudes, say, or maybe some late Scriabin.

Superb sound.



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  #55  
Old 06-10-17, 06:42 AM
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I figured it was time to try an all-Asian string quartet, so I went for the current year release from the Dragon Quartet. The ensemble is comprised of four Chinese musicians who all have musical day jobs. Li-Wei Qin appeared before in this thread when covering his Decca recording of Beethoven's Cello Sonatas. Ning Feng, the first violinist, is a well known soloist with multiple recordings for Channel Classics under his belt. Second violinist Weng Xiaomao is the concertmaster for the China National Ballet Orchestra. Violist Zheng Wenxiao is the principal violist for the Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra. So all of the members have proper, high-end credentials. That more or less guarantees execution should be world-class.

Which it is. This disc sees the Dragon taking on two war horses, Schubert's Death and the Maiden, and Dvorak's American, and this ensemble shows that they have the corporate chops to deliver the goods. Their playing in the Schubert is, in a word, robust. The first violinist calls the shots, but doesn't unduly dominate. (Could be those Thomastik-Infeld strings he uses.) The playing is precise and fast and energetic and the clean, slightly distant sound invites perhaps excessive volume. There's a sleek feel to the playing, meaning that while every last detail is attended to in the Andante, one might miss a little bit more expression. Or not. Also, for people more disposed to a warmer overall string quartet sound, this ensemble will not be first choice. There's an edge to the playing from time to time. And people who like copious quantities of vibrato will be let down. But those craving forward drive and insistent rhythm should be happy. The Dvorak shares the same traits, and while there's plenty of energy, here the Lento could use just a bit more of a relaxed sound with more subtle dynamic shadings, though as in his LvB recording, Qin demonstrates that he's got the goods when called on.

While the ensemble does not displace established favorites for either work - basically, leading Czech ensembles in both cases - the Dragon's playing and artistry is world class, and I would very much like to hear more from them in any or all core rep. I'm thinking 20th Century stuff could be very nice.

I own only a few recordings from Channel Classics, and one trait they all have in common is SOTA sound. As one sees from time to time from labels that strive for audiophile quality sound, the credits include a listing of hardware used, including Van den Hul cables - specifically the 3T, used exclusively through the recording and monitoring chains. The classical music world needs more cross-branding.


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Old 09-10-17, 06:23 AM
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[This will be cross-posted in "New" Music Log]


Noriko Ogawa is a name I've long been familiar with, but until now, I've never listened to her playing. Ogawa, in concert with repertoire advisor Yukihisa Miyayama, put together a disc comprised of a dozen short works or collections of works from eleven composers, with the works composed between 1900 and 1981. The works are presented mostly chronologically by year of composition.

The disc opens with Two Piano Pieces by Rentaro Taki, who died at the ripe old age of 24. The brief pieces hark back to Beethoven or Brahms. Next comes Three Pieces after the Flower, by Shukichi Mitsukuri. The pieces sound more "Eastern", by virtue of the use of pentatonic scales, and one can sort of hear where a more minimalist Debussy might have been heading toward. Rather like with Yu Long's DG disc of Chinese compositions, from time to time one hears some music that would not sound out of place if it came from Eastern European composers, and here there are flashes of Janacek. Too, in the final of the three pieces, one hears an austerity that calls Mompou to mind. Apparently, the first movement was dedicated to Wilhelm Kempff, which makes sense. Meiro Sugawara's short piece Steam follows, and this is unabashedly French sounding, meaning one needn't strain to hear the influence of Debussy at all. Kunihiko Kasimoto's Three Piano Pieces, from 1934, follows, and it is even more Debussyan in approach, at least to start. It depicts three different scenes of three different women wearing kimonos in Tokyo. Vaguely impressionistic and programmatic, the work is more than just enjoyable, it is substantive, and more than imitative. Some of the music melds Debussy at his most "impressionistic" and his most daring with hints of Karol Szymanowski and a wholly original, not entirely Western sensibility. Next up are three brief Ryukyu Dances from Yasuji Kiyose, and here the name that immediately comes to mind is Bartok in a mix of his folk and didactic works. They are enjoyable if slight. Kikuko Kanai's Maidens Under the Moon, which is also a Ryukyu dance, follows, and her work is more bouyant and excited. Perhaps her study in Brazil imparted a sensibility, because this sounds more like Villa-Lobos or Granados. (Alternatively, one can imagine it as an even more caffeinated Charbrier of the Bourrée fantasque.) It's quite delightful.

Fumio Hayasaka's Autumn follows, and once again Debussy is probably the closest Western analog. Kiyoshige Koyama's brief Kagome-Variation follows. The piece crams a brief theme and eight brief variations into just over five short minutes. Written in 1967, it's adventurous, simple-ish (it's meant for children), and folksy. Akio Yashiro's Nocturne, from 1947, is another work that brings French composers to mind, though Ravel in Pavane seems more the style here. Yoshinao Nakata's Variational Etude is a brief set of simple-ish Etudes meant for children, and in this case, Ogawa herself played it in public for the first time at the age of seven. I daresay this recording is a bit more accomplished than that early effort. The disc closes with works by Ryuichi Sakamoto. The Piano Suite, from 1970, is unabashedly modern. The booklet mentions Messiaen and Miyoshi as influences. I can vouch for the former, but not the latter, but it is not hard to hear echoes of Schoenberg, either. Some may find the music and playing simply clangorous and tuneless, but that would be a shame. It's one of the best works on the disc. The final piece is the title track, Just for Me. While not as formidable as the Suite, and despite being "Schumannesque" (though the composer means that he let the ideas take him wherever they lead), the piece is both somewhat sparse and somewhat angular and quite modern, which makes sense for a 1981 work. Not as compelling as the other piece by the composer, it makes for a strong end to the disc.

Rather like with Long Yu's collection of orchestral works, I doubt any pieces presented here ever become core rep or oft heard pieces for me, but there's some good stuff packed in the seventy-eight minute running time, and I will return to the disc.

The twenty-plus year old BIS sound is fantastic, as expected. I need to get me Ogawa's Debussy cycle.



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  #57  
Old 13-10-17, 06:52 AM
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Yin Chengzong appears to be something of a grand old man of Chinese pianism. Born during the Second Sino-Japanese War, he lived through the upheavals in his country for decades and had to conform to artistic norms, and he managed to have a hand in creating and performing some works that are still around today. He moved to the US in the early 80s, worked with some Western A-listers, and did the professor thing. This recording of Debussy's Preludes dates from the late 90s, when Yin would have been in his late 50s.

Yin's pacing overall is slightly broad at over 83', but his pacing for each piece is just about spot-on. Never once did I think his pacing was too slow, and his dynamic shading is superb, particularly at the quiet end of the spectrum. His playing becomes nearly strident in the loudest passages, but the una corda use prevents that from coming to fruition in all but the very loudest passages. Too, Yin's tonal palette is nicely varied. Danseuses de Delphes starts the cycle off just swell, but Voiles offers a better sense of what the pianism is like when nuance rules, and while Le vent dans la plaine has some of that near hardness, it also reveals Yin as a pianist who can work harmonic (near-) magic, and play with clarity sufficient to appreciate some accompaniment patterns more than normal. Ce qu'a vu le vent d'ouest approaches levels of hardness and oomph I usually associate with Zimerman, but Yin does something different, turning the piece into something more expressionistic than impressionistic, if you will, a big, hardened Etude that Schoenberg might have secretly edited, which is then followed by a soft La fille aux cheveux de lin as a musical antidote. La Cathédrale engloutie, always the climax of the first book for me, starts off tense rather than calm, and builds to grand and satisfying fortissimo, bracing in its impact. Yin sounds even more at home in the second book, with a more modern, more Etude-y feel overall. Sometimes he manages to sort-of miss but even more hit, as in Les fées sont d'exquises danseuses, where the playing doesn't shimmer or sound as effortless and flowing as others, but that is purposefully done, and the effect is both enjoyable and distinct. La terrasse des audiences du clair de lune finds Yin's right-hand playing slowly, but not too slowly, ascending very deliberately before transitioning to a dynamically constrained and cool piece. Rarely does this piece stand out so much for not really standing out at all. Well done. Likewise Ondine. Though very different, Yin's right hand playing craftily evokes Ravel's piece of the same name in subtle ways mostly focused on shimmering playing, and makes me wonder what he might have done with a full Gaspard. Yin's style in Canope and Les tierces alternées ends up emphasizing slightly slow (overall) right hand playing with lots of focus on individual notes and chords, and the Feux d'artifice starts slow-ish, with almost comical left hand chords, before the fast, shimmering right hand comes to the fore. The playing throughout is very fine, creating any mood the pianist wants to, with Yin equally at home in gentle and tender passages and powerful, masculine ones.

Overall, I had no real expectations for this set since I'd never heard Mr Yin's playing, but it turns out to be rather good. It doesn't displace my established favorites, but it doesn't have to.



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Old Yesterday, 06:25 AM
Todd A Todd A is online now
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I figured I might as well try some videos from Amazon while they’re free. This one seemed like a good place to start: An even younger Yuja Wang at the 2010 Verbier Festival playing some core rep advertised as focusing on Schubert and Schumann, with some Scriabin and Prokofiev included.

The recital opens with the Liszted Gretchen am Spinnrade from Schubert. Unsurprisingly, Wang has no problem playing the music, and she just sort of cruises along, generating lovely, tuneful music as needed, playing the repeated right hand accompaniment with a serene ease, until the very Lisztian climax, which she dispatches with ease. She seems more at home in the more virtuosic music, and she literally doesn’t break a sweat, no matter how much of blur her hands become and how much of her shoulders she puts into it. The same can be written about Auf dem Wasser zu singen. Wang sounds more in control than Motoi Kawashima, which is no mean feat, but she never generates a steely sound. Next is Erlkönig, and Wang just tears right into the piece. Whether belting out left hand chords or dashing off repeated right hand notes, Wang just does her thing. The playing lacks the last word in diabolicality when the boy buys the farm, but that’s because it’s too easy, though it should be stated that the playing does not want for bite and drive. One can certainly want more in the way of warm lyricism throughout the three pieces, but that’s not what Wang wants to do, and what she wants to do she does very well, indeed.

Schuman’s Symphonic Etudes follow. Wang’s playing style better suits the Florestan passages. She seems to relish the faster passages, playing with verve and dexterity at the level of Yuja Wang. She often sounds fast, but never rushed. The Allegro marcato fourth etude is comparatively light with crisp rhythm, and the Agitato sixth etude finds Wang playing at such velocity as to nearly sound rushed. Nearly. In the Andante eighth etude, one encounters the shortcoming of this performance, which is a Eusebius that seems moody, possibly due to excess caffeine consumption. It’s all outward and showy, but it works for what it is, as does the Mendelssohn-on-speed Presto possibile. This is a version long on excitement and short on introspection and poetry, but there’s no doubting the execution, or, really, the artistic vision.

The second half of the show, with Wang donning an even nicer looking dress than in the first half, starts off with some Scriabin. The Prelude Op 11, No 11 is slightly quick but lovely and restrained. The Op 13, No 6 Prelude sounds bold and fiery, while Op 11, No 12 is gorgeous and dreamy, showing that Wang can produce any sound and effect she chooses. The Prelude Op 8, No 9 returns to fiery playing. The Poem Op 32, No 1 again reveals Wang’s more nuanced interpretive side, and makes me kinda hear what she can do with Debussy or, hell, why not, Mompou. Volodos recorded Mompou, and that turned out well, to put it mildly.

The last big work is Prokofiev’s Sixth Sonata. In the Allegro moderato, Wang is not afraid to play the dissonant passages with some real sting, and while she also plays with plenty of forward momentum in the faster passages, she also observes the moderato directive and doesn’t speed through it just to speed through it. She also plays with some touching tonal beauty in slower passages, and she real pounds out the most intense music later in the movement. The Allegretto starts as a playful march and turns into something of a demented dance in the outer sections, though Wang keeps it from becoming dark or heavy. Anchored by tangy right hand playing, the Tempo di valzer lentissimo is uncommonly lovely in the outer sections and rather pointed in the middle, while the Vivace closer moves forward at all times, even in the slow section, with Wang’s drive and articulation world class. This is an outstanding performance of the Sixth, one of the best I’ve heard, and it’s the best thing I’ve heard from Wang.

The encores – Chopin’s 64/2 Waltz, a transcription by Wang of a Melody from Gluck’s Orfeo ed Euridice, and Cziffra’s supervirtuosic reworking of Strauss’ Tritsch-Tratsch-Polka – all let Wang relax a bit and show what she can do in lighter fare, though not less demanding.

Sound is excellent if not SOTA. (I’m thinking a lossless copy would sound better than streaming.) I think Ms Wang might just have a bright career ahead of her.
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