Author Topic: Blind Comparison LIGHTNING ROUND: a Chopin etude!  (Read 2145 times)

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Offline Brian

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Blind Comparison LIGHTNING ROUND: a Chopin etude!
« on: January 04, 2013, 08:45:19 PM »
I hope Daniel and Greg won't mind: I am reviewing several Chopin CDs for MusicWeb at the moment and thought I might enlist GMG's help with a very, very short Blind Comparison Game!

Chopin: Etude Op. 25, No. 1 in A-flat major, "Aeolian Harp"

The rules are very simple. There are only five clips, and they are the full etude. Listen to all five, describe your opinion of each performance, and rank them. You may feel free to discuss, disparage, praise, in any way you see fit. If you want to guess a pianist's name, do it in tiny lettering like this. There's no bracket, so these five are all the listening you'll do for this lightning round.

Voting will be open for one week - until midnight New York City time on the night of January 11th-12th, 2013. On the 12th I will post a bonus question which you may feel free to answer, or not. Then, probably on the 14th or 15th, I will reveal the names of the five pianists.

So. One etude. Five pianists. One week. Listen, enjoy, think, critique. Simple!

Pianist #1
Pianist #2
Pianist #3
Pianist #4
Pianist #5

P.S. Two notes.
1. I know many of our resident pianophiles are also audiophiles. I hope they'll forgive me for my transgressions here: these clips come from a variety of sources, including MP3 download, CD rip, and, yes, even YouTube. Sound quality differs widely.
2. This will only take about 15 minutes of your time, so when the Berlioz listening game enters Round 2 soon, there's no reason whatsoever not to participate in both. And, Daniel and Greg, please don't adjust your schedule on my account. :)

Offline Bogey

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Re: Blind Comparison LIGHTNING ROUND: a Chopin etude!
« Reply #1 on: January 05, 2013, 07:38:47 AM »
Knee jerk reaction:

1, 5, 4, 2, and then 3.  However, I enjoyed them all, so, so much for my "ear". ;D
« Last Edit: January 05, 2013, 06:24:56 PM by Bogey »

Offline PaulSC

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Re: Blind Comparison LIGHTNING ROUND: a Chopin etude!
« Reply #2 on: January 05, 2013, 01:01:59 PM »
After just one listen, in keeping with the "lightning round" theme. Like Bogey, I enjoyed them all. My ranking, most to least favorite, displayed WHITE ON WHITE:


- 1, rubato and voicing a bit labored, overall not even enough
- 4, evenness & shaping of line not always well controlled
- 3, melody occasionally under-projected, limited color 
- 5, melody doesn't feel legato/cantabile
- 2, felt lethargic and exaggerated
Musik ist ein unerschöpfliches Meer. — Joseph Riepel

Offline karlhenning

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Re: Blind Comparison LIGHTNING ROUND: a Chopin etude!
« Reply #3 on: January 05, 2013, 05:56:14 PM »

1. l.h. very fluid; tune felt a little light of voice, and perhaps a bit wooden to me. I.e., treatment of the melody felt too much like an etude.

2. nice bell-like attack in r.h., and a melodic ‘arc’; tune sang nicely. In contrast to 1., this felt like a Chopin piece.

3. rhythm of the tune felt a little ‘deliberate’ to me; some moments which struck me as near-clunky. Overall, better impression than 1., not so well done as 2.

4. a bit more emphasis on the bass, and a nicely sotto voce melody, which brought out some contrapuntal elements nicely.

5. rhythm of the melody feels like marking time to me. As it rolls along – why am I thinking of Alvin and the Chipmunks?

Ranking: 4 - 2 - 3 - 1 - 5
« Last Edit: January 11, 2013, 02:53:08 AM by karlhenning »
Karl Henning, Ph.D.
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Offline karlhenning

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Re: Blind Comparison LIGHTNING ROUND: a Chopin etude!
« Reply #4 on: January 05, 2013, 05:56:50 PM »
The timing, and the short scope of the project, hit me at just the right time.
Karl Henning, Ph.D.
Composer & Clarinetist
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http://henningmusick.blogspot.com/
[Matisse] was interested neither in fending off opposition,
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His only competition was with himself. — Françoise Gilot

Offline Brian

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Re: Blind Comparison LIGHTNING ROUND: a Chopin etude!
« Reply #5 on: January 05, 2013, 06:11:40 PM »
Very glad for the comments so far, Bill, Paul, Karl!  :)

I enjoyed them all, so, so much for my "ear". ;D

Not at all your ear, Bill! I intentionally chose some very, very fine performers, so these aren't garden-variety pianists we're hearing. In fact, the harsh critiques so far suggest that this etude is truly a difficult piece to express well!

Online mc ukrneal

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Re: Blind Comparison LIGHTNING ROUND: a Chopin etude!
« Reply #6 on: January 05, 2013, 06:42:22 PM »
Oh, what fun!


Preference: 2,4,3,1,5.#2 really stood out for me, and I will be very interested to hear who is playing that one.
#1 - Lithe, but perhaps lacking in color a bit. In the end, perhaps not as nuanced as Chopin can be in dynamics, but still enjoyable, though technically the hands are not always together (perhaps due to the strong rubato at times).
#2 - Here we have more play, and greater use in varied effects (with more effective rubato and more balanced sound). One feels the pianist soar with ebb and flow with a full range of expression, more so than the others I felt. The only one who uses dynamics so well - subtleties abound. Magnificent.
#3 - One perhaps feels that the sounds are not always as integrated/balanced as with #2. Still, pretty good.
#4 - Better than #3, you can hear immediately how the main theme does not ping above the rest, but like #2, flows/integrates with what the other hand is doing. On the other hand, sometimes it almost gets lost.
#5 - A bit too straight on the top line and not as well integrated with the rest.


Very interesting. I think you hear all you need to in the first seconds to form a view as they are consistent from beginning to end in how they play.

Thanks Brian!
Offenbach gets a raw deal in recordings considering his talent! For a discussion of this outstanding composer too little recorded: http://www.good-music-guide.com/community/index.php/topic,5572.

Offline karlhenning

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Re: Blind Comparison LIGHTNING ROUND: a Chopin etude!
« Reply #7 on: January 06, 2013, 04:49:40 AM »
. . . and, yes, even YouTube.

Oh, the humanty! ; )
Karl Henning, Ph.D.
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http://henningmusick.blogspot.com/
[Matisse] was interested neither in fending off opposition,
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His only competition was with himself. — Françoise Gilot

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Re: Blind Comparison LIGHTNING ROUND: a Chopin etude!
« Reply #8 on: January 06, 2013, 09:44:26 AM »
Think of the children!

All of these are very fine indeed, thanks for the comparison, Brian.


4, 2, 3, 1, 5

I can imagine no. 2 dividing opinions, as the rubato is maybe a bit too much.
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Offline madaboutmahler

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Re: Blind Comparison LIGHTNING ROUND: a Chopin etude!
« Reply #9 on: January 07, 2013, 02:56:12 PM »
Brian, I shall certainly take part - will hopefully get it done on Wednesday evening. :)
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Offline Lisztianwagner

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Re: Blind Comparison LIGHTNING ROUND: a Chopin etude!
« Reply #10 on: January 09, 2013, 01:14:49 AM »
Chopin's Etude Aeolian Harp is superb.
All the performances are very good, I really enjoyed listening to them. :)

Here's my ranking:
2,3,4,1,5.

« Last Edit: January 10, 2013, 04:52:02 AM by Lisztianwagner »
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Offline classicalgeek

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Re: Blind Comparison LIGHTNING ROUND: a Chopin etude!
« Reply #11 on: January 09, 2013, 10:14:00 AM »
Now this is a listening comparison I can do - short and sweet!  I love comparative listening of symphonies and larger works, but time is an issue. 

Here's my ranking, and thoughts:
#4: Just the right tempo, not too fast or slow.  The top line stands out nicely and one can hear the inner voices that Chopin marks in the score.  The climax could have opened up a bit more, but the final wind-down and ending are nicely done.

#3: Also a well-chosen tempo, similar to #4.  The inner voices don't stand out as much, but the climax has a bit more passion.  Overall, it's missing that last bit of delicacy and lightness, especially in the final cascade of A-flat major arpeggios.

#5: Technically strong, all the notes are there, but a bit too fast for my taste.  A straightforward performance, not mannered, but not highly distinguished either.

#2: The start and end are a bit mannered to my ears - the bass trill in the next-to-last measure is really drawn out!  The top and inner voices are clear, and the climax is heart-on-sleeve, my favorite of the five.  Well, except for the (very loud) extraneous low B-flat around 1:34!  :o

#1: Easily my least favorite of the bunch - it's rather slow and never really gets off the ground, so to speak.  The rubato is a bit overdone, and I didn't hear the top or inner voices separate from the arpeggios.  The climax barely registered to me.

Offline madaboutmahler

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Re: Blind Comparison LIGHTNING ROUND: a Chopin etude!
« Reply #12 on: January 09, 2013, 01:52:19 PM »
1 - would have liked a bit more pedal in most places, and some of the rubato sounds a bit disjointed. Interesting how the pianist almost almost finds continuations of the melody within the arpeggio layers. Nice enough performance, if a bit tame in terms of magic and colour. 6

2 - would have liked more of the low Ab at the start, barely heard it. and perhaps the upbeat was held for just a tad too long and did not fit with the following tempo therefore. however, the dynamics are very nicely controlled, and overall I love the use of rubato, great especially in the climax, which is very powerful. The inner parts are beautifully brought out. Enjoyed this very much throughout, really beautiful performance! 8

3 - nice dreamy atmosphere achieved, with loads of pedal! not so sure about the shaping of the melody though.... the climax was certainly very emotional though. There are occasional particularly magical parts, achieved by very good judging of rubato. Would have prefered it just a bit slower.... but this is indeed very moving! 8

4 - hmmm.... I think the tempo fluctuations were a bit too drastic too early. Some notes I felt were too accented as well. I didn't feel the climax was powerful enough, although from there to the ending was very nicely done. 5

5 - Opening felt a tiny bit rushed, and overall I feel the tempo is a bit too fast and there is too little rubato and it is missing magic and colour, making it quite a straight-forward approach. The climax was quite touching though, although I feel this pianist is not as passionate a Chopin etudist as the others. 5

Final ranking (from favourite to least favourite) : 2, 3, 1, 5, 4.

had to listen to 2 and 3 again to decide between them, and it does remain very close between them!


Enjoyed that very much and look forward to the results! Thanks, Brian! :)
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Offline Brian

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Re: Blind Comparison LIGHTNING ROUND: a Chopin etude!
« Reply #13 on: January 09, 2013, 02:31:45 PM »
Thanks all for your continued comments! I have to say, reading these has been FASCINATING - and I daresay when you find out who the performers, you'll be fascinated too. There are some celebrated Chopin performers being described in unexpected ways.

About 56 hours to go before I ask the bonus question!

Offline Octo_Russ

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Re: Blind Comparison LIGHTNING ROUND: a Chopin etude!
« Reply #14 on: January 10, 2013, 06:15:50 AM »
What a great idea for a thread!, we should have more of these, here's my thoughts and ratings,

1 - Slowish, hangs on every note, and stops the flow of the piece, though certainly makes the piano sing beautifully, quite a heavy left hand, and then gets indulgent at the end and starts wallowing in the beauty of the thing, it loses momentum, though still liked it a lot! - verdict = slow 7 [guess - VH].

2 - The start is too quiet, but there's a nice rubato to it, and the middle section is very inventive, there's poetry and virtuosity there, you can feel a warm fire, the ending is very tender, though a bit too long drawn out - verdict = thoughtful 8 [guess - AR].

3 - This is more like it!, almost perfect, the start is very good, nicely paced, there's a lovely virtuosity there, and a wonderful legato, and the left hand adds to the inner voicing, gets the thing flowing, the trills at the end are very endearing - verdict = poetic 9+ [guess - NM].

4 - Nice inner voice, but the whole thing sounds too detached, not involved enough, lacks poetry to a degree, the speeds are suspect too, and gets too quiet towards the end - verdict = detached 7 [guess ??].

5 - A little bit matter of fact at first, and certainly heavy handed, though there's nice drama, and it gets better and better as it goes, the fastest of the five, and there's something to be said for playing it fast, it keeps it flowing, though maybe it lacks a degree of poetry - verdict = flowing 8 [guess - MP].

preference = 3 / 5 / 2 / 4 / 1
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Offline Sergeant Rock

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Re: Blind Comparison LIGHTNING ROUND: a Chopin etude!
« Reply #15 on: January 10, 2013, 08:48:10 AM »
My ranking: 5, 4, 2, 1, 3.

Preferring 5 surprised me. It's fast, straightforward, emotions held in check. Is this how Robert Eroica Duprea played it?  ;D  Seriously, it reminds me of Pollini's Chopin. The only one I outright disliked was 3: it felt labored and exaggerated.

Sarge
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Offline Sergeant Rock

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Re: Blind Comparison LIGHTNING ROUND: a Chopin etude!
« Reply #16 on: January 10, 2013, 08:52:36 AM »
5 – why am I thinking of Alvin and the Chipmunks?

Yeah, I heard them too for a second  ;D

Sarge
the phone rings and somebody says,
"hey, they made a movie about
Mahler, you ought to go see it.
he was as f*cked-up as you are."
                               --Charles Bukowski, "Mahler"

Offline Dancing Divertimentian

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Re: Blind Comparison LIGHTNING ROUND: a Chopin etude!
« Reply #17 on: January 10, 2013, 06:25:48 PM »
Okay:


1 Technically least effective. Live. Little pathos. Ending okay.
2 Playing has a sort of "breathing" quality. Emphasis on long line vs. moment-by-moment thrills. High on pathos. Great ending.
3 Most overt playing of all. Strong left hand and bold personality. Unfortunately pianist completely misses transition at @ 1 minute in.
   After that the piece becomes totally punchless. Can't see the point after botched transition but endured till end.
4 Choppier than 2, more monumental but misses some of the pathos of 2. Good ending.
5 Good emphasis on long line. Technically very impressive. Moving, but ending not as good as 2.

Final ranking:

2, 5, 4, 1, 3



« Last Edit: January 12, 2013, 07:47:31 PM by Dancing Divertimentian »
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Offline Bogey

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Re: Blind Comparison LIGHTNING ROUND: a Chopin etude!
« Reply #18 on: January 10, 2013, 06:29:09 PM »
Hey Brian, when we are done here can you give each a ranking point and average them out?

Offline TheGSMoeller

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Re: Blind Comparison LIGHTNING ROUND: a Chopin etude!
« Reply #19 on: January 10, 2013, 07:36:43 PM »
4, 5, 2, 3, 1

Have never heard this piece (as with many Chopin pieces) so it was interesting to compare these performances with no previous standard or preference.

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