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Discussion in 'classical' started by Todd A, Feb 5, 2016.

  1. Todd A

    Todd A pfm Member

    I wouldn't say that I'm fascinated by obscure artists so much as always on the lookout for something new in the music. I've got many recordings by most of the established names in this repertoire - Kempff, Kovacevich, Richter, Lupu, Schiff, Brendel, Zacharias (if he's not established in this repertoire, he should be), and so on - but I know there are younger artists who can match the titans of old. I've heard them. Plus, I might be able to see them in person, like with Paul Lewis. I'm increasingly interested in the here and now. Some artists will remain obscure forever, that's true, but that could lead to finding hidden gems, like Michel Block.
  2. Todd A

    Todd A pfm Member


    Tristan Pfaff, a young pianist new to my collection. This Schubert disc was recorded in 2012 and released in 2013, when Pfaff was still in his twenties, and that's only important in so far as this is a young man's Schubert. The opening movement of D894 is played at a very brisk 16'03", and while Pfaff has no problem playing with attractive lyricism, it can sound rushed. Combined with a relative lack of low register heft, and it sounds a bit light, superficial almost. Both the Andante, and moreso the outer sections of the Menuetto, are pushed to the point that the music borders on the aggresive, though the middle section of the Menuetto is lovely. The also rushed Allegro sounds a bit more playful and rythmically bouncy than common. Overall, decent, but not great.

    The Wanderer Fantasie follows. Pfaff's is very much a high-speed, high-energy, virtuosic take. It sounds as though he relishes the knottiest passages and he blazes through almost the whole work. It's certainly superficially exciting, and I think it would work pretty well in recital, but a bit less so on disc. The Carl Tausig arrangement of the Marche Militaire No 1 makes for a fine, high energy encore, and it certainly seems like one.

    Sound is very clear and clean, with a few pedal stomps (in louder sections) and damper mechanism movements (in quieter music) audible throughout.

    Amazon UK link
  3. Todd A

    Todd A pfm Member


    With this disc of Impromptus and a few small pieces, Endres joins Michel Dalberto in the ultra-complete, super-deluxe Schubert set sweepstakes. All of Endres' standard traits are on display here, though this recording finds him playing with some notable power at times. Much of the playing is lyrical and beautiful as all get out, as befits the music. A lovely disc in SOTA sound.

    Amazon UK link
  4. Richard C.

    Richard C. pfm Member

    Me too. :)
  5. davidjt

    davidjt pfm Member

    I'm enjoying them, too.

    I used to be a regular at the South Bank and have seen umpteen live performances, but as mentioned on the forum at the time, one of the most memorable was the final recital at Finchcocks before it closed: Melvyn Tan playing Beethoven and Schubert on contemporary instruments in a drawing-room setting. Not at all what we're used to, and perhaps not an everyday choice, but in that setting it was spellbinding. Anyone given a similar opportunity should grab it immediately.
  6. Todd A

    Todd A pfm Member


    I enjoyed Philippe Bianconi's Debussy Preludes enough to try something else. I found a used copy of some solo Schubert for under three bucks and decided to give it a try. A lucky grab. Bianconi's Debussy is excellent, but this sole solo Schubert disc is better in every way. First, obviously, is sound, which typical for Lyrinx, is SOTA, even almost two decades after its recording. The piano tone is flawless, dynamics are flawless, reverb is natural and flawless. This allows the listener to enjoy the perfect blend of tonal luxuriance and power that Bianconi brings to the music.

    The disc opens with D959. The first movement is no wimpy version, but things never sound hard when Bianconi hammers out the loud passages. The second movement is almost daringly slow in the outer sections, with the musical line not only never broken, but tense even in slow motion. The middle section is more energetic, as is the third movement. The final movement emphasizes lyrical beauty, but never sounds mushy. This is an extremely fine version. Maybe it's not quite at the Kovacevich or Brendel level, but it's not far behind.

    D946 follows, and the warmth, lyricism, and never too hard loud playing, combined with deft tempo selections pays dividends. The opening movement moves back and forth between energetic playing and almost purely beautiful playing to good effect. The second movement sounds rich and darker, and Bianconi imparts a sense of urgency to some of the playing, and the third movement is peppy and tuneful in just about perfect proportion. As with D959, there are some mighty rivals out there - Sokolov, Paik, Pollini, and Kars for the otherworldly two-thirds he recorded, especially the second movement - but Bianconi runs with the rest of the pack.

    A superb disc.
  7. Todd A

    Todd A pfm Member


    Sheila Arnold is new to me. Prior to seeing this disc listed a few months back, I'd never even seen her name, and until I spun this disc, I'd heard nary a note of her playing. I'm glad that has been corrected. Indian-born, German-raised and domiciled Arnold's Schubert is, to use a word I generally dislike using, among the most balanced I've heard. By balanced I mean that Arnold plays with near unfailing beauty, but she also plays with tension, angst, sorrow, and joy in basically perfect measure, and she manages to play with both attention to fine detail and maintain a big picture arc for everything simultaneously. One needn't proceed beyond the first Impromptu to hear this. Arnold plays beautifully, but the dotted left hand rhythm is insistent and nervous. Her dynamics are simply outstanding, with notably varied volumes between hands. In the opening of the second Impromptu, for instance, the left hand remains steady while the right hand soars and undulates. That's not to say she lets melody dominate unduly, because she does not; when melody dominates, it duly dominates. In the great D894 sonata, Arnold opts for a broad, just shy of twenty minute opening movement. She keeps the music moving forward at all times, even when she slows to near static pace, and in a few places, her right hand playing almost magically emphasizes some individual notes while still presenting a balanced whole. She plays with some real power, and if she can't rattle the walls like Lifits, she's no slouch in this area, and her cantabile playing is just gorgeous. Arnold condenses these traits in the Andante, which, while not at all rushed, mixes gentle beauty and biting urgency. She then ratchets things up a bit more for the Menuetto. Arnold ends the sonata with a rhytmically bouyant, forceful but not harsh, and beautiful but not soft Allegretto. It's perfectly balanced.

    Sound is slightly more distant and resonant than I typically prefer, but otherwise is SOTA and contributes to the success of this disc.

    This disc is a real find. I feel compelled to try more of Ms Arnold's playing. This is the best new Schubert I've heard since the discs from David Fray and Michail Lifits, though Arnold is decidedly different from both.

    Amazon UK link
  8. Todd A

    Todd A pfm Member


    Another artist new to me, Dutch pianist See Siang Wong has been recording for years, and he also does the teaching thing, in his case at the Zurich University of the Arts. That helps explain why his releases originate from the Swiss divisions of the majors, previously Decca and now RCA. He's also got some Guild and other indie releases out there.

    This Schubert disc was recorded for RCA in 2012. Wong's playing is, as is generally the case with major label pianists nowadays, technically secure throughout. Never does one have to worry about him struggling to play his conceptions. His conceptions here focus on two main components: beauty and strength. Wong never produces an ugly tone on the disc, and he manages to play with noticeable oomph; while beautiful, these are not gentle and tender renditions of the works on offer. Faster passages usually sound nicely vigorous. What seems to be missing is great depth or darkness or anguish, or even significant hints of them. I can't say that the playing is cold, but it's sort of held at arm's length, and while Wong never unduly rushes anything (the A flat Impromptu comes close, though), he doesn't sound too keen on wallowing in Schubert's writing. This works very well in the Allegretto, but much less so in the Impromptus, which sound almost as studied as Michelangeli's Schubert. The single German Dance is expertly played, but whizzes by leaving no imprint. Wong plays the Allegro moderato of D664 at just about the maximum speed it can be played without being ruined until the lovely and restrained coda. Wong plays the Andante at a more comfortable pace, but it sounds detached, as does the Allegro, which also displays comparatively limited rhythmic verve. The Hungarian Melody closer sounds a bit more forceful than ideal. So, this well played disc is not what I generally or specifically prefer when listening to Schubert.

    Perusing Wong's discography, my attention is drawn mostly to his Schumann outing with Carnaval. Maybe one day I will find out what it's like.

    Amazon UK link
  9. Todd A

    Todd A pfm Member


    [This will be cross-posted in The Italian Invasion]

    Michelanagelo Carbonara is a thirty-something pianist born in Italy who studied at both the Santa Cecilia Conservatory and Academy, won or placed in over a dozen competitions, and worked with a variety of more famous names in master classes and the like. He has done the touring thing, of course, and records mostly for Brilliant Classics, under both the Brilliant and Piano Classics imprints. This is the first time I've heard anything from him.

    The disc opens with D157. Carbonara's approach in the opening Allegro ma non troppo is direct and unaffected, light and charming, lyrical and clear. So far, so good, if a bit unmemorable. The slow Andante contains more pronounced Schubertian lyricism and melancholy, without overdoing it, with left hand playing that sounds both full and light. Carbonara finishes the sonata off with a quick, cleanly articulated Menuetto. It sounds quasi-rushed and more stormy-lite than light. A good start.

    D664 follows, and Carbonara goes for endless, flowing lyricism in the Allegro moderato, playing some of the upper register music in a slightly precious way. Sound is tilted to the middle and upper registers, though that doesn't matter much here. The Andante is played even more beautifully and delicately than the opener. The bass-light sound makes the music sort of float, and the very narrow dynamic range makes it fall softly on the ear. Carbonara then ends with an Allegro that remains lyrical and includes approximations of more robust playing, the bass-light sound depriving the music of oomph, though here, in this sonata, that's not a major detriment. Indeed, it's an excellent performance, one worthy on inclusion in a shootout, and the best thing on the disc.

    D845 closes out the disc. I tend to prefer an edgier, more intense approach to this sonata, though there are obvious exceptions (eg, Michail Lifits.) Carbonara's approach is somewhat similar to Lifits in some ways. He never rushes the Moderato, which is good, and some of the playing is very small-scale, very intimate. Large dynamic swings sound medium-sized here, and a sense of mystery permeates much of the playing. The Andante is slow and delicate and deliberate and intimate. It's drawing room, Schubertiade Schubert, and strikingly effective. The Scherzo is just about perfectly paced and a bit more robust than the first two movements, but it is still restrained, and the Trio is just gorgeous. Carbonara closes out with a Rondo that alternates between vigorous passages and gentler passages quite nicely. Like Lifits, he makes a strong case for a less intense reading of this sonata, though it lacks that some extra that Lifits brings.

    Per Carbonara's site, he has all of Schubert's sonatas in his repertoire. Even if the sonatas are not first choices for me, they are all excellent, and they are all purposely more intimately scaled than normal, though this trait is more obvious through speakers than headphones, strangely enough. I wouldn't mind hearing a few more at some point.

    Sound is close and dry and bass-light, with some pedal stomps audible here and there.

    Amazon UK link
  10. Todd A

    Todd A pfm Member


    American born and educated, having trained with Serkin and Frank and Horszowski while at home, David Levine lived in Germany for most of his career. He appears to have specialized in more modern repertoire, recorded a slim discography, and he died at age forty-four. Notably, Fazil Say was one of his students. This Schubert recording from 1992 was his last.

    The disc opens with D959. Levine omits the repeat in the Allegro and plays it straight to the point of making it sound Plain Jane. There's nothing wrong with it, sonics apart, it's just that there's nothing memorable about it. The Andantino works slightly better. Levine plays it with a very steady pulse and the effect of the music sort of becomes cumulative in the outer sections, which sound lyrical but dreary, and the middle section is more driven but the basically nonexistent dynamic range of the recording robs the playing of its power. Levine then darts through the Scherzo in the outer sections, though he plays more conventionally in the trio. The outer sections are marginally jarring when compared to the opening two movements, and hint at some more intense possibilities. The concluding Rondo is mostly unaffected, swift, and lyrical, though Levine does play with more speed and intensity in the middle section. Overall, the Scherzo aside, not much really stands out.

    Levine's playing in the opening Molto Moderato of D960 sounds very slow, which can be just fine, but his playing doesn't hold the music together very well. It just sounds slow. And then the trills are anemic, and the melody uneven after that. Only after over two minutes in does Levine finally impart something more vibrant, but it fades away. The longer the movement goes on, the longer it seems, which is the opposite of great recordings of this movement. Levine ends up making the Andante sostenuto the heart of the work. The musical line flows smoothly, the mood is solemn and despondent, the middle section is suitably intense, but not too much so. Then, like in D959, Levine plays the Scherzo notably faster than the preceding movements might indicate, though the middle section is slow and a bit stiff. Levine ends with a quick Allegro ma troppo, and he plays the middle section with what sounds like a nice degree of strength, though the recording mutes the impact somewhat. While there are some things to like, the recording is not one of the better ones I've heard.

    Whenever I pick up a disc of Schubert's "late" sonatas, I always hope that the disc is one of the best I've heard. Obviously, that's not the case in general, and it is not here. This disc just does not work for me at all. YMMV.

    Sound is poor for its early 90s vintage. Small, boxy, dynamically constricted, midrange dominated, with a nearly constant dull glare, it is far from ideal. Levine deserved better.

    Amazon UK link
  11. Todd A

    Todd A pfm Member


    Here's something that at least some piano music fans have waited many moons for: a full length disc of solo piano music by Krystian Zimerman. It's Germanic core rep. It's Schubert. Oh, yes, please.

    Out of the gate, it's clear that Zimerman isn't shy about projecting his sound in this recording. D959 starts with a robust Allegro. Zimerman's forte playing is potent, but his touch remains nuanced and supremely controlled, aided by his customized piano. Once the music starts, it never really lets up in terms of forward momentum. At times, the playing almost soars more than sings, but sing it does, in a full-throated, heldentenor sort of way; this is more opera than introspective lieder. Of course, with Zimerman, his command of voicing is supreme, and his ability to deliver accompaniment of unerring insistence or melody of exquisite lyricism is never in doubt for even one semiquaver. In the Andantino, the first appearance of the first theme is solemn and lamenting, and almost evokes a perfect Winterreise sound, with the left hand the lonely accompanist and the right hand the forlorn singer. The second theme transitions into a stormy fantasia, building up to thundering, nearly ear-splitting fortissimo playing that nonetheless never sounds ugly. He goes past even someone like Michel Dalberto in terms of power but never loses poise. He plays with pneumatic steel fingers encased in the softest velvet gloves. The second appearance of the first theme is more resigned and terse than in the beginning. The Scherzo is beautifully pointed, rhythmically alert, and energetic, but it's sort of serious-light music in the outer sections, and almost just serious music in the middle section. Finally, in the Rondo, Zimerman adopts a gentler, flowing sound, though even here it is projected. It's like prime age Horowitz in that way, but, you know, good. The development section and the coda find Zimerman playing with near full strength again, to riveting effect. Superb.

    D960 kicks off with a twenty minute and change Molto Moderato, yet even given its length it starts off sounding a bit quick, though flowing. It's not especially dark as far as opening movements can go, and the first bass trill is somewhat small in scale and matter of fact. As the movement continues, the playing imperceptibly changes. Lyricism remains, but dark clouds gather. Zimerman builds up tension until releasing it with a much more powerful second bass trill followed by a perfectly judged pause. The playing then takes on something of a sense of urgency rather than darkness. Occasionally, during the development, one almost gets the sense that Zimerman is so enamored of the details, which he makes sure to present as pristinely as any human can, that the long arc of the movement gets lost. Thing is, it doesn't. It's sort of like the best of both the detail-oriented and architectural approaches, at least in some ways. In my listening experience, interpreters tend to either focus on the first movement or the second (the second usually becoming the focus if the first movement repeat is omitted), and given Zimerman's take on the opening movement, that would have seemed to be the focus, but his playing in the Andante sostenuto calls that into question. It largely possesses the darker, more solemn feel often experienced in the first movement, especially in the middle section. Zimerman's playing is not always the most moving, but here it is. It's just fabulous. It almost makes the listener wish the sonata were structured like the B minor symphony. The Scherzo offers a comparatively light and breezy contrast to the prior movement, with beautiful sound after beautiful sound emanating from the piano. The Allegro ma nan troppo opens with a terse octave displaying the effect of the modified keyboard, which is repeated every time it occurs. Zimerman plays the movement fairly quickly and in rather potent fashion, again projecting outward more than looking inward. The tonal beauty and great flow more than offset that for me, but not everyone will agree. Superb. Again.

    How do these versions stack up to the many other versions of both works out there? Very well, indeed, but I don't know if I can say that Zimerman sets the standard for either sonata. But then, that's sort of beside the point at this level. There is no standard so much as there are great recordings. Zimerman's Schubert is Zimerman's Schubert. There's nothing else exactly like it, and even if one has quibbles with it, it is formidable, to say the least. Zimerman's Schubert deserves to be compared against only the very best, and though my listening plans don't really have time for that, I just may end up doing it anyway. I will write that one thing I do know is that in D959, in particular, Arcadi Volodos is out there now, playing it in recital, with a less than ideal pirated copy available on YouTube. For those who might find Zimerman too assertive, almost aggressive, and not introspective enough, Volodos' darker poetry could be the ticket, if he ever decides to record it officially. (The online comments and reviews have generally been highly laudatory, and even if one discounts them as too favorable due to a sort of rush from hearing them live, I have every reason to believe that the Russian can deliver a recorded D959 for the ages.)

    SOTA sound, but it's a bit different than normal. Zimerman's customized piano, with a modified keyboard added to a normal (presumably Fabrinni) Steinway sounds magnificent. The decays are typically quick, the sound clean and lovely and not as imposing or metallic as evident in even some other recordings by the pianist. The tonal qualities are quite ear-catching. The closest recent recorded equivalent in my experience is Roberto Prosseda's Mozart sonata twofer, where he uses a Fazioli tuned using Valloti unequal temperament. The sound here is not quite that different from a Steinway, but it's obvious Zimerman had his piano tweaked to achieve a very specific sound. Zimerman's breathing and vocalizing can frequently be heard, as can damper mechanism noise. It's all just part of the fun.

    Amazon UK link
  12. alanbeeb

    alanbeeb pfm Member

    Zimerman's D960 is too slow. Far too slow, especially in the Andante. The melody cannot take the strain and loses the thread. Luckily D.959 is magnificent.

    Not sure what my favourite D.960 recording is - maybe Perahia, or Radu Lupu's 1990s version.
  13. Todd A

    Todd A pfm Member


    Emmanueal Strosser as a pianist is not new to me, though he is as soloist. Up to now, I've heard only his superb work as part of the outstanding Trio Owon in their world class set of Beethoven's Piano Trios, which, pending a shoot-out with the Oliver Schynder Trio, is my current favorite set. In short, he's got the education and experience of a world-class pianist.

    This Schubert disc opens with D960. Strosser goes for the repeat and a measured approach in the Molto moderato, bringing it in at 19'41". That somewhat masks the stylistic contrasts within the movement. While it certainly starts slow and subdued, and Strosser reverts to this style as needed, there's also a tense, speedier feel to some of the music. While Strosser doesn't plumb the depths in the manner of some pianists, he does infuse the playing with some gravitas, in the practical form of nice dynamic contrasts and the occasional really long pause. Strosser strikes a nice balance in his playing, avoiding the too portentous and the too sweetly lyrical, with a sort of appealing emotional distance. Despite the length and scale of the opener, Strosser makes the Andante sostenuto the heart of the work. Still not too emotive, the pianist sounds more engaged, not least through the increased vocalization, and though played at a measured overall tempo, Strosser again knows how and when to speed up a bit, and when to ratchet up the intensity. The Scherzo and closing movement are both much lighter in feel and clean in execution, with the closing movement displaying fine articulation and clarity and some thundering fortissimo playing, making for a more strongly characterized than normal conclusion. Nice.

    In D946, Strosser starts the first piece off in both lyrical and relentlessly forward driven style. He never plays too hard; instead, he infuses the music with heft. Two accentuated chords announce the arrival of the first slower section in nearly melodramatic fashion, and if the execution lacks the ultimate polish of Sokolov or near mysticism of Kars, it still works very well, indeed. The second slow section, well-executed, sounds disjointed and almost formless in places. Clearly, this is what Strosser wants to convey, but I'm not sold on it. Strosser then plays the second piece with a mix of approaches, from dark and somewhat heavy, to thundering, to rushed yet lyrical (with some hefty vocalizing in one spot). It's always fully engaged, and unfolds like a sort of fantasia, with personalized rubato amplifying the effect. The short, mostly very brisk Allegro makes for a largely energetic closer, though more than in some other versions, one gets the sense that this is not really related to the first two pieces at all. That's just fine.

    Overall, this is a very fine Schubert disc. The D960 is less emotive and interventionist than other renditions, but is very well done, whereas the pianist allows himself more liberties in D946, almost always to superb effect. This is not a must have, but it's certainly wonderful to have. First-rate production values.
  14. Todd A

    Todd A pfm Member


    Penelope Crawford's two discs of late LvB sonatas rate among my favorite HIP Beethoven recordings, so when I saw this disc with her as accompanist for Martha Guth in a selection of Schubert songs for a few bucks, I snapped it up. The conceit for the disc is to explore how Schubert wrote lieder where the subject is a woman, as performed by women. The learned and lengthy liner notes were also written by a woman, though I'm not sure the brief mention of Goebbels adds much value. So far, so good, except the Goebbels part. Unfortunately, the conceit is better than the execution. One of the highlights of Crawford's two LvB discs in the SOTA sound, allowing one to hear every little bit of sound produced by her instrument. The sound of the keyboard here is more distant and opaque, partly because the singer has to be captured. Sound is very good, it's just not great. The same can almost be said about the performances. I tend to prefer my Schubert lyrical, though I also fancy some hard-hitting Schubert, and fortepiano just can't deliver the goods like a modern grand. As to singers, when I listen to Schubert lieder, I tend to listen to male singers, which is unusual since I definitely prefer the sound of women's voices. This disc more or less reinforces my existing preferences. It's not that Guth is bad, though she's not in the same class as Christine Schäfer, who can deliver some exceptional Schubert, it's just that her singing doesn't really work for me. Even the slam-dunk famous pieces (Gretchen am Spinnrade and Ave Maria) are kind of ho-hum. The disc has been ripped and boxed up, and I'll listen to it again some time in the future. Or not.
  15. Todd A

    Todd A pfm Member


    For a few bucks, I figured I could take a chance on Pavlos Hatzopoulos' Schubert disc on Hänssler from way back in the last century. The German pianist has a thin discography, though a new title with Bach and Beethoven works was released just this year. This disc contains two Schubert warhorses, the Wanderer Fantasie and D960. It opens with D760. Hatzopoulos plays it directly and seriously. There's little poetry, but ample clean playing, sometimes with some heft. He's especially adept at bringing out left hand details without making the lower registers dominate. As the piece continues, the clean playing becomes the main attraction as lyricism or high levels of energy or even fantasy never really materialize. Execution is good enough to make the approach work well enough to satisfy, even if it's not a Top Ten choice.

    D960 starts with a repeatless, slightly quick, slightly tense Molto moderato that moves forward at a steady pace, displays more clean playing, and some nice bass trills, but otherwise is mostly characterized by unflinching directness. The short opener shifts the center of the work to the Andante sostenuto, which under Hatzopoulos' fingers becomes more an Allegretto. It's quick and tense in the outer sections, and completely devoid of sentimentality or sadness. The middle section speeds things up even more, becoming agitated and agitating, in a good way. The Scherzo is likewise swift, but that's far more common. Hatzopoulos does maintain an admirable steadiness and clarity in his playing, though. In contrast to the preceding movement, the concluding Allegro ma non troppo sounds a bit restrained tempo-wise, though it's really just fairly standard. The clarity and steadiness are there, but it lacks the oomph of the inner movements, except in the coda. Overall, like D760, there's enough to satisfy, but it's not one of the great recordings of the work and the disc is not essential.
    Last edited: Apr 8, 2018
  16. Todd A

    Todd A pfm Member


    I fancy PBS recordings. His two LvB sonata cycles are very fine, the HIP cycle on Astrée, especially. The other PBS recordings I have heard have all been good, though his HIP Schubert on Arcana shows the limitations of older keyboards in producing the lyrical Schubert style I prefer. Others may very well be more taken by HIP Schubert, of course. Anyway, since PBS is the only pianist to record Mozart, Beethoven, and Schubert sonata cycles on both modern and period instruments, when this reissue of PBS’s RCA Schubert on modern grands became available, I thought I really ought to get it.

    Disc one of the CD set is given over to the first disc of the second volume from LPs. This shift in presentation allows for this set to be presented in Deutsch number order, with some duplicate recordings tacked on at the end of the set. To the recordings: D157 opens with a light, crisp, very classical Allegro ma non troppo that mostly just sounds a bit clipped here or there but otherwise quite nice. At least until the middle of the movement, when PBS aggressively ornaments the music to a degree I've not heard before - including in his later HIP set. At first, it catches the listener off guard, but it works. The Andante is fairly straightforward, and displays both lyricism and solemnity, though not too much of the latter, while the Menuetto is just a tad slow, but still works quite well. D279, with a completion by PBS of D346 for the fourth movement, sound both lyrical and lightly dramatic, but rather than flowing with a lovely legato, PBS plays more staccato, making some passages a bit jagged, though fun. The rest of the sonata stays quite light, and the completed D346 Allegretto melds well. A very good start.

    Disc two includes three sonatas: D459/D459A, D537, and D557. In D459/D459A, PBS plays with more substance than the works on disc one, with an especially effective Adagio. Better still is D537, which in the opening movement blends cheer and sorrow, two traits the pianist himself writes that he sees as part of Schubert's tone, and the blend makes the piece more late-ish Schubert than normal. The second movement, slower and somber, still has a dance-like component to the playing, while the Allegro vivace largely alternates between more playful, scampering playing and more purely beautiful melodic playing. PBS puts substantial interpretive meat on the musical bone in one of the best versions, and maybe the best version, I've heard. D557 sounds flowing yet peppy, with hints of urgency to go with the intrinsic lyricism. PBS elevates this little sonata a bit, too.

    Disc three. D566 opens the disc, and it has the same serious and lyrical style displayed before, and a copious helping of pedal noise, which is uncommon for such old recordings. The whole thing is very fine, but the Allegretto deserves special praise for its beautiful lyricism. D568 follows. PBS seems to make this sonata even more serious and "late" Schubert sounding. To be sure, there's lyricism and lightness there where appropriate, but the playing just sounds more purposeful and serious, sort of like Brendel's approach, but better. Once again, PBS really delivers in the slow movement, an Andante here. The playing style would sound very much at home in something like D894.

    Disc four. The disc opens with the D571/604/570 "sonata", with the outer movements completed by the pianist. The opening movement sounds like a Liszt transcription of a Schubert lied - one of the good transcriptions. Moody and melodic, it sounds splendid. The other three movements seem more like early stand-alone piano pieces, not too surprisingly, and the work doesn't hold together especially well, but each movement works on its own. D575 follows. PBS keeps the piece light, clean, and lyrical throughout, but he imbues the whole thing with more of that late-ish style depth, and the final movement is exquisitely beautiful at times. It's really quite excellent. The disc ends with D612/613, with the outer movements finished by the pianist again, and the best is saved until last. PBS plays with a light touch, and the music is bright and beautiful and precious and equal parts playful and eminently lyrical. While PBS doesn't conjure late Schubert sound, there's something intensely alluring about the music and playing. In this set, PBS is turning out to almost own the early sonatas – though Wilhelm Kempff prevents that in the end.

    Disc five. This starts in on the real good stuff, namely the first of two recordings of D664, along with D784. First, though, is D625/505. Okay, this is good stuff, too, with Badura playing with slightly tamped down lyricism and slightly emphasized drama, again rendering the music sort of like a Liszt transcription of Schubert. The concluding Allegro sounds like a pre-echo of the concluding movement of Chopin's Second Sonata. PBS plays D664 more or less with endless lyrical beauty, with a bit of heft or forlornness tossed in for effect. It works extremely well. In the booklet notes, PBS writes that he considers D784 to be Schubert's creative reaction to the onset of his illness, and this translates to tense, agitated playing in the Allegro giusto, though the aged sound doesn't really allow for thundering dynamic range to really emphasize the underlying tumult. The Andante is quick, lyrical, and a bit sad, while PBS ratchets up the intensity in the Allegro vivace, with slightly beefier fortissimo playing, though again the aged sound limits ultimate impact. Still, this is an excellent version and caps off yet another fine disc.

    Disc six. It opens with D840, with PBS' completions of the third and fourth movements. While the Moderato contains plenty of lyrical playing, it also displays ample agitated, almost angry playing, though as with D784, the dynamic range of the now aged recordings deprives the listener of some sonic impact that was obviously present in the playing. Too, it takes on a sense of darkness and dreariness present in the great song cycles. The Andante keeps the whole late lied feel to it, with a sense of tension to go with the lyricism. The two completed movements work well enough, though the sonata sounds somewhat lopsided, with the weightier first two movements. The first recording of D845 follows. PBS opts for the fast, agitated, tense, biting approach in the opening movement, and the dynamic range of the recording helps out more here, and he comes as close as anyone I've heard to matching Friedrich Gulda in terms of intensity in the immoderate Moderato. PBS backs way off in the opening of theme of the Andante, but he then reverts to a tenser, more biting style for some of the variations. Both the Scherzo and Rondo go the unusually robust route, too, with a lyrical sense popping up at times in the Rondo, but this performance isn't really about that. This is a great performance of this sonata.

    Disc seven. The first recording of D850 starts things off. Coming right after a tense and fast D845, the somewhat more restrained, in terms of tempo, Allegro vivace requires a bit of adjustment - one bar, maybe two. PBS doesn't skimp on dynamics and effective accents, though, that is sure, and the movement remains forward moving. The Con moto is nicely paced and has a sense of melancholy mixed in, and while there's ample lyricism, the movement doesn't really flow as well as some others. Nonetheless, it works very well, indeed. To the extent one can kvetch about the second movement, it would be well-nigh impossible to do so about the Scherzo, alternating between more assertive, playful playing, and lovely lyricism. It hits the spot. As does the Rondo, which opens in a delightful, sweet, dancing manner, and PBS keeps the tone light throughout. Overall, this is one of the best versions I've heard. Next up, D894. PBS brings the Molto moderato e cantabile at 17' even, so it's got room to breathe. He opens slowly and introspectively, and he never really plays too fast, but he does speed things up and play some louder passages with some nice heft. Of course, one cannot expect the titanic dynamic range of Michail Lifits or Arcadi Volodos in an old recording, and PBS doesn't even seem to be trying to play with such range, but the effortless, flowing forward momentum make that largely irrelevant. The Andante continues along in a similar vein, with the forte passages comparatively more intense than in the opening movement. In the Menuetto, the outer sections display some tumultuous playing mixed with more beautiful playing, while the middle is tender and lovely. The Allegretto is more relaxed in overall feel. Competition is stiffer in this sonata, and if PBS doesn't quite match up to my favorites, this recording is still very fine, indeed.

    Disc eight. D958 opens it. The Allegro has some nice contrasts. It starts a bit hard and moderately fast, but then quickly backs way off in both tempo and dynamics. Returns to the opening material start off slow and gradually build up speed and strength each time before reverting to slow playing. At times, the playing borders on being too slow, and some may very well think it is. The same is true of the Adagio, which starts off quite slow. It lacks enough drama to really make it work, at least in the first theme and every return. The second theme is more vibrant and dramatic and works a bit better. The Allegro keeps the slow approach, but works better owing to a tunefully solemn style, which carries over into the less successful trio. The concluding Allegro finally finds PBS playing with less restraint, with a propulsive rhythm, and some seriously clear left hand playing. Unfortunately, tape overload and distortion is seriously clear, too, as it was from time to time earlier in the piece. This isn't so much a problem with the second theme, which is of the endless melody variety of playing, but it is for almost everything else. The first of (sort of) two recordings of D959 follows. It retains the sub-par sound, though it sheds the too-slowness of D958. PBS keeps things lyrical and moving along, but coming so relatively soon after Zimerman's super-human playing (and SOTA+ sound), this is more plain, though more plain also means more introverted and smaller scale, with more conventionally scaled dynamic contrasts. The Andantino is of the slow, mostly subdued, somber variety, with just enough melodic goodness to satisfy before the tumultuous middle section. The Scherzo is alternately energetic and calm, and mostly lyrical, though one can hear some hard hit notes here and there. The Rondo comes close to an endless melody approach much of the time, the more turbulent development excepted, and if the sound was close to SOTA for its age, it would have been even better.

    Disc nine is devoted to the first recording of D960 in the set, though it was the second one released. It comes in at forty-one minutes. PBS plays the Molto moderato at a lengthy 19'19" but it doesn't sound particularly slow most of the time, has a bit of edge in louder passages, some agitation in the repeated left hand notes, and more of a tense classical vibe than a dark romantic one, though around halfway through it becomes a bit more forlorn. The Andante doesn't become the center of the work, but it does sound starker, more austere, though not without lyricism, and some nifty left hand playing. The Scherzo sounds mostly light and fleet, as does the Allegro ma non troppo, though PBS does infuse a bit of bite in places. Overall, it's a good rendition, but ultimately it's not what I tend to listen for.

    Disc ten contains D959 and D960. The first, second, and fourth movements of D959 are the same recordings as on disc eight. This Scherzo was recorded in 1967, while the one on disc eight was recorded in 1971. This one is about thirty seconds slower, and with adjustments for tempo, leaves the same general impression as the other recording, with the exception of the notably slower and sweeter trio and some repeated use of rubato. D960 however, is an entirely different recording, made in 1967, that was replaced by the 1971 recording that appeared on disc nine. A bit slower across the board than the other recording, it is noticeably different. The Molto moderato, at just under 20', is darker and more lyrical, and PBS throws in some nearly jarring accelerated passages for some reason. Overall, despite those passages, and the even more dated sound, the overall style is more my speed. The Andante is not as stark as the later recording, instead sounding more lyrical and more urgent. Both the Scherzo and Allegro ma non troppo also sound more lyrical than the later recording, with a slightly fuller and darker tone. This D960 does not rate as one of my favorites, but I do prefer it to the later recording presented on disc nine.

    Disc eleven contains 1968 recordings of D664 and D845. In D664, the first two movements are very slightly slower than the take on disc 5, which when combined with the slightly warmer sound, results in an even more attractive endless melody style that works just swell, and probably just a smidge better than the other recording. D845 is a few seconds slower in all movements except the Andante, which is about a minute longer. The Moderato displays some of the same agitated and tense playing as in the prior version, just moderated a bit. The entire second movement is more relaxed and lyrical than the prior recording, and it works extremely well given the approach. But it lacks the near-"wow" factor that comes with the more robust reading. The Scherzo and Rondo both balance lyricism and energy very nicely. This recording considered on its own is superb, but it is overshadowed by the blockbuster 1971 recording.

    The set ends with a twelfth disc devoted to a 1967 recording of D850. The Allegro vivace is about thirty seconds slower than the previous version, and it makes a big difference. The sound is chunkier and clunkier for much of the opening, and though the movement picks up a bit, it doesn't flow as well. The dynamic contrasts are excellent, but the effect is muted. The Con moto comes in at a minute longer than the prior version, and somewhat against expectation, it flows slightly better, though the sense of melancholy is not as apparent, and some of the playing sounds more urgent. The Scherzo and Rondo both have basically identical timings, but offer something a bit different. The Scherzo adds some striking, more potent playing in the trio, while the outer sections sound amply lyrical and rhythmically bouncy, with some patches of hard-hitting playing. The Rondo is mostly light fun, with some hard-hitting playing, though as with the Scherzo that seems an attribute of the recording more than the playing. Overall, the 1971 recording presented on disc seven is superior, and it is obvious to me why it was selected to go in the LP box set of the complete sonatas.

    Overall, this is an outstanding set of Schubert’s sonatas, one of the best I’ve heard. It bests PBS’s later, HIP set. Only D958 ends up being a letdown, with everything else at least very good. Especially good are the early sonatas, and D845 and D850. Sonics are not up with best of the time, let alone today, but that doesn’t matter a whole lot in the end.

    Unlike other big box reissues I've bought, the artist's fingerprints are all over this one. Badura-Skoda penned the detailed liner notes himself, concluding with a statement that perhaps he ought to rerecord D960 (I hope he's serious, and I hope he hurries), and the remastering notes indicate that he was also very active in the process, to the point of insisting on the editing of some single notes and modifying tempos. This set very much reflects how the pianist wants the recordings to sound.
  17. Todd A

    Todd A pfm Member


    When I think of Bengt Forsberg, I think accompanist, and then accompanist for Anne Sofie von Otter. There's nothing wrong with being known as an accompanist. I'm a big fan of Enrico Pace, and that's his bread and butter. Here, Mr Forsberg gets the microphone all to himself on the aptly title Schubertiade disc. The twenty-two year old recording uses a forty-one year old Bösendorfer, adding a bit of Viennese heft to the recording.

    The G Major sonata starts the disc. The Molto moderato comes in at 18'37" with repeat, so a judicious tempo is used. Forsberg's playing is steady, with little in the way of highly personalized rubato. The somewhat clinically recorded Bösendorfer ends up stripping away some loveliness from the cantabile parts of the music, but the tangy upper registers tickle the ears, and when Forsberg pounds out the forte passages, there's some real oomph. While the movement never really sounds unappealing, it never really sings, though. Given that the first movement isn't ideally lyrical, it's not surprising that the Andante isn't either. Neither does it surprise that Forsberg uses his piano to hammer out the loud passages with something nearing musical aggression. There's certainly nothing wrong with hard-hitting Schubert, but it has to be done just so. The Menuetto and concluding Allegretto both display the same traits as the first two movements, and as such don't rate with my favorites.

    Forsberg moves to a single Impromptu, the first from D899, and it is characterized by sharp articulation and almost overbearing loud playing, with lyricism very much a secondary consideration. The Moments Musicaux are characterized by the same traits mentioned previously, though Forsberg introduces a snazzy rhythmic sense to the playing, with the third of the lot especially effective in this regard. While this doesn't end up a favorite rendition of the work, it's the best thing on the disc.

    It's impossible to really fault Forsberg's playing itself, but his interpretations don't work for me.
  18. Todd A

    Todd A pfm Member


    [This will be cross-posted in The Asian Invasion thread]

    Yoon Chung is yet another of the bevy of South Korean pianists whose work I've listened to in the last couple years, and like some other artists in The Asian Invasion thread, this sole disc of Schubert is his only commercial recording to date. Chung was born in Korea but did most of his training in the UK, where he now lives. He also did some studying in Dallas under Joaquín Achúcarro, and he's done the whole competition thing, too. So, he's like a veritable army of young artists out there in possessing proper credentials.

    The disc opens with D958. Chung goes for a fairly straight-forward approach. His tempi are sensible, his dynamics just fine, and his forcefulness in the first theme of the Allegro is vigorous but not overdone. But in the second theme, Chung's individuality becomes more evident. He seems more comfortable in the more melodic, introspective music, and he sees fit to add some noticeable dollops of rubato. Sometimes he slows things down rather a lot, interrupting the forward momentum noticeably, but it ultimately works, as do his long pauses. The Adagio takes the approach of the second theme of the Allegro and sort of magnifies the traits. How well one responds to pauses and drawn out playing may very well determine how much one likes this movement. It's well done, to be sure, and I do very much enjoy such an approach, but sometimes it might be too much of a good thing, especially in the drawn out coda. That written, Chung tosses in some real oomph in the second theme of this movement, so it all works well enough. The Menuetto is fairly conventional in approach, and then the closing Allegro opens with not a little drive, with Chung displaying rock steady left hand playing under the melodies. His standard fast and slower than normal approach is repeated as warranted, and expected, throughout, though there's a greater sense of rhythmic bounce and energy. So, a very well played version, but not a favorite, even in The Asian Invasion thread - that would be Ran Jia. (Which reminds me, when will she record something else?)

    Next is D946, a work that seems to benefit more from more interventionist takes. (Listen, for example, to Sokolov or Kars.) Chung launches into the Allegro assai with ample energy and drive, but it's when the slow music arrives that he seems to be in his element. Backing off to a Karsesque tempo, and adopting a very earnest mien, though the runs are little delights, Chung revels in the music. That written, it lacks the otherworldly magic of Kars or the refinement of Sokolov. (The comparisons were not selected at random.) In the Allegretto, Chung adopts more extreme tempos at both ends of the spectrum, to mixed effect - the slow playing really comes way too close to being way too slow - but the cumulative effect is to sort of render the first two movements a nearly half-hour long fantasy. Cool. The Allegro does the fast-slow thing, too, though here the slow movement is a bit quicker and played with an attractive, gently punched out staccato style that emphasizes rhythm and fun. The whole thing comes off a bit better than the sonata.

    So, neither work rates among my favorite versions of what's out there, but Chung is not at all reticent about imparting his ideas to music. I would not be averse to hearing him in something else. Liszt or Szymanowski may sound just nifty.

    Chung owns the copyright in this recording, so one can access it free online. Mr Chung and his production team were smart enough to hire Tony Faulkner as engineer, so sound is superb, so I'm glad I got the disc instead of relying on streaming.
  19. Todd A

    Todd A pfm Member


    Severin von Eckardstein is a name new to me. The German born pianist pursued studies at high grade institutions and did the competition thing, culminating in a win at the 2003 Queen Elizabeth competition. So, he's at least competition grade. This disc of two Schubert works came to my attention when I found it on the cheap. Could it be the find of the century?

    The disc opens with D840. Eckardstein generally keeps the sonata lighter and more playful than is often the case. He also keeps the music moving forward in the Moderato. While not rushed, there's an energy level that approaches, but does not achieve, a sort of jitteriness. Eckardstein's articulation is generally very fine, and while often the playing is focused on the melodic content - without ever coming close to sounding too soft or cloy - his Schimmel piano and the recording technique allow for the bass line to sort of creep up on the listener in a few spots. The piano's bright, crisp upper registers also become prominent a couple time, to ear catching effect. In the Andante, Eckardstein doesn't really let the music flow, instead emphasizing staccato playing and dynamic contrasts. A few times, the comparative lack of suitable musical flow does detract a bit, but at others there's an entirely unsentimental feel that appeals. The movement and sonata is something of a mixed bag.

    D959 follows. The potent bass notes stand out in the Allegro, which is mostly of the forward moving, assertive variety. While Eckardstein doesn't skimp entirely on lyricism, it seems something of a secondary focus. The near-jittery style from D840 reappears, too, making this more assertive than many other versions. Just an observation. Eckardstein makes the Andantino the center of the work. Forlorn and at times spare, the playing is lovely and restrained much of the time, but the restraint masks something beneath the surface, something that erupts in short bursts throughout. The rolled chords near the coda take on extra significance here. The Scherzo is punchy and near-jittery in the outer sections and more lyrical in the middle. It's quite nice, if not "late" Schubert profound in a more standard sense. The Rondo does find Eckardstein delivering some more purely beautiful melodic playing, with more potent playing less common, though the passage before the coda and coda itself have some belted out music. Overall, this sonata is not one of the great recordings, but there's enough there to return to again.

    In perusing the pianist's recordings, it looks like he does some standard fare, some lesser fare, and some modern fare. I'm thinking the last category might be worth exploring.

    Amazon UK link: https://www.amazon.co.uk/Schubert-S...F8&qid=1548518915&sr=8-8&keywords=Eckardstein
  20. Todd A

    Todd A pfm Member


    [This will be cross-posted in the Schubertiade thread]

    I got tired of waiting around for some record company to issue a new Ran Jia recording, so I decided to revisit her Schubert with her first commercial recording of two sonatas, here the always successful pairing of D960 and D664. This time around, I had to go the download route since physical media was impossible to find. The download I got happens to be of the 24 bit variety, which appears to be the only format available for purchase.

    Jia starts off with D960, and her Molto moderato is of the long, slow variety, coming in at just a hair over twenty minutes. One really wouldn't sense that initially as she plays with a steady pulse and keeps it up throughout. As in her later disc, her style has little time for sentiment or contemplation. It is harder hitting, though at times even more beautiful than what one hears on the RCA disc. What is also clear is that Jia likes to make the lower register thunder, whether in the bass trills or in passages with more lower register playing. Too, she doesn't limit her hard hitting playing to just the lower registers; forte sections have steel in them, and hints of anger more than despair. Her anodized aluminum in comfy suede gloves style is evident in this recording. The anger, the bite, the tension that pervades the movement makes it seem to go by more quickly than it does, even if it's not deep. A few times, Jia's delivery of some right hand passages, including some arpeggios near the end, are especially ear-catching. Jia pulls off much the same trick in the Andante sostenuto, which manages to sound a bit rushed while still coming it at over ten minutes. That is down solely to the tension in the playing. Again, it's not the deepest or most affecting take, but it works better than it should. Jia moves right through the Scherzo at a brisk sounding pulse, with ample drive and dynamic contrast and she ends the sonata with an Allegro ma non troppo that, like Zimerman after her but to a lesser extent than the more famous pianist, uses clipped G-naturals. She also pokes out some of the bass notes underneath the melodies to good effect, and grinds out the more intense passages most effectively. So, not one of the very best readings available, but very much in line with her RCA recording and very well worth hearing.

    In D664, Jia shows that she can plays just about as beautifully as anyone as she produces a stream of musical gorgeousness for much of the movement. She can still unload, though, and the loud passages seem better suited to D784, though Jia plays them nicely. One thing that sort of stuck out more than normal is how the coda sounds, or can sound, very much like Beethoven, while the rest of the movement sounds very Schubertian. In the Andante, Jia plays with more feeling and depth than is typical in her style. It's far from sentimental, but she lavishes very nuanced attention on the notes, creating something and dramatic, but not overstated. The Allegro is spritely and delivered with a bouncy rhythm in the mix with Jia's standard, hard-hitting playing. Overall, I tend to prefer a more lyrical approach, but Jia makes a strong case for her approach.

    Her case is so strong that I now hope another disc gets released soon, on whatever label.

    Sound quality is top shelf, but somewhat close, with a fair amount of damper mechanism noise.

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