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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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    Figured I might as well try Ilia Kim's first disc while it's still free. The disc starts with Schumann's Humoreske. The piano sound on YouTube is close and dry and a bit plinky, and doesn't display the sound usually produced by a Fabbrini Steinway, so listening through that, Kim plays with nice differentiation between the Florestan and Eusebius sections. Her fingerwork is generally quite nimble, her dynamic contrasts ample, her rubato fine. She sounds freer and more fluid than either Hisako Kawamura or Da Sol Kim, though the latter's command sounds more sure. That written, Ms Kim's Eusebius is dreamier and more introspective yet expressive than the other two pianists, and she plays much more than just surface deep. I rather dig her approach to Schumann.

    The Liszt Sonata, at thirty-one minutes, is on the broad side overall, though much of the playing is suitably swift. To be sure, while she can play the work well, when compared to the last three versions I listened to before this - Kamenz, Angelich, and Pogorelich - Kim does not display superhuman virtuoso command; rather, she displays the more human variety. Also, in comparison to those three very distinctive readings, Kim's is fairly straight-forward. She does take her time with some of slower music, and it sounds attractive, though it doesn't offer a tender musical portrait of Gretchen, a la Kamenz, but instead offers a more abstract and formal approach. There's a lot to enjoy in this recording, but it's not one of the great recordings of the work. If a listener wants to go the YouTube route for the Sonata, I would certainly suggest the 1982 University of Maryland performance by Nelson Freire instead.

    Franck's Prélude, Choral et Fugue ends the disc. Chamayou and Block and maybe Rubackytė aside, I tend to power through this work when it pops up on a disc. The small-ish scale, bass light sound of the recording actually benefits the piece here, which Kim dispatches with enough verve to entertain. I doubt I will ever listen to this disc again because of this piece, though.

    The YouTube sound of the Fabbrini Steinway is bass light and ultimately not satisfactory, so I will probably have to buy both of Ms Kim's discs at some point to get a better idea of what she sounds like.
     
  2. Todd A

    Todd A pfm Member

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    Klara Min is yet another Korean pianist with a fine pedagogical pedigree making a first appearance in my collection. In her case, she studied with no less a pianist than Byron Janis, so one must assume she has chops. True, she stated that his lessons were more about musical philosophy than technique, but since she was already a degreed adult when she started working with the great pianist, that sort of makes sense. Apparently, she's also up on the business side of things as she founded and is the artistic director of New York Concert Artists and Associates, and she currently lives in both New York and Berlin. This recording of assorted Scriabin works on the Steinway & Sons label is her third release, and also her third label. Though the release has no booklet, the marketing folks still managed to squeeze in four tasteful glamour shots of the pianist.

    The disc contains thirty-four tracks of Scriabin's smaller scale fare, with the 24 Preludes Op 11 taking up the lion's share of the disc. Min displays a wonderfully nuanced touch from note one. Her tone is a bit bright overall, but there are many shades to be heard, and her dynamic nuances are quite appealing. While the first four tracks all sound just lovely, it's the fifth track, the Poeme fantastique, Op 45, No 2, where one's ears really perk up. Mostly quiet and lovely, she seductively deploys both rubato and dual dynamic levels somewhere between p and pp. The playing is fastidious to the Nth degree, but here that is high praise, not criticism. Finally, in the Sixth Prelude, Min plays with some oomph, and it turns out just swell. She plays loud from time to time throughout the disc, but mostly the music is less extroverted and the style more inward looking. It takes not inconsiderable skill to make the playing sound as appealing as here. So much beauty, so much control, so much nuance.

    The 2015 recording was made in Sono Luminus Studios, and not unexpectedly, sound is superb. The close microphone placement definitely benefits the quieter playing more, though maybe a tad more space could have benefitted the loudest passages. I look forward to hearing more from Ms Min.




    Amazon UK link
     
  3. Todd A

    Todd A pfm Member

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    I spotted this disc of conductor Shi-Yeon Sung leading the Gyeonggi Philharmonic in Mahler’s Fifth recently, and I tried to decide if I should buy it. It looks like I didn’t have to. UMG uploaded the disc to YouTube (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bkKahBboqgY&list=PLlxE-pcMA1N4x1vVoZo0qBDQsaI7PTpCU), and the Gyeonggi Philharmonic uploaded a concert performance of the same symphony to YouTube, as well (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eqVmq51srzM). I figured I might as well go the free route since it is open, and I figured I should listen to both versions, just because.

    To the conductor, Shi-Yeon Sung is one of a small but growing number of female conductors, and she’s been on something of a roll in the last decade or so. Born in South Korea, she took up the piano at age four, trained at various European music schools of note, started winning major conducting contests in 2006, became the Boston Symphony Orchestra’s Assistant Conductor in 2007, and Chief Conductor of the Gyeonggi Philharmonic Orchestra in 2014. I was very much interested in hearing this recording if for no other reason than I’ve never heard a woman conduct Mahler.

    To the music, both versions are, not surprisingly, very similar in overall approach. The Decca recording, even on YouTube, sounds better, and the execution sounds more assured, almost certainly due in part to multiple takes. The following description applies to both versions, unless noted. The Trauermarsch starts slow and solemn, with Sung building up to some more intense playing later on. Everything holds together quite well. Better yet is the second movement, which certainly starts off vehemently stormy, but Sung and her band back off nicely and then alternate between tightly executed, stormy playing, and something more introspective. The music never sounds maudlin or overwrought. In the concert version, Sung brings out the dance-like elements of the Scherzo very nicely, and she keeps much of the music light (for Mahler) and the pacing very nice. The brass may not equal a band like the CSO, but that’s OK, it's a concert. The Decca version sounds somewhat stiffer or more formal, though more tightly conceived. There are no brass issues of note. The live Adagietto is just lovely and at about ten-ish minutes, nicely paced. The studio effort at closer to eleven-ish minutes, is more beautiful yet, and more overtly romantic. The Rondo is played at a nice tempo, has ample energy and adequate clarity and ends up closing out the work in excellent fashion. Overall, I rather enjoyed both renditions. I’d give the overall nod to the Decca recording. While neither is the best version I’ve heard, both are far from the worst. I’m not sure I feel compelled to buy a copy since the symphony is not my favorite, but it is clear that Ms Sung should record more, and depending on what, if anything, she records, I may very well snap up future offerings. If she ends up recording a Mahler cycle, I will likely buy it.

    There are some sound issues in the live recording. The highs are rolled off, and the lows, while weighty (augmented by the use of a sub), are muddy. The Decca upload sounds better, with more extension, better clarity, and better everything else, too. I suspect the disc or a lossless download would sound better yet.
     
  4. Todd A

    Todd A pfm Member

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    Time for more Chopin, this time from Dizhou Zhao. Mr Zhao was born and raised in Shanghai, where he obtained most of his training, though he also spent some time studying with Jerome Lowenthal. He competed in multiple competitions, though not the biggest name ones, and after winning the Louisiana International Piano Competition, he recorded this 2009 disc of Chopin's Etudes for the Russian label Classical Records.

    Zhao is one of a growing number of pianists who seem to have no real problem playing these pieces. The playing throughout the set is generally excellent, and one can hear why the pianist might do well in competitions. Zhao seems at his best in the faster pieces that can benefit from tight execution and flashy display. For instance, 10/5 is especially fleet and exciting. However, this is followed by a 10/6 that doesn't sound especially expressive. And so it mostly goes throughout the first dozen etudes. Op 25 opens with a more expressive first etude, and the the third is played as a dandy, light galop. The second set contains a dud in 25/5, which doesn't sound really coherent, but otherwise the other eleven etudes in this set come off slightly better than the first dozen.

    This isn't really a bad recording, but the thing with the Etudes is that there are so many really good and great recordings to choose from that merely acceptable won't do. Among younger pianists, Lisiecki and Chochieva both deliver versions more to my liking, as do Freire and Yokoyama and Pollini and, well, you get the idea.

    The recording is available on YouTube.
     
  5. Todd A

    Todd A pfm Member

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    I finally got around to a disc from a pianist I've been generically aware of for a while. Soyeon Lee was born in Seoul, and spent the first nine years of her life in her original homeland, but then she and her family moved to the US, where she still lives. She studied at the Juilliard under Jerome Lowenthal, among others, and has won competitions and is now a professor. She's recorded a handful of discs for Naxos, the first of which was this Scarlatti job in its long-gestating complete set.

    There's certainly no doubt about Ms Lee's chops. She handles all of the sonatas with ease, with superb dynamic control, a generally snappy rhythmic sense, and well-judged ornamentation. There's no weak piece on the disc. It's the very model of high-grade pianism playing very fine core rep. What's not as apparent is a strong individual character. Consider Pletnev and Baglini and Pogorelich and Babayan and Zacharias, with their freer dynamics and rubato, and they produce more of a sense of adventure. Alternatively, Schiff and Hinrichs offer more introspective Scarlatti. Lee is more straight-forward. There's certainly nothing wrong with that, and I can see some listeners preferring that approach.


    Amazon UK link: https://www.amazon.co.uk/s/ref=nb_sb_noss?url=search-alias=aps&field-keywords=soyeon+lee+scarlatti
     
  6. Todd A

    Todd A pfm Member

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    I wanted some more chamber music from an Asian ensemble, so I settled on the sole disc from the Kumho Asiana String Quartet. As with the Dragon Quartet, the cellist is known to me: the great Sung-Won Yang. This is an early recording from him. His fellow ensemble members here are Eui-Myung Kim and Soon-Ik Lee on violins, and Eun-Hwan Bai on viola. The ensemble was funded by the Kumho Corporation of Korea and gave free concerts back in the day. I wouldn't mind one little bit if some socially conscious corporation opted to give back in that form again now. The disc contains three core rep staples: Haydn's 76/3, the Ravel, and Dvorak's American Quartet. It was recorded in LA in 1996.

    The disc starts off with the Haydn. Right out of the gate, one can detect stylistic differences between the Kumho and the Dragon. While the Dragon are all about modern, sleek execution, the Kumho allow themselves a bit more fun and lightness and flexibility. The Allegro is bouncy fun, the Poco adagio, with expressive but not overdone vibrato, is elegant and restrained - but not too much so - and the Menuetto is a sprightly, fun dance, and the whole thing wraps up with a vibrant Finale. The first violin does seem to be in charge, but everyone is heard. The Ravel is lovely and sounds quick and energetic more than lush. The Assez vif is really nice and rhythmically incisive, and the clarity of the second violin and viola is quite delightful. The last two movements are well executed and sleek. The Dvorak sounds more relaxed, more lyrical, more romantic in nature than the Dragon Quartet. Think of it as closer to a Czech quartet in approach, whereas the Dragon is closer to an American quartet like the Emerson or Juilliard. Which approach is right? Well, both, of course. Which is better? Typically, I prefer the approach offered by Czech ensembles and the Kumho Asiana. To be sure, the great Czech ensembles have the more rustic, folk inspired music down a bit better, and can sound smoother, but the Kumho Asiana are very fine, indeed. While better versions of each work are available, this is an extremely fine one off disc.

    The recording is available of YouTube.
     
  7. Todd A

    Todd A pfm Member

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    Miao Huang at bat. Born in China, Ms Huang performed most of her formal studies in Germany, where she now lives. In addition to studying piano, and like Corey Cerovsek and Kit Armstrong, Ms Huang is a bona fide intellectual in another area, having earned a master's in business mathematics. This Chopin and Ravel disc on Genuin from 2013 is her only one so far.

    This is the fourth new recording of Chopin's Third Sonata I've bought in the last few months, and I'm not really a huge fan of the work. Huang, unlike the others, omits the repeat in the Allegro maestoso. She plays with flexibility and tonal variety similar to Gotsouliak's, though she plays more quickly. She does not play with the poetry and sweep of Goerner, but she's not necessarily lacking in those areas. She does not display the forensic precision and command of Lim, but she's no slouch. And by omitting the repeat, the movement, as played here, seems to cohere better than Gotsouliak's recording, as well as a number of others. Huang zips through the Scherzo with a robust smoothness, and opens the Largo with suitable power before moving to a more lilting and lovely style that flows along nicely, even if the playing lacks the coherence and flawlessly maintained musical line that Lim offers. The Presto nan tanto is played at a nicely energetic but not rushed pace, and Huang again displays nice tonal variation and a flowing sound. She's not afraid to pedal to obtain her effects, which is just fine. It is an excellent version overall, and I prefer it to Gotsouliak, but it is not as compelling as either Goerner's or Lim's readings.

    The Barcarolle follows. It is about the same length as Lim's, but here one can hear her sounding a bit more rushed than Lim, and while her warmer tone might be considered more attractive in some ways than Lim's, and her playing is really quite fine, it just doesn't possess the same degree of overall awesomeness that Lim brings.

    Gaspard ends the disc. In Ondine, Huang's warm, rounded tone - her playing displays zero rough edges throughout - does an excellent job creating a lovely, clean yet dreamy sound, and the climax has a formidable left hand foundation. Le Gibet maintains the warm sound, which could be something of a distraction given the music, but she keeps it slow and controlled. Huang dispatches Scarbo with admirable clarity and energy, but it lacks especially wide dynamic swings, and it lacks something in terms of scampishness, malevolence, or rude vigor that the best versions bring. It's a bit too polite. Huang's Gaspard is excellent overall, but here there are many top flight versions from decades ago as well as the recent past, and this doesn't displace or augment my favorites.

    SOTA sound.



    Amazon UK link: https://www.amazon.co.uk/Works-Fréd...TF8&qid=1511189648&sr=8-2&keywords=miao+huang
     

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