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The Asian Invasion

Discussion in 'classical' started by Todd A, Apr 26, 2017.

  1. Todd A

    Todd A pfm Member

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    Kun-Woo Paik's Rachmaninoff Sonatas reissue, recorded for Dante in 1992. The recorded sound has some of the same problems the Scriabin disc does, though to a lesser extent. Paik's playing is bold, to say the least, and volcanic, to say the most, in the loud passages of the original version of Rachmaninoff's Second Sonata that opens the disc. Paik comes close to dreaded banging, and he may well get there, but no one could accuse him of not giving it his all. He maintains his composure very well, but sometimes Paik seems to be pushing up to the limit of his abilities in a way that, say, Weissenberg does not, though Paik plays more feverishly. Unlike Weissenberg, Paik plays the gentler music with actual gentleness. Unfortunately, because of recorded sound and the battering the perhaps not ideally maintained piano takes, some of the upper registers sound questionable, but because of Paik's ability, it still sounds appealing. He can play Rachmaninoff with more subtlety and color as evidenced by his slightly later recording of the concertos for RCA. That's not to say that the sonata is poor, because Paik gets the spirit right.

    In between the two sonatas are the Lilacs, Op 21/5, a 'Fragment', the posthumous Prelude, and Tchaikovsky's Lullaby. All four demonstrate the same traits as Paik's quiet playing in the opening work, and had Paik had a proper piano and recording team at his disposal, the result would be wonderful. As it is, the result is very nice.

    The disc closes with the First Sonata, and both the recording and piano are generally in good enough shape to allow the listener to appreciate Paik's way with the work. (About 13' into the first movement, something goes wrong with the piano, though.) The vast breadth of the work and the length can make it a chore to listen to sometimes, but other times, its grandeur and romantic sweep are just the ticket. Paik does very well here, and though the piano does not cooperate ideally, one gets a much better sense for his tonal variety and sensitivity in the Lento. In the Allegro moderato, Paik comes close to playing with the same intensity as in the Second Sonata, but doesn't quite get there, which actually seems to help in the (perhaps?) overlong movement. Given the sub-par sound and piano, I can't say that this is of Weissenberg or Silverman or Romanovsky quality for both sonatas on one disc, but it's worth having, if for nothing else than for some inevitable shoot-outs down the road.

    Hopefully Universal Music Group Korea can buy the rights to Paik's Mussorgsky recordings.
     
  2. Todd A

    Todd A pfm Member

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    Alright, so Myung-Whun Chung might be cheating a bit in this thread. He's rather well-known and has made many major label recordings and conducted the most prestigious orchestras around, but I'll go ahead and include this disc, his second recording of these works, just because. (Well, that, and it was available used for a pittance.) I'm no stranger to Chung's Dvorak, having owned his recording of the Sixth and Eighth symphonies for a while. (What a bummer the cycle was never completed.) I wanted to hear how he and the Vienna Philharmonic might handle a couple serenades. The String Serenade seems like a natural fit for the band, and so it proves. The music is unfailingly beautiful and lyrical first note to last, and the recorded sound is a bit billowy and plummy in the bass, which just adds to the beauty. The Wind Serenade likewise sounds very beautiful, and very smoothed over. I know there are oboes in the mix, but it doesn't always sound like it. And while the sound is almost blended to a fault, sometimes the horns dominate a bit. But the playing is so solid, the sound so luscious, and the overall feel so much fun, that it is impossible not to enjoy the performance.



    Amazon UK link
     
  3. Todd A

    Todd A pfm Member

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    [​IMG]


    A few years back, I spotted a complete set of Beethoven's Cello Sonatas on Universal Music China from cellist Li-Wei Qin and Albert Tiu, but I didn't jump on it. I found it again recently when looking for new artists to hear, and this time I decided to buy. Since the good folks at Momox Germany had a used set for next to nothing, it was a pain-free purchase. It was so pain-free that I decided to go ahead and finally pull the trigger on the Xavier Phillips and François-Frédéric Guy set on Evidence Classics so I could do an A/B.

    Li-Wei Qin is a Chinese born cellist who spent some of his youth in Australia before going on to compete in various competitions and perform with various orchestras and chamber collaborators and taking some teaching positions, currently at Yong Siew Toh Conservatory of Music in Singapore. He's recorded some core rep for ABC Classics and some of the same stuff again for Decca China, along with other rep. His partner here is Albert Tiu, a Filipino pianist who studied at, among other places, Juilliard under Jerome Lowenthal. He's likewise done the competition and touring circuits, and like Qin, he ended up at YST Conservatory, which, not at all coincidentally, served as the recording venue for this first recorded collaboration of the two artists.

    This A/B is the first one where both sets were ripped before performing any comparisons, and as such I was able to do a sonata to sonata matchup without ever having to get out of my easy chair. (If one must get up to change discs, that makes such a chair not as easy as it could be.) I started in on sonata number one and chose to listen to Qin and Tiu first. Qin's cello dominates, but it is not domineering. Rich and somewhat dark down low, and warm and lyrical up top, it offers both a nice contrast and compliment to Tiu's somewhat light and playful pianism. Really, Tiu's upper register playing at times verges on sounding too sweet, but the tradeoff is that when combined with Qin's never too heavy cello, the overall sound is decidedly classical in nature. Peppy and light, almost to a fault, the sonata brings a subdued grin to the listener's face. Phillips and FFG, recorded with more immediacy, play with more individuality and spontaneity. Obviously well versed in the music, the duo play off each other well and employ rubato, dramatic pauses, exiciting accelerandos, and myriad other little touches to create an almost concert feel to the recording. One gets the impression it would sound different on a different day. The playing retains a classical sensibility, but it is more boisterous, more exhuberant, and pushes right up against boundaries of the era. In Op 5, No 2, Qin and Tiu generate a touch more energy and more than a touch more grooviness, making for a most enjoyable second sonata. Phillips and Guy add a bit more drama to the proceedings, and their already impressive dynamic range becomes more so. While not at all saggy rhythmically, they do not quite sound as groovy as Qin/Tiu, though they sound more vibrant, and the Rondo-Allegro movement is just plain fun.

    Qin opens Op 69 in a most lovely fashion, but when Tiu joins him, his playing ends up capturing more attention, but then the fun starts as the duo belt out the playing with more oomph than the two earlier sonatas, and Qin fairly makes his cello sing like a baritone delighted to be able to sing a lovely Ludwig van tune, and Tiu's right hand playing at the end of the first movement is just enthralling. As they move through the Scherzo and Adagio, they play well off each other, seamlessly transitioning back and forth, and sometimes blending flawlessly. Too, there are some occasions where Tiu, briefly and somehow discreetly, dominates things, but never to the detriment of the music. Then in the Allegro vivace, they play with great energy and drive. This would be most enjoyable to hear in person. Phillips/FFG offer more of everything: more energy, more dynamic and tempo contrasts, more emphatic accents, more more. From time to time, FFG belts out his part with heavy duty power, and Phillips' tone can take on a sharper edge than Qin's. They never overdo things, though they come close. It is entirely likely some might think they do. Qin and Tiu sound more poised (which is not to say staid!) whereas Phillips and FFG go for broke more often. It's nice to hear both approaches (and more).

    In 102/1, Qin plays most lyrically and Tiu offers gentle lovely support in the opening Andante section, and then they play the Allegro vivace with poised martial potency. The Adagio contrasts Qin's deep, dark cello tone with Tiu's lighter pianism most effectively, and the Allegro vivace exhibits nice energy and forward drive, though its classical restraint might be a tad too restrained at times. It would be difficult to say that anything in the Phillips/Guy recording is too restrained. That's not to say that anything is over the top, but again, this duo offers more vibrance and tension in the faster and louder passages, and a touch more drama even in slower passages. It again sounds more spontaneous, more "live". Qin/Tiu do a slightly better job of evoking late Beethoven, but Phillips/Guy thrill more. It is not mere recreation, it is creation. In 102/2, Tiu starts off playfully and Qin veritably explodes into the soundstage, and the two vary dynamics and tempo most effectively, making for a most enjoyable opening movement. The Adagio sounds quite attractive, with Qin not afraid to use generous vibrato. I'm not sure it meets the molto sentimento d'affetto designation, but it might just be better that way. The duo shows that it is possible to make a fugue fun and playful in the final movement, too. In the Phillips/FFG, it's more FFG who explodes into the musical picture, setting the tone for a super-vibrant reading of the first movement, albeit one with even more pronounced dynamic and tempo flucuations. More of that more more thing. One can hear sentimentality in the slow movement, and the concluding fugue is more vibrant but perhaps less formally clear than Qin/Tiu. Again, the spontaneity of the Frenchmen win the day.

    The Qin/Tiu set includes only the sonatas, whereas the Phillips/FFG set includes the variations, which I saved until after the A/Bs were done. Not surprisingly, the traits the duo display throughout the sonatas are also on display in the variations, and all the works make for a most enjoyable listen.

    Both sets are most enjoyable, but the Phillips/FFG pairing is the more adventurous, more exicting, and more compelling of the two, and easily ranks alongside Perenyi/Schiff and Fournier/Kempff for me.* It's yet another triumph for FFG. I eagerly await his Beethoven Violin Sonatas and Piano Trios. I may have to try his earlier recording of these works with Gastinel now.

    Not surprisingly, all of the artists in this shootout are quite talented. FFG is one of my favorite living piansts, and I already know to reflexively buy any new recording going forward. I may not buy new recordings by Phillips reflexively, but I will keep him in mind in other repertoire (his EMI Debut disc looks enticing), and when he records the LvB piano trios with FFG and Tedi Papavrami, I will buy without hesitation. Qin falls into this category, and his few recordings do hold some interest, particularly the Decca Dvorak. FFG obviously excluded, it is Albert Tiu that I'd like to hear more from most out of this group. He's got a few solo albums out, and the Scriabin/Chopin one looks tempting, but I really want to hear him in Mozart and Haydn, and probably Ravel. He's made it out Oregon way before, playing down in Eugene. The Oregon Bach Festival aside, that town is boring as hell if one doesn't like college sports, but I'll make the jaunt down there if he visits again.

    Sound for both sets is at or near SOTA.



    * I can't help but notice that three of the six musicians in my favorite sets are French, which is almost as gallocentric as my preferred sets of Violin Sonatas. Hmmm.




    Amazon UK link for Qin/Tiu

    Amazon UK link for FFG/Phillips
     
  4. Todd A

    Todd A pfm Member

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    [This will be cross-posted in "New" Music Log]


    This disc is the first I've imported from mainland China. I spotted this disc of Chinese compositions whilst hunting for new and exotic things to listen to, albeit only on a very expensive JVC disc at first. Fortunately, I found the disc for a very reasonable $7 on eBay, as opposed to $37+ on Amazon. While I would not be surprised if I bought a gray market disc, especially given the price, I don't know for sure, and I don't care. The seller from Shunde got it to me in just over a week, for about $10 all-in. The copy I received advertises the XRCD2 pedigree as opposed to the K2 mastering on the front of its cardboard cover, though the inner cover shows the full (advertising) flow chart of the remastering process, which includes the K2 Rubidium Master Clock, so you just know it's some heavy-duty, ultra-serious stuff. This is the same flow chart as found in the JVC reissue of the Paul Badura-Skoda Beethoven piano sonata cycle previously on Astrée. This leads me to believe it is a Japanese market release. Did I mention the remastering process uses Rubidium in the master clock? The recording was made in China in the year 2000, with some DG A-list producers and engineers.

    The disc includes eight short works by ten composers - two of the works are collaborations or reworkings. The works all rely on Western instrumentation - no pipas, erhus, or liuqins here - though from time to time, the percussion section sounds like it could be augmented by a non-standard instrument. Most of the music is also generally Western in conception in that it usually sounds conventionally tonal, but some more "exotic" approaches (eg, pentatonic scales) are used as folk music is an influence. There is certainly nothing that comes across as especially alien to Western ears nowadays to people who listen to classical music, pop music, or soundtracks. Much of the music has very rough Western analogs, and those will be included in the descriptions as a sort of shorthand. This is not meant to imply that the music is all derivative, but to communicate a sense of what is on the disc.

    The disc opens with He Luting's under three minute Senjidema, from 1945. Based on Mongolian folk tunes, it starts slowly and then picks up the pace. It's generically "Eastern", and one can imagine Aaron Copland having written something similar.

    Next up is Bao Yuankai's Five Orchestral Pieces. The first piece, Zouxikou, based on a popular provincial ballad is mostly Western sounding, but has an identifiably Chinese sound in part, especially in the violins. Green Willow, the second piece, sounds more or less like a missing Tchaikovsky piece reliant on pizzicato throughout. Lady Lan Huahua follows, and it is based on an ancient ballad as well, and sounds lush and romantic and what one might wish Puccini could have worked into his Eastern themed works, and given it's tragic theme, it seems like a prelude or interlude from an opera. The Murmuring Brook follows, and it sounds something like a leisurely, gorgeous mash-up of Debussy, Vaughn Williams, and something vaguely Eastern. Duihua ends the suite, inspired by a folk song. Alternating between boisterous, rhythmically alert tuttis and gentler, Griegian music, it ends the work beautifully.

    Next up is Wang Ming's Haixia Suite, where the composer includes three movements called Childhood, Weaving Fishnets, and Harvest, and she blends her own experience and idealized experiences. One can hear whiffs of Debussy and Sibelius and Dvorak, and other Western influences, along with more obvious Eastern influences, with traditional Western orchestration used to evoke a more concrete Eastern sound. The different elements blend together to make something new and beautiful, and if perhaps a bit too sentimental, that's quite alright.

    Li Huanhzi's Spring Festival Overture, from 1955-56 follows, and once again, folk music serves as a foundation, and the music is robust yet light and festive (duh). It sounds like Chinese Dvorak, which I definitely mean as a compliment.

    Beijing Tidings by Zheng Lu and Ma Hongye, is up next, is folk music based, and here one can hear Borodin in Polovtsian Dances mode, or perhaps Enescu at his most rhapsodic, with dashes of Copland and DSCH (the Ninth), in a brief, colorful, vibrant, buoyant, and maybe slightly garish piece. This would make for a good surprise concert opener.

    Liu Tieshan and Mao Yuan's Yao Dance from the 1950s follows. Formalized folk music - a dance, as it happens - starts slowly and unfolds somewhat episodically, with wonderful rhythmic flair and expert orchestration. This almost sounds like what Bartok himself might have written had he ventured farther East in his exploration of folk music. It is expertly done, and is possibly the best work on the disc.

    Next is Liu Tingyu's Susan Suite. (Should it be Su-San?) At just shy of thirteen minutes, it's the second longest work, though it is contained in a single track since it unfolds more or less continuously. The suite is drawn from the composer's ballet Escorted Lady Convict, which itself is based on the Peking opera The Escorted Susan. The tale is suitably operatic, to be sure, and the music brings five names to mind: Mahler, Tchaikovsky, Strauss, Janacek, and Bright Sheng. The use of percussion falls outside the norm for Western compositions at times (and happily so), but it blends in with the music well, and the composer demonstrates an ability to transition between some starkly different music basically seamlessly, with the orchestra executing it superbly. Liu really seems to have a grasp of theatrical material on the basis of this piece, and he might be worth more exploration in the future.

    The disc closes with Lu Qiming's Ode to the Red Flag, from 1965. An ode to revolutionary success, with fanfares and bombast and a generally too much feeling, it might just be enough to make a dyed in the wool commie tear up. The DSCH-like march married to music that foreshadows John Williams' Superman soundtrack elicited something of a chuckle. (Yes, I know this was composed before the film soundtrack was written, but the aural connection is there.) I've yet to hear Erwin Schulhoff's musical setting of The Communist Manifesto (I'm not sure it has been recorded), and I think this not quite brief enough piece - it's over nine minutes long - will have to do.

    Most of the music is really quite lovely and entertaining, and I can easily see enjoying one or two of the pieces in a well-mixed concert. That written, it is hard to see these specific works becoming either core rep in the West, or oft listened to by me. YMMV. One thing strikes me as certain: composers in the East are creating some fine music, and they are blending different traditions in new ways, and the probability of great works existing now is quite high, and will only grow with time.

    Playing is excellent throughout. Sound is likewise excellent, but it sounds a bit bright some of the time. How much of that is the recording itself, and how much the remastering and potential re-EQing, I can't say. I can say that the sonics are not worth any premium price.



    Amazon UK link. Under no circumstances should anyone pay the listed price for this recording. That would be nuts.
     
  5. Todd A

    Todd A pfm Member

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    Seoul-born, now American-domiciled, Juilliard-trained, thirty-one year old Joyce Yang took the Silver Medal at the 2005 Van Cliburn Competition, and she has been doing the touring and recording things for years now. Her discs, mostly solo or chamber collaborations, are mixed repertoire affairs, and for my first exposure to her playing I opted for Wild Dreams. (She also has an all-Tchaikovsky disc, but I didn't really want to start there.)

    The disc takes its name from a combination of night and dream themed works and the two Earl Wild transcriptions of Rachmaninoff pieces that open the disc. Those transcriptions are of Dreams, Op 36/5 and Vocalise, Op 34/14. Right off the bat, it's clear that Yang can play with a beautiful, sensitive touch. It does not take too long to hear that she also has the equipment to play loud, powerful passages without sounding hard, seeming to have ample reserves, and dexterity aplenty. The pieces are pretty much all about beauty, and Yang delivers. The first of five excerpts of Hindemith's In einer Nacht is also all about beauty and nuance, and Yang delivers here, too. With the Sehr langsam second movement, Yang's nimbleness and keyboard command becomes more evident, and she manages to make the remaining brief pieces by the composer sound most delightful.

    Then come the big works. The first is Bartok's Out of Doors, played with nice power and a rounded sound, which makes for a rambunctious rather than barbaric With Drums and Pipes opener. As she proceeds, Yang's playing is always excellent, but the music doesn't really pop like it can in the more robust music like The Chase. (I'm thinking Kocsis here.) Still, it's nice to hear a younger artist take up what is now old music. Schumann's Fantasiestücke Op 12 follows. Yang has the chops to play the music, and she plays beautifully, but also almost dutifully. Her forward pulse is never hindered, and while she mixes up dynamics nicely, it's almost too straight forward at times, and the Eusebius and Florestan elements are not distinguished as much as I like; one is louder and quicker and one is quieter and slower, and that's almost the extent of it. The disc closes with the 1931 edition of Rachmaninoff's Second Sonata. Here, in the faster passages Yang acquits herself expertly. Often, it seems like she wants to get back to the more delicate music because she almost seems to dote on it. That's not to say that her more virtuosic playing lacks scale or weight or power, because she delivers plenty, which the coda makes abundantly clear. It's just that as robust as the fast playing is, it lacks a certain spark more evident in the slow music.

    This disc is a mixed bag. There's no questioning Yang's chops, but I was rarely really drawn into the music making. That written, if she records some more virtuosic Liszt, I do think I'll give it a listen. I'd like to hear how she might handle the Transcendental Etudes.



    Amazon UK link
     
  6. Todd A

    Todd A pfm Member

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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.



    Amazon UK link
     
  7. Todd A

    Todd A pfm Member

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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.
     
  8. Todd A

    Todd A pfm Member

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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.



    Amazon UK link
     
  9. Todd A

    Todd A pfm Member

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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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  10. Todd A

    Todd A pfm Member

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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.
     
  11. Todd A

    Todd A pfm Member

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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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  12. Todd A

    Todd A pfm Member

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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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  13. Todd A

    Todd A pfm Member

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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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  14. Todd A

    Todd A pfm Member

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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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  15. Todd A

    Todd A pfm Member

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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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  16. Todd A

    Todd A pfm Member

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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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  17. Todd A

    Todd A pfm Member

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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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  18. Todd A

    Todd A pfm Member

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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.
     
  19. Todd A

    Todd A pfm Member

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    I enjoyed Yuja Wang’s 2010 Verbier Festival recital enough to give her 2013 appearance with Gautier Capuçon a shot. The pair play Cello Sonatas from Shostakovich and Rachmaninoff, and the Grand Tango for Cello and Piano by Astor Piazzolla.

    The program starts off with the Shostakovich. In one of the less surprising occurrences in my listening experience, neither artist has any difficulty playing the music. A bit more surprising, though not much, is that Capuçon is the star of the show. Wang can and does play very well indeed, but she doesn’t seem to have quite the same feel for DSCH that she does for Prokofiev, and while her playing cannot be faulted in terms of hitting the notes, she doesn’t seem to infuse much urgency or darkness or bite. The playing is more sleek and efficient, amply powerful when need, but in support of the cello. Capuçon delivers the goods. His tone, while not the biggest, at least as recorded, is full and rich, and his intonation is spot on. He digs in when he should, and slashes away in the two Allegros as appropriate. I’ve only got a couple other versions of this – Gabetta/Ursuleasa and Harrell/Ashkenazy – and this performance cedes overall quality to the Harrell/Ashkenazy version, which sounds more lived in, with both players giving their all, albeit in studio conditions with many takes possible. (As an aside, the score Capuçon uses has the word “Beethoven” in large letters right across the top, as can be seen in the cover image.)

    Wang seems to be more at home in the Rach. Her playing sounds more flowing, and she’s not shy about overpowering Capuçon on occasion. He doesn’t seem to mind ceding the limelight, and in any event, when it’s his turn, he offers his own robust playing. Rather like the Chiesa/Baglini pairing in this work, Capuçon/Wang offer a more modern, sleek take on romantic playing, though it might, might be slightly more romanticized than the studio effort. It’s certainly got the verve and the drama to satisfy, and comes off relatively better than the DSCH.

    Having finished off the big works, the duo deliver a beefy and vibrant and buoyant Piazzolla (extended) encore. It’s lighter than the other works, but it makes for a nice change of mood and leaves the patrons smiling.

    This recital basically lived up to expectations. Two young/ish stars of the day deliver the goods in memorable if not necessarily for-the-ages performances. If I had the chance to hear this duo in person, I’d happily plump for tickets.
     
  20. Todd A

    Todd A pfm Member

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    I spotted Ilia Kim's new release of four Muzio Clementi sonatas and preludes a couple months back, and when it came out, it was available only at premium price. As it turns out, the price of admission is $0. Both of Ms Kim's CD releases are available on YouTube. It appears that she's the one who posted the recordings, or perhaps it was her record label, so I figured I might as well try both, starting with the Clementi.

    Ms Kim was born in Seoul, started studying in her home country, moved to Germany for further study starting at age eleven, did some additional studies in Austria, and then commenced on the touring life, and eventually ended up in Italy.

    The first work on the disc is Op 2, No 2, and Kim shows that she has a light, quick touch, sure rhythmic sense and command of the music. The music is basically just light, fluid fun, with a tiny bit of drama in the Rondo. Op 7, No 3 is much the same in the first movement, with a bit more fire in the last movement, and a more introspective, in a surface sort of way, Cantabile e lento. The two brief Preludes are light fun. The Op 13, No 6 sonata has a very Beethovenian sound to it, and perhaps Lou took some inspiration from it. The disc ends with Op 40, No 3, which is slightly more robust yet, though it still remains in the late Mozart/Haydn, early Beethoven vein. Since I happen to fancy that style of piano sonata, it's just splendid.

    Kim's playing overall is lighter and more superficial and slightly more stylistically contained than Pietro De Maria's, to mention my most recent foray into Clementi's music, but it is just about as compelling, and it makes me think I really need to explore more of the composer's oeuvre. I just want that Tipo box, dammit. I also need to listen to Kim's other disc post-haste.

    Sound on YouTube can be problematic. Here, it allows one to appreciate every aspect of Ms Kim's playing, but the piano sounds light. Given Kim's liking for Fabbrini Steinways, I tempted to think it's a Fabbrini-ized model B or C - it certainly doesn't sound like a nine-footer - but the recording may be bass shy, or maybe Kim doesn't play with much left hand heft. I may just have to buy the disc to see if the instrument info is included (it isn't always on Piano Classics releases), and to get every last iota of sound quality out of the recording.
     

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