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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
     
  8. Todd A

    Todd A pfm Member

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    I enjoyed Julius-Jeongwon Kim’s hard-hitting Schubert, so I figured why not try some of his earlier work for EMI. I settled on Rach 2 paired with Tchaikovsky 1. You don’t get a more warhorse heavy disc than that. Old hand Vladimir Valek is on hand for stick waving duties, with the NDR Radiophilharmonie doing the orchestra thing. I went the zero additional outlay route as this is available for streaming from multiple sources.

    The disc opens with Rach 2. The opening Moderato is at least moderate, and perhaps a bit languid to open, but it falls within normal performance parameters. Kim’s dispatches the fastest, most challenging bits with seeming ease, and he coaxes some appealing sounds from his instrument, but nothing really pops out. The Adagio is generically attractive, with everything sounding more or less right, and Kim does a good job in the slower and quieter music, but he seems a bit more at home playing the few louder passages. In the Allegro scherzando, Kim plays with more gusto, and the effect is predictably excellent, if nothing that hasn’t been done before. Overall, this is a perfectly fine version of the concerto, but it lacks that something special that the best versions have.

    The Tchaikovsky is a tough piece to make me love, or even really like. Freire and Abduraimov manage the trick handily, Argerich and Cliburn a bit less so. Not even the mighty Arcadi Volodos really knocks it out of the park here, so it’s not surprising that Kim and crew don’t quite do that, either. The opening movement has grand gestures and romantic swagger, though some tempi choices are not the most electric out there. The Andantino semplice is more delightful than normal, with a light, almost balletic feel to it, and Kim proves up to the challenge of dashing off some passages with real elan. Kim and Valek then deliver a very energetic and playful Allegro con fuoco, closing the work out nicely. Overall, it’s comparatively better than the Rach, but it doesn’t rise to the level of the four pianists listed first, though it is better than my memories of some other notable recordings.

    This is the type of recording that streaming was made for. Everything is fine and superbly played and professional, but I would never spin this a lot if I owned a physical copy.
     
  9. Todd A

    Todd A pfm Member

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    Another Amazon Add-on entry. Pianist Sachiko Furuhata-Kersting (SFK from now on) was born in Yokohama, started studying at a very young age, concertized in Japan, studied at the Music Academy in Tokyo, and then moved to Germany to complete her studies at two different academies, where Roberto Szidon was one of her teachers. She's got two releases on Oehms under her belt, and, due to price and repertoire, the Beethoven and Schumann ditty ended up in my possession.

    The disc opens with the Mondschein, and SFK goes for a slow, eight-minute opener. She maintains a steady tempo, plays with nice dynamic control, and doesn't break the line, but ultimately the movement just ends up sounding too slow. The Allegretto is bizarre, with SFK playing some at a brisk pace, but then she deploys rushed rubato for no good reason and uses pauses to not so good effect. The Presto agitato finds SFK playing fast, and playing some chords so fast that they blend together, or she doesn't play them all. She rides the sustain quite a bit, blurring some passages to the point where the notes are undifferentiated, undulating blurs. More excessive rubato pops up, too, and SFK slows way up in the middle, presumably to create a darker mood. SFK's interpretation is definitely different, unique. I'm not sold on it. The WoO 80 Variations follow. Coming so soon after Kissin's not so hot sounding but very well played take, one gets to hear a very fine sounding, but not as well played take. SFK plays some of the variations with a nice degree of oomph, but she also deploys her rubato and plays some passages in what I must assume is purposely garbled and/or blurred fashion. Interpretive chicanery can work better in a variations setting, and so it goes here to an extent, but, as with the sonata, I'm not sold on the interpretation.

    Schumann's Symphonic Etudes follow, first with the standard set, then with all of the five posthumous variations tacked on to the end. The pianist goes for the super slow approach in the opening Andante. It might work slightly better than in the Beethoven. Fortunately, SFK switches gears in the first etude, though she again uses her by now standard interpretive devices. She then mostly resorts to, well, variations on those devices. To her credit, in the fourth etude she takes the marcato designation very seriously, though the eighth etude seems a tad less seriously devoted to accented playing, instead sounding comparatively lyrical. SFK then works her way through the rest of the pieces using her standard devices again before playing the Finale in loud, highly energetic fashion, though the playing seems close to being uncontrolled at some points. The posthumous variations sound rather like the main work, with the same results. Overall, Schumann's music can often withstand or even benefit from interventionist playing, but even so, I'm not sold of SFK's Schumann, either.

    Superb, fully modern sound with not a little breathing and pedal mechanism noise audible. In the Schumann, it sounds like the piano goes out of tune a few times, but nothing too major (and certainly not like the Rach concerto from Sokolov).
     
  10. Todd A

    Todd A pfm Member

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    Since Piano Classics uploads many of its titles to YouTube, there's no reason to buy many recordings from the label any more, or at least there isn't if the proposition itself is dodgy. A case in point: Yuan Sheng's three-disc collection of Chopin's piano music played on an 1845 Pleyel. The issue here is not Sheng, whom I've never heard before, but the instrument. I'm not really a fortepiano guy, and the little HIP Chopin I've heard has been OK-to-good, so the YouTube route makes more sense for me. Piano Classics uploaded the three discs as one massive three hour and twenty minute video, so breaks are needed. Alternatively, all fifty-two tracks have been uploaded separately by Kontor New Media.

    Yuan Sheng is a Beijing-born pianist who received is early training in his home country before heading to New York to study at the Manhattan School, and then enter competitions. He has played around the world, and he also made some recordings of Bach keyboard music for Piano Classics.

    Going by disc, the first disc contains the Ballades and Impromptus. Sheng plays with nice speed and energy throughout all the Ballades, rather like Wojciech Switala on a disc I recently bought, though the Pole's fingerwork seems more dexterous. Sheng, though, even through YouTube, gets slightly more robust bass from his instrument, and greater apparent dynamic range. Sheng also plays with a slightly more lyrical style in the last two Ballades. His style and the instrument combine to render the Impromptus quite good. The faster decays make some of the runs sound crisper and faster than they are probably actually played, and keeps the works lighter overall. The Fantaisie-Impromptu comes off especially well, the twangy string that interrupts the silences notwithstanding.

    The second disc starts off with the Preludes. Sheng's overall approach is fairly standard in conception, and much less interventionist than Sheila Arnold's recording on an 1839 Erard. Sheng's Pleyel sounds closer in overall sound to a modern grand, creating a bigger sound, and an often more lyrical sound. Sheng doesn't hit his keyboard quite as hard as Arnold hits hers, and the microphones seem a bit more distant, so the almost extreme dynamic contrasts are missing, but it sounds fine, and if the tolling final notes of the last Prelude don't have the impact of Arnold's, they have enough heft.

    The remainder of the set is devoted to the Nocturnes. After Wojciech Switala's sole Noctunre on an 1848 Pleyel, my expectations for Sheng's take on twenty of the works were not too high. Sheng easily surpassed my expectations. It took only until 9/2 to hear the benefits a HIP keyboard can bring: fast decays leading to superb clarity in fast passages, allowing the pianist to accelerate and glide over the keys while maintaining a proper melody. It also does not take long to hear what HIP keyboards cannot do: the bass line generally doesn't match the melody, the sustain rarely creates a dark atmosphere, the dynamic contrasts are not as pronounced as with a modern grand. Some of the pieces become almost salon music again. I write almost, because in some pieces, Sheng does generate scale and power than seems better suited to more intimate public performance spaces. (I listened in my system with a sub, so that may have augmented things a bit.) He does generate a darker, or at least hazier atmosphere on occasion, mostly in the later Nocturnes. Sheng exceeded expectations so much that I may, at some point, keep an eye out for a different HIP set of Nocturnes to try in physical format. Hell, I may buy this trio in physical format.
     
  11. Todd A

    Todd A pfm Member

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


    The last of the trio of three buck discs of contemporary music. This disc fits squarely in both The Asian Invasion and "New" Music Log threads because of the participation of three Asian artists, and all of the works are contemporary and by five composers I'd never even seen the names of prior to buying this disc. It could also fit into a women's thread since all three performing artists, and one of the composers, are women. Pianist Sang Hie Lee, born and partly educated in South Korea, formed Ars Nostra to explore and cultivate new music for two pianos which she plays along with Martha Thomas. Both Lee and Thomas are academics with multiple advanced degrees from various universities, and Ms Lee also does research into health and biomechanics pertaining to musicians. Kyoung Cho joins the duo in the first work, and she is likewise a Korean born academic-musician, currently teaching at the University of South Florida.

    The first work is Chera in Nain (2009) by Eun-Hye Park, for two pianos, soprano, and gong. It is based on the story in Luke of Jesus raising a widow's son from the dead. The vocal parts, performed by Kyoung Cho, are in Greek and Korean and alternate between narration and a sort of singspiel. The music is modern, with angular phrasing, some tone clusters, and a generally clangorous sound. It's not terrible, but it's not a great work.

    Next is ...Aber Jetzt Die Nacht... (2013) by Lewis Nielson. The work is based on a journal entry by a concentration camp victim, and at a bit over nineteen minutes, it the longest piece on the disc. It is jagged, dark, at times quite intense, and a reasonable short-hand description would be to think of Schoenberg and Messiaen blended together, with perhaps hints of Prokofiev thrown in. If that blend sounds appealing, then this piece might appeal; if not, probably not. Additional devices are used to extract novel sounds from the piano (eg, soft head hammer, horsehair brush, and E-bow), and for the most part the effects add to, rather than detract from, the proceedings. The use of two pianos does allow for a more powerful sonority and greater weight than a single instrument could achieve, and had the set been recorded to SOTA standards, the impact would likely be greater.

    Celestial Phenomena (2008) by Gerald Chenoweth follows. An "intuitive" tone poem for two pianos, it strives to depict things like the Big Bang, a black hole, starshine, and the like in its ten or so minutes. The massive lower register tone clusters than open the Big Bang do a fine job of opening the work, and the often thick harmonies take maximum advantage of the two pianos in use. (One can envision what a duo like Michel Dalberto and Michael Korstick might be able to deliver in the opening.) The description "tone poem" ends up be pretty accurate, because the piece flows from one brief section to the next logically and smoothly. This is a very modernist piece, with some big dollops of minimalism, some more hints of Messiaen, and it's definitely not a first choice work for people who want traditional melodies in their music.

    Paul Reller's Sonata for Two Pianos (2008) is more formally structured than the preceding works, and is divided into three movements played attacca. Influenced by American musical forms - jazz, blues, and rock, as well as American composers of days gone by like McDowell and Ives - the piece is weighty, dense, and though new to my ears, the more formal approach of the piece made it sort of predictable in overall arc. That's neither a good nor bad thing, it just is. It's more accessible than a fair chunk of post-war piano music, sounding more like it could have been written in the 20s or 30s.

    The concluding work is Windhover (2009) by Daniel Perlongo. The piece is an extended work inspired by a poem inspired by the Eurasian Kestrel. Unsurprisingly, given the inspiration, Messiaen once again comes to mind, but only rarely, and Perlongo is no mere copycat. The hints at birdsong are not as dynamically wide ranging as the Frenchman's music, nor is the writing quite as unpredictable. Perlongo's harmonic invention often falls much easier on the ear, too, with more than a few lovely sounds to be heard, and he does a creditable job creating a sort of static sound, creating a musical image of the depicted bird hovering. The work sort of overstays its welcome, though.

    Overall, this disc is good, the pianists and the vocal artist (who doesn't really sing here) all do good work, but really, for me, only Celestial Phenomena held my interest sufficiently to warrant more than a handful of listens. Others could very well be much more enthusiastic about the disc as a whole.

    The disc is taken from a single live performance at the University of South Florida in Tampa in March 2016. Sound quality is more of the efficient reporting than aural luxury type.
     
  12. Todd A

    Todd A pfm Member

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    Hai-Kyung Suh’s first appearance in the thread. Ms Suh was born in Korea, started training early, then moved first to Japan and then to the US to finish her studies. She now lives in New York. I first spotted her in a Mozart concerto twofer paired with Neville Marriner, though I’ve not listened to that yet. She’s recorded a variety of other core rep discs, including the complete Rach concertos, and most are available for streaming on YouTube, but I decided to sample something different.

    This disc is a collection of nineteen miniatures from core rep (Schubert, Chopin, etc) or just shy of core rep (Field, Falla) composers. Some of the pieces included are very well known, some others less so, but it is basically an assortment of encores. The disc takes its name from its first track, Schubert’s Nacht und Traüme D827. Suh plays it with a gentle, steady, lovely touch, that is a bit slow and deliberate, and this carries over to pretty much the whole disc. Sometimes the pieces can sound bland (Schumann’s Traumerei), sometimes a bit stodgy but not without appeal (Chopin’s Nocturne In C Sharp Minor and Berceuse), sometimes a very nice if somewhat restrained fit (Liszt’s Un Sospiro), to just plain good fits (Grieg and Brahms). Not infrequently, I wanted a little more color, a little more energy, a little more insight. It’s not a bad disc, but it’s sort of a background music type of disc. Another example of streaming coming in handy. I’ll probably give her Mozart or Rach a go at some point.
     
  13. Todd A

    Todd A pfm Member

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    More music from Sung-Won Yang, this time an assortment of short pieces with French ensemble Les Bons Becs. Said ensemble is a wind and percussion ensemble based in France, with a heavy dose of clarinets. The disc veers into crossover territory with its inclusion of one work each from Sonny Bono and David Bowie to go along with short pieces from the likes of Albeniz, Kreisler, Villa-Lobos, Schubert, and so on. That Schubert’s Ave Maria survives its transcription still sounding lovely is no surprise at all, and for the most part the other works all sound just fine, if one approaches this disc as a light entertainment. The transcriptions of two traditional pieces - Amazing Grace and El cant dels ocells - don't work as well, though the former would probably have worked better had Yang played it solo. Make no mistake, the artists all know their stuff and play very well, and Yang’s tone is absolutely lovely and lyrical when needed, and a bit weightier when needed, too. As with his work with Trio Owon and Enrico Pace, he’s also a star who does not need to always be the center of attention. It’s a fun recording, and since UMG uploaded it to YouTube, there’s no reason to spend even a nickel on it.
     
  14. Todd A

    Todd A pfm Member

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    Another Add-on snag. For under $5, I picked up Pi-Hsien Chen's complete Bach Partitas. I've seen Ms Chen's name mentioned before, and her Schoenberg is on my to-consider list, but this is the first time I've listened to her playing. Ms Chen was born in Taiwan, started studying early, did the child prodigy thing (first performance at age five), moved to Germany to study at a young age, got her diploma, and did post-diploma studying with Hans Leygraf, Wilhelm Kempff, and Claudio Arrau, among others. She did the competition circuit, winning first prize in both the Schoenberg and Bach competitions.

    Before sampling Chen's playing, I revisited a better known quantity in András Schiff's Decca recording. Schiff's playing sounds immaculate, lovely, tastefully ornamented, and expressive without overdoing it. It's just delightful. (I prefer his ECM recording, but I hadn't listened to the Decca set in a while, so it got the nod.) Ms Chen's very recent set has a much closer, drier sound than Schiff's, and her playing is a bit starker, with sparser pedaling and more staccato playing. Her tone is quite attractive, her dynamic control exact and fine. Her rhythmic style changes piece to piece. Sometimes, in faster pieces, she plays quickly and with real snap, and other times - the Sarabande of the third Partita, for instance - her playing takes on a very deliberate, very contemplative, almost-stiff-but-not-quite sound. Sometimes, she manages to mix together seemingly disparate traits successfully, like in the Praeambulum of the Fifth, which alternates between playful and buoyant, and slightly deliberate yet still fun playing. She also manages to make the Tempo di Minuetto sound personal and unique. Really, BWV829 emerges as the relatively best thing in the set. And the whole set is very fine, indeed. I can't say that it is better than Schiff or Perahia, and I would be surprised if other listeners found it superior to other established favorites, but this newcomer fits right in with other heavy hitters. This set justifies its standard price; at clearance price, it's a steal.

    Good stuff.
     
  15. Todd A

    Todd A pfm Member

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    I figured it was time for a wunderkind, in the form of Niu Niu. Niu Niu, real name Zhang Shengliang, was born in China way back in 1997, started playing piano at age three, gave his first performance at age six, and then at the advanced age of nine he started studying under Hung-Kuan Chen in Boston and he also signed with EMI, releasing a Mozart album in 2008. This disc of Liszt transcriptions was released later in his career, when he was fifteen. He is now twenty years old. How time flies.

    The pieces included are not my favorite Liszt works, which made this an ideal candidate for streaming. The first piece, the transcription of Saint-Saëns’ Danse macabre, reveals Niu Niu to be a young man possessed of awesome technical equipment. He seems to have no trouble with the music. Nothing seems fast enough or dazzling enough. If he needs to play loud, he seems to have many dynamic gradations between mezzo-forte and fortissimo. Really, how loud do you want it? Now, he does back off a bit in the Schubert transcriptions, but lyricism and nuance, particularly on the low dynamic end, is somewhat lacking. Playfulness and excitement, though, are not. Das Wandern is played as a virtuosic bon-bon, and Erlkönig finds Niu Niu playing with verve, stabbing out some flinty upper register notes. Not surprisingly, the three Liszt Paganini Etudes presented are all played effortlessly. If one might say depth is absent, that might be more the fault of the music. The Wagner transcriptions start off with Liebestod that offers more nuance than some of the prior playing might have indicated would be on offer, and Niu Niu has no problems scaling up his playing to a nice quasi-orchestral sound, and if not the tenderest or most touching of renditions, it works. The Spinnerslied is playful and fun, and almost sounds like Mendelssohn. (Gasp!) After a nice O du, mein holder Abendstern, the disc switches back to Liszt. The famous Liebestraume is nice played but doesn’t sound especially dreamy. The disc ends with the Grand Galop Chromatique. Only Jorge Bolet has managed to make it sound like proper music. Niu Niu takes a tack similar to France Clidat in playing it as an unabashed and vulgar showpiece, but he displays absolute command and flashy showmanship in quantities necessary to pull it off. It’s not musically satisfying, but it would garner much applause as an encore.

    This is a nice enough disc, and given the pianist’s age when he made it, one can hope that he ends up maturing a bit more and focusing a bit less on dazzle and more on insight.
     
  16. Todd A

    Todd A pfm Member

    [​IMG]


    My first proper (ie, physical media/lossless) exposure to the artistry of violinist Suyoen Kim. As she records for Deutsche Grammophon Korea, I assumed she was Korean, but that is not the case. She is German, born and raised and educated. Nonetheless, since this release is on DG Korea and she's a bigger star in South Korea than the West, I'm going to post about the disc here.

    Earlier in this thread, I covered Ji Young Lim and Dong Hyek Lim playing some Mozart and Beethoven, and I found it well played but somewhat safe. This all-Mozart disc is more my speed. Three Violin Sonatas are included, as are two works for Violin and Viola. Right from the opening bars of K454, where Kim is paired with pianist Evgeni Bozhanov, it is apparent that this set is more robust, more individual, and if not exactly "dangerous" to the other disc's safe, it has some ear catching interpretive devices. Kim's playing is precise and assured, and she isn't afraid to use healthy dollops of vibrato - or unhealthy, according to taste. Also, Mr Bozhanov turns out to be a very ear catching accompanist. His tone is lovely and sort of bell like in higher registers, his articulation mighty fine. He plays fast or slow movement with a nice fluidity. The music itself just seems to flow better in all three sonatas than the Lim/Lim disc, and indeed, while I haven't gone overboard on Mozart's Violin Sonatas, I can't think of any versions that are any more to my liking, not even Zukerman/Neikrug or Boskovsky/Kraus. The disc starts with a very fine K454, and I would have been happy with the other two sonatas being like that, but no, K304 follows, and the degree of fun and bounce and grooviness in the opening movement is positively delightful, while the second movement is more restrained. This duo ends with another delightful performance, of K378.

    In the Violin and Viola works, Kim is joined by American violist, and fellow Deutsche Grammophon Korea artist, Richard Yongjae O'Neill in a transcription of Ah vous dirai-je, Maman, K265 and the Duo K423. The variations lend themselves to a duo quite nicely, and Kim's playing is very fine, some of her double stops pulling off the sounding like two violinist trick nicely, and O'Neill's playing is basically equally as accomplished. The Duo is more substantive, and quite lovely, though Kim's sound becomes a bit too edgy here and there, though that does not detract from enjoyment.

    Sound for the 2009 release is DG's best in terms of timbre, dynamics, clarity, etc, but for the Violin Sonatas there is a hard left-right stereo sound reminiscent of years gone by, violin to the left and piano to the right. The sound for the violin-viola works have a similar left-right balance, though it is less pronounced.

    I have Kim's Bach queued up, but I would not mind hearing more from her, or from the other two musicians, for that matter.
     
  17. Todd A

    Todd A pfm Member

    [​IMG]


    Ji-Hae Park is not unique in my exploration of Asian artists in that she was born in Germany and records for a Korean arm of UMG, nor is she unique in being more popular in Korea than in other markets. Suyoen Kim meets both those criteria, too. So, factoring those tidbits in, as well as the fact that Ms Park is an Honorary Ambassador for the 2018 PyeongChang Olympics, and the fact that she won The Respected Korean award in 2010, among various other political and social honors in Korea, I'll post about her here. Her website is dreadful, and the Wikipedia page devoted to her appears to be a rehashing of her PR artist bio, but from that it appears that she probably received training in Europe, did the competition thing, and plays a Guarneri.

    To the music. The disc opens with Beethoven's Spring Sonata. Ms Park and Mr Lepper do not deliver a super-robust reading of the sonata. Instead, with Park's somewhat small, fine tone helping determine the overall approach, the duo deliver something lithe and playful in the outer movements, and sweet and lovely in the slow movement, with Park not afraid to layer on some vibrato. Really, sometimes this sonata can become a bit overcooked, but the duo's playfulness makes this most entertaining. The Schubert D934 Fantasy is a piece I rarely listen to and have only a handful of versions of, but this performance makes me think I may need to beef up my collection some. The playful overall spirit really keeps things light and soaring, and Simon Lepper's long history of lieder accompanist comes in handy here. Passage after passage of lyrical beauty unfold effortlessly. Not even Contzen/Schuch or Gigler/Kempff surpass this recording, though I do need to hear Widmann/Lonquich. The Brahms Op 78 Violin Sonata ends the disc. The instrumental balance remains more focused on Park, though Lepper doesn't fade away, and the style remains fairly light when compared to some other versions. The recurring emphasis is on lyrical playing, though the sound becomes richer and larger scaled in places, and more dramatic when it should. While I'm not sure I can say it bests Capucon/Angelich or Szeryng/Rubinstein or <insert favorite here>, it doesn't need to and it doesn't really cede a whole lot. After the first two works, I expected this to be too lightweight, but instead it works very well.

    Even streaming, one hears Ms Park breathing quite a bit in places, indicating relatively close microphone placement, while pianist Simon Lepper is presented more distantly. The overall sound seems like maybe some reverb was added to create a certain ambience and effect since here and there one hears noticeable piano pedaling and reverb at once, but it is just fine. This is the type of recording that may end up in my collection in physical form. Superb.
     
  18. Todd A

    Todd A pfm Member

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    The King is dead! Long live the Queen!

    For about two decades, Maurizio Pollini ruled the roost in Stravinsky's Three Movements from Petrouchka for me. There have been challengers of note - Evgeny Kissin and recently Christopher Park - but no one bested the Italian master. Until now.

    Yeol Eum Son now rules. In terms of execution, Pollini still has the edge in the fastest passages in Chez Petrouchka, but that's it, and even then, YES offers a different, more flexible, more nuanced, less stark sound. In the rest of the work, it's all YES, and it's almost a different type of work. Hardly romantic, it is much more colorful, with far more in the way of subtle dynamic shadings and varied touch, sometimes with YES seeming to play different voices not only at different dynamic levels, but also at different tempi. She plays with flexibility and fluidity that have never been Pollini's trademarks. Her rhythmic sense is striking. I've listened to this work many times, but listening to this version is almost like hearing it anew. It is a remarkable achievement; it is one of the greatest recordings of 20th Century piano music I've heard. There's a YouTube video of a live performance that gives a big taste of what this recording is like, and the studio recording itself is on YouTube and other streaming services.

    But it's the third work. Berg's Piano Sonata is the first work on the disc. YES sounds right at home playing it. Her playing is exact in every regard. Her tone is often a touch bright, even brittle, but then, all of the sudden, it's not. YES never really creates a warm sound, instead keeping the music uncommonly clean and linear. At times, she inserts an almost jazzy rhythmic feel to the playing. This is a mighty fine rendition, and one that demands an A/B with Mitsuko Uchida.

    Next up is Prokofiev's Toccata. There's an almost unnatural ease to much of the playing. Sure, YES plays the loudest passages with more than enough power and strong accents, but she also plays much of the music with a fluidity and nuance that makes it sound less imposing than some renditions.

    That leaves the two Ravel works that end the disc. Le Tombeau de Couperin is the first of the works. Aided by some more generous pedaling, YES delivers a fluid, rhythmically alert reading in the Prelude, only to play a somewhat more austere Fugue, a somewhat languid Forlane filled with some obvious pedal artifacts and much lovely playing, a fast and vibrant Rigaudon, a more contained and touching Menuet, and finally a Toccata possessed of rhythmically insistent but not overbearing style. It can be compared to any I've heard.

    La Valse ends the disc. The piece slowly emerges from the lower registers, and YES keeps the playing under wraps and sort of disoriented and hazy until about two-and a half minutes in, at which point her playing becomes more powerful. She expertly manages dynamics and displays clean and precise fingerwork to match anyone's. Her softer playing is intoxicating, her loud passages thundering, her glissandi almost trippy. Every aspect of the playing is well nigh perfect, and the musical delivery is unsurpassed. Last summer, I listened to HJ Lim's recording of La Valse and determined it to be the best thing I've heard from that pianist. That is still true. This version, though, is better, if rather different.

    I've watched a good number of YES videos on YouTube, and now I plan on listening to some more of her commercial recordings. She needs to receive the full international release treatment; she needs to record everything under the sun. I had high expectations for this disc, but it exceeded them in every way. I can definitively state that this disc will be among my purchases of the year.

    SOTA sound, as one would expect from a recording made in Jesus Christus Kirche in Berlin in late 2015.
     
  19. Todd A

    Todd A pfm Member

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    Another disc perfect for streaming. This is available in various outlets, and UMG uploaded it to YouTube. Neither the Saint-Saëns First or Elgar concertos are particular favorite concertos of mine, but they can be enjoyable. Mee-Hae Ryo was born and raised in Korea, started her musical training early, moved to the US to study at Juilliard and the University of Michigan, then moved back to Korea to teach and concertize, and she spends a good amount of time performing in Europe. With her background, one would expect technical excellence, and that's more or less what one hears on this recording. The Saint-Saëns is well executed by all parties, with Ryo generating a nice tone and playing in an often vigorous if somewhat proper manner, at least when compared to the romantic excess of Maisky or the more exuberant and lithe Isserlis. Ryo's playing in the Elgar is less heart-on-sleeve than Maisky or du Pré, being more reserved in the manner of Fournier, though not quite so elegant. Here the orchestra plays with somewhat greater passion than the soloist at times, to good effect.

    Overall, Ms Ryo plays very well, indeed, and I would not mind hearing her in other core rep. Composer-conductor Amaury Du Closel leads the Nuremburg Symphony Orchestra in professional, extremely well-played support. This is a very high-grade recording in every respect, but it is not one that demands many listens, like the other mentioned recordings. The short timing might be an issue if one bought the disc.
     
  20. Todd A

    Todd A pfm Member

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    Another Amazon Add-on snag. I only recently stumbled upon the Shanghai Quartet when I learned that they recorded a complete LvB String Quartet cycle for Camerata. This disc of the Mendelssohn Second and Grieg string quartets represents my first exposure to their playing. I infrequently listen to both works, and for the former rely on the Pacifica and Emerson, and for the latter on the Emerson only. The ensemble itself formed in Shanghai in 1983. Three of the four members at the time of the recording were Chinese. Brothers Weigang Li and Honggang Li played the violins, and Zheng Wang played viola. All three attended the Shanghai Conservatory and held various teaching positions. American James Wilson rounded out the ensemble on cello. He attended University of Michigan at Ann Arbor and also did the teaching thing. Even before this now quarter century old recording was made, the ensemble had been Ensemble-in-Residence at Tanglewood and Ravinia, as well the Graduate Ensemble-in-Residence at Juilliard. In other words, they're the real deal.

    I'll get straight to it: the Shanghai Quartet delivers world class playing. I didn't do A/Bs with the other two recordings of the Mendelssohn in my collection, but this beats them based on memory. The playing is smooth, assured, beautiful, expressive, and with just the right amount of vibrato. Did I mention it is smooth? The Shanghai strike me as more romantic than the other ensembles, but they don't resort to gooiness or treaclyness. It's just lovely. The Grieg is, if anything, even better, relatively speaking. The execution is perhaps not as tight as the Emerson's - though it can hardly be called shoddy - but the playing is more romantic and passionate throughout. The ensemble also makes some passages sound somewhat larger in scale than a string quartet. I doubt the work ever becomes a favorite of mine, but this recording makes me like it more.

    Digital sound is good but not SOTA. It offers a slightly distant perspective, which is quite acceptable, but the highs are a bit rolled off by modern standards. A mere quibble.

    (The ensemble has changed lineups since 1993, though the Li brothers remain, with Honggong playing viola now, so the current lineup may or may not sound the same.)
     

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