Author Topic: Blind Comparison LIGHTNING ROUND: Beethoven's 'Waldstein'!  (Read 18791 times)

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Offline Brian

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Blind Comparison LIGHTNING ROUND: Beethoven's 'Waldstein'!
« on: February 18, 2014, 04:22:19 PM »
I am reviewing three brand-new Waldstein Sonata recordings for MusicWeb at the moment and thought I might enlist GMG's help with a very, very short Blind Comparison Game!

Beethoven: Piano Sonata No. 21, "Waldstein"
excerpts from movements II. and III.


The rules are very simple. There are six clips, and they are 6-7 minutes in length depending on the pianist's chosen tempo. Listen to all six, describe your opinion of each performance, and rank them. You may feel free to discuss, disparage, praise, in any way you see fit. I would also very much appreciate it if you could tell me what pianists you are reminded of, if you are the kind of person who is inspired to post such things when you hear the clips. If you want to make actual guesses of names, go for it!

Voting will be open for one week - until midnight New York City time on the night of February 25th-26th, 2014. On the 26th, I will reveal the names of the six pianists.

Listen, enjoy, think, critique. Simple! Have fun!
Right-click links to download
           Pianist #1

           Pianist #2

           Pianist #3

           Pianist #4

           Pianist #5

           Pianist #6

P.S. One very important interpretive note. Splicing together the two movements was my responsibility. I used Audacity to do this. I tried hard to make sure the pause between movements was an appropriate length in each performance, but if the pause before the finale begins seems too long or too short, this may well be my fault, not the performer's.
P.P.S. One audiophile note. As I type this, I realize that Audacity may have compressed my original 320 kbps MP3 files. If you find the MP3 sound quality unacceptable, let me know and I'll try to re-edit everything. Ugh, Audacity. Why do you do this to me.
« Last Edit: February 18, 2014, 04:24:28 PM by Brian »

Ken B

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Re: Blind Comparison LIGHTNING ROUND: Beethoven's 'Waldstein'!
« Reply #1 on: February 18, 2014, 05:40:29 PM »
My notes unedited. 6 by a lot then 3. 1is eccentric and may get old but I liked. Then 5, 4, 2. I hope 2is not Kempff!
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A1 very slow seeming at first, emerging from the mist, Very very controlled. A thought out performance. Gouldish, or gavrilov or ivo, some eccentric? Reminds me of gg. Masterly playing.

A2 more natural and flowing than 1 to start, more mainstream.  Feels a tad underpowered. A tad sewing machine.

A3 also slow start but feels less so than1 as more pedal. Builds mood better than 1or 2 in early part. Less technique than 1. Like this one.

4 so far plays it like chopin tomas vasary like

So far 3 1 4 2

5 another eccentric. Tentative mood comes over well. Virtuosic in spades. Hamelin like? Harsh near the end.

6 winner winner chicken dinner . Easy winner. Reminds me of Brendel.

6 3 1 partly for its oddness 5 4 2
--------

I expect this will look silly when we learn the names

Offline NJ Joe

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Re: Blind Comparison LIGHTNING ROUND: Beethoven's 'Waldstein'!
« Reply #2 on: February 19, 2014, 07:28:10 PM »
My unedited notes:

I am having a lot of trouble ranking these because I really enjoyed 5 out of the 6 performances.

But anyway, here goes:  5, 4, 6, 3, 1, 2.

My favorite:  5.  Great clarity, a firm grasp of the argument.  Good interpretive insight in the 2nd movement. Fire, spirit, passion and drama in the third.

2nd: 4.  Searing live performance. Great spontaneity. My favorite second movement.  The thumping was a bit distracting.

3rd: 6.  Beautiful ringing tone.  The music shines. A bit too slow and mannered for my taste. Very romantic sounding.

4th: 3.  Another magnificent slow movement.  Slightly loses the final spark at the end of the 3rd.

5th: 1.  I really liked 1, it's a keeper. I just liked the others a bit more.  Powerful, clear left hand. 3rd movement flows beautifully.   

Not crazy about:  2.  Seemed a bit mechanical, with what seemed at times like banging on the keys.  The least fluid of all the performances.

I have no clue as to who any of these performers might be.

There, I've made a total fool of myself!
"Music can inspire love, religious ecstasy, cathartic release, social bonding, and a glimpse of another dimension. A sense that there is another time, another space and another, better universe."
-David Byrne

Offline Drosera

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Re: Blind Comparison LIGHTNING ROUND: Beethoven's 'Waldstein'!
« Reply #3 on: February 19, 2014, 10:21:43 PM »
Listening notes:

1: Very even and considered. Nothing stands out. Good rather than great, although it does grow on you. (Ashkenazy?)
2: Lightweight and flowing. Almost dreaming. There are few strong contrasts and those that are there don't feel well integrated. Is there too little happening?
3: Remarkably natural, like coming home. The pianist obviously completely in his element. Beethoven specialist.
4: A bit stop and start. Rather episodic and bland.
5: A bit willful at the start. Interpretation sounds like a work in progress, not fully thought out yet. The variations in tempo don't really feel natural. Trying too hard.
6: Cautious, deliberate and dull. Nothing much is happening here.


Order: 3,1,2,5,4,6


I prefer 3 by quite a margin, and really don't like 6.

I hope you'll get quite a few more answers so that hopefully a pattern will emerge.  :)

Offline amw

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Re: Blind Comparison LIGHTNING ROUND: Beethoven's 'Waldstein'!
« Reply #4 on: February 19, 2014, 11:24:21 PM »
Thoughts after 1 listen -

Pianists 1 and 6 have the best "big picture" I think—1 has some odd articulation which suggests s/he is trying to be Glenn Gould without Glenn Gould's technique, but it flows well with good transitions. 6 seems like an older recording and the technique is least secure of the lot—I think it's one of those scholar-pianists, Kempff or Rosen or Badura-Skoda come to mind. I like the slower pace of these two; one listens more carefully to the interpretive choices. 6 gets bonus points for coming closest to Beethoven's pedal instructions, too.

Pianists 2 and 4 seem to have the best technique. (2 reminded me a little of Brendel though I doubt it's him.) Their pedaling leaves something to be desired however. In 4's case I can understand since 4 ended up with the best piano of the lot, and those vibrato effects are pretty special, even if they aren't what Beethoven might have wanted. 2 is too all-or-nothing most of the time, louds are too loud, quiets too quiet. 4 is much better and probably has the best energy of the lot.

3 and 5 were good but with some unnatural feeling tempo changes. I wasn't totally convinced by either of them.

No clear preference order yet, will re-listen at some point. I think 6 and 4 will end up at the top in some order though.

Offline aukhawk

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Re: Blind Comparison LIGHTNING ROUND: Beethoven's 'Waldstein'!
« Reply #5 on: February 20, 2014, 10:48:00 AM »
Interesting, thanks - not that I spend much time with Beethoven in general or this sonata in particular - I have 3 versions in my collection but have probably only listened to them once each, before.

Well I'll go with No.2, which hasn't had much love so far.   
2 > 6 > 1 > > 4 > 3 > 5

First pass brought out 1, 2 and 6 for another listen, and I also listened to the three versions I have, which strangely are all on the same record label and by big name 'last century' Beethoven pianists.
One of mine sounded quite similar to no.6, and one had some resemblance to no.2 (but not the same pianist I think), and the third surprised me by sounding rushed and imprecise by comparison with any of these, and quite unlike any of them.
[comments edited]

1  fluid, sweet toned, very even delivery, dare I say it a rather 'feminine' sound.  And a nice recording.  I like it.

2  highly articulated, really explained the music to me in a way the others didn't (except maybe 6).  1st place.

3  "Beethoven specialist" someone said - I'd go along with that.  Which doesn't really endear me.

4  quite like 1 but more 'performed' - tempo variations and dynamics that I find a bit intrusive - which is also true of 3 and 5.

5  "a work in progress" and "trying too hard" somebody said - yes and yes.  6th of 6.

6  s-l-o-w, rather like no.2 but with the speed control turned down from 45 to 33.  I like it but it is just a bit too pipe-and-slippers having heard 2.  2nd place.  Both 2 and 6 had rather indifferent sound, whereas 1 was good.  I didn't run the other three through my best gear.
« Last Edit: February 20, 2014, 03:58:51 PM by aukhawk »

Ken B

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Re: Blind Comparison LIGHTNING ROUND: Beethoven's 'Waldstein'!
« Reply #6 on: February 20, 2014, 10:54:50 AM »
amw: "1 has some odd articulation which suggests s/he is trying to be Glenn Gould without Glenn Gould's technique,"

I speculated Gould like on #1 too. To me it sounds technically assured I must say. Odd effect and reading but the effect he wants. Which is almost the definition of Gould!

Cosi bel do

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Re: Blind Comparison LIGHTNING ROUND: Beethoven's 'Waldstein'!
« Reply #7 on: February 20, 2014, 02:48:12 PM »
6: Cautious, deliberate and dull. Nothing much is happening here.

What ??? Is that possible :o ??? I mean, not liking it, okay, but how can you say nothing is happening here ? Here this is not a sonata anymore, this is a symphony for piano solo ! 8)

Cosi bel do

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Re: Blind Comparison LIGHTNING ROUND: Beethoven's 'Waldstein'!
« Reply #8 on: February 20, 2014, 02:49:59 PM »
Easy winner.

Right !

Reminds me of Brendel.

Hem... This is quite insulting. I mean, Brendel never played that like this, not even close... :(

Ken B

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Re: Blind Comparison LIGHTNING ROUND: Beethoven's 'Waldstein'!
« Reply #9 on: February 20, 2014, 03:16:11 PM »
Right !

Hem... This is quite insulting. I mean, Brendel never played that like this, not even close... :(
Eh. I'm probably wrong about Brendel. But I'm right about how good it is!

Cosi bel do

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Re: Blind Comparison LIGHTNING ROUND: Beethoven's 'Waldstein'!
« Reply #10 on: February 20, 2014, 03:17:17 PM »
Eh. I'm probably wrong about Brendel. But I'm right about how good it is!

Yes no doubt about that. The best.

Offline amw

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Re: Blind Comparison LIGHTNING ROUND: Beethoven's 'Waldstein'!
« Reply #11 on: February 20, 2014, 04:15:36 PM »
amw: "1 has some odd articulation which suggests s/he is trying to be Glenn Gould without Glenn Gould's technique,"

I speculated Gould like on #1 too. To me it sounds technically assured I must say. Odd effect and reading but the effect he wants. Which is almost the definition of Gould!

Gould was extremely fastidious about notes, rhythms and dynamics—if they were even slightly inaccurate (compared to his conception of the piece) he would retake. This pianist seems willing to let a few inaccuracies and inconsistencies slip past, and also plays a bit less harshly. Agree with you about the effect though. I don't know if Gould ever recorded the 'Waldstein', I imagine so but I can't find it on NML.

Offline trung224

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Re: Blind Comparison LIGHTNING ROUND: Beethoven's 'Waldstein'!
« Reply #12 on: February 20, 2014, 04:57:51 PM »
  1. Slow and controlled performances, but I love the velvet sound in piano notes the pianist creates. the only minor drawback is he hold back too much on  movement III. Rank 2
  2. Natural playing in the movement II with certain nice pauses to creat effect. Movement III is well articulated but nothing special happens. The high point is the way the pianist handles the transition point, very natural and well-thought. Rank 4
  3. Great one, natural playing with good taste. Rank 3.
  4. Like someone described, it is the start-and-stop performance, but the problems is that the pianist doesn't  know how to build the tension in climax, and he uses only one tone with one volume. A disapointment, no doubt. Rank 6
  5. The best sounding, also I think a best playing in term of articulation. Tension is sustained greatly, but  this performances  was forced to be too hard, steelly muscular. It bored me lately. Rank 5.
  6. The best one, which combines most of the  good quality of other performances, natural transition point handling of the 3th, very well articulated and great details of the 5th, the slow but beautiful climax build of the 1st. Rank 1
 to sum up, 6 > 1 >3 >2>5>4

Offline mc ukrneal

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Re: Blind Comparison LIGHTNING ROUND: Beethoven's 'Waldstein'!
« Reply #13 on: February 20, 2014, 05:52:27 PM »
1- Brilliant first note, but quickly loses the line for me. And the stop and start (use of silence) are too abrupt. Though, things seem to improve once past the first movement. When we get to the third movement, I have the impression of hesitation in the way some notes are hit. The right hand doesn't give me enough security and then there is some variation of tempo that reinforces this impression. On the other hand, when the pianist gets going, it does get pretty good. I think another issue for me is that some of it is played too deliberately.

2- A much better second movement. I feel the line immediately. The reverb doesn't give it a jerkiness that the first one had. The topline in the melody in the third movement has more weight, but is still floating (better the second time, by the way). Here, the topline is perhaps too overweight in moments? There is a certain mechanicalness almost in a Bachian way. I think it has to do with the way the stacatto is used in some parts. What I do like about this one is the way the tension is held better. There is more nuance within phrases. This has a more classical feel as opposed to a more romantic approach.

3- Colder, more formal second movement. Not inviting. A bit dull in the beginning. I like the phrasing of the topline here once they get past the second movement. But there are some sudden tempo changes that I can't understand. Just spoils the flow and the impact. There are some sections that are quite interesting (mostly the stronger, louder moments), but I feel the softer moments are not used to their full advantage. This one is a bit of a Jekyl and Hyde for me.

4- In the second movement one of the notes is lost and that run is weakened. But this is otherwise a decent section (and gets better as it goes on, creating some nice tension). The melody in the third movement than has a floating style to it (perhaps slightly too strong, but this could be mostly a mic placement thing) and the section has nice pulse to it. The use of phrasing and dynamics is excellent (and finally doesn't overdo the louder sections, which gives it a certain organic evolution the others lack). I like the way this pianist hits the note compared to some.  I can't say it is ideal, but I think I could live with this one (though the foot tapping or whatever that is might irritate me on repeated listenings). This makes good use of the line and there are more differences between each section. 

5- The second movement is less subtle and too much rubato in parts. When we hit the main melody in the third movement, the bottom line seems mushy, in part because of the strong reverb. The section between the melody and when it repeats is poor. It has no subtlety or mystery. In general, I find myself irritated with this one. The phrasing and dynamics within each section are quite static.

6- Very nice start. The line is clear and there is more subtlety here to start. There is humming here. In the melody of the third movement, the bottom seems a bit overwhelmed, which I do not like. The overall impact is still among the stronger versions though. There is an element of mechanicalness here as well. But there is clearly more tension in this version as well. This and #1 seem quite similar in certain ways. In fact, my first thought was that these might be the same player.

Ordering:  4, 2, 6, 1, 3, 5
Be kind to your fellow posters!!

Ken B

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Re: Blind Comparison LIGHTNING ROUND: Beethoven's 'Waldstein'!
« Reply #14 on: February 20, 2014, 05:55:33 PM »
Sigh. So I went and ordered Gould playing Ludwig. A bargain from zoverstocks at Amazon.
20 sonatas, not what the title says, under 11bucks.

And no Waldstein.
« Last Edit: February 20, 2014, 05:59:34 PM by Ken B »

kishnevi

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Re: Blind Comparison LIGHTNING ROUND: Beethoven's 'Waldstein'!
« Reply #15 on: February 20, 2014, 07:18:19 PM »
Sigh. So I went and ordered Gould playing Ludwig. A bargain from zoverstocks at Amazon.
20 sonatas, not what the title says, under 11bucks.

And no Waldstein.

WARNING:  Gould vocalizes a good deal in these recordings,  at some points overwhelming the piano!  This especially applies to the earlier sonatas.  Turned me off enough that I've never gotten around to getting the Gould sonatas not in that set.

ibanezmonster

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Re: Blind Comparison LIGHTNING ROUND: Beethoven's 'Waldstein'!
« Reply #16 on: February 20, 2014, 07:18:58 PM »
1. Really strikingly graceful in the first part of the main theme; however, not really enough power when needed. I liked it, overall.
EDIT: actually, it is strong enough when it needs to be. Probably my favorite one.
2. Starts off oddly catchy; too straightforward and direct.
3. The beginning is how it should be played if you ask me. The crescendo was wtf... just different, I guess. Didn't really care for it other than the beginning.
4. Starts with dynamics all over the place lol. The jerkiness in some moments doesn't help, though I wouldn't call it a bad interpretation. It just lacks gracefulness, if that is what you want in this sonata.
5. Something about this one strikes me as 'Italian' for some reason lol.
6. Hm, I like this one, though maybe a tad too slow.


So, 1 and 6 are my favorites.
« Last Edit: February 20, 2014, 07:27:44 PM by Greg »

Ken B

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Re: Blind Comparison LIGHTNING ROUND: Beethoven's 'Waldstein'!
« Reply #17 on: February 20, 2014, 07:25:57 PM »
WARNING:  Gould vocalizes a good deal in these recordings,  at some points overwhelming the piano!  This especially applies to the earlier sonatas.  Turned me off enough that I've never gotten around to getting the Gould sonatas not in that set.
Some of the Bach stuff too. But never having heard his Beethoven I couldn't resist after this discussion.

Offline amw

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Re: Blind Comparison LIGHTNING ROUND: Beethoven's 'Waldstein'!
« Reply #18 on: February 20, 2014, 07:56:44 PM »
Today's verdict:

I see Beethoven's music as combining the free fantasy and wit of CPE Bach/Haydn/Mozart et al (the original "Romantics") with a certain Baroque rigor and seriousness derived from Bach and Handel, rather than being an active participant in the development of new styles that started with the composers of the next generation. If you view Beethoven as a Romantic composer in the sense that, say, Schumann or Wagner were, we probably won't agree on things.

1 + 2 are the interpretations that emphasize the proportion, rigor, seriousness and "ordinariness" (which is an important concept in Beethoven as well—the melody of this rondo is very "normal", apart from its sonority: nothing but tonic and dominant, arranged in neat 4- and 8-bar phrases). They are the most carefully controlled, along with 5. I think pianist 2 has the best technique of the lot, and thus the best control, but I can't say I agree with his/her choices—the fantasy is de-emphasized too much and it is an equally important aspect, right from the first phrase of Op. 2 no. 1 with its halting fermatas. The second movement comes across as too fast. I can't rate 2 too highly, though I can see how it would be some people's favourite. Pianist 1 on the other hand takes a long time to get going, but the performance picks up through the Rondo with decent flow. A solid performance never losing sight of the larger structure. I like it.

3 is a bit odd with unnecessary changes in tempo, though I liked the sound of the upper notes better than 1 or 2. Ultimately, it was all right but didn't seem particularly special, so while I don't actively dislike it, I'm still probably going to have to give it last place.

4 + 5 dial up the fantasy quite a bit. 4 in particular is an overtly Romantic interpretation of the sort you might have heard from Liszt. It's a live performance and a very energetic one by a pianist clearly at the height of his/her powers. From the assurance displayed by the technique I'll therefore have to assume the minuscule pauses before every new section are intentional, along with the wash of very un-Beethovenian pedaling. These things aren't quite to my taste, but the performer has enough personality to make it work, sort of. I like it, but I wouldn't play it like that. 5 doesn't take it all the way to the 1850s but does do some odd things with rhythm and tempo. The control is very good—the technique ends up being a bit muddier than 2, but is at a similar level. In the end it just didn't grab me as much; not enough grasp of the larger structure I think.

6 was my favourite and I think has the best balance of freedom and strictness, best use of piano sonority and most assured sense of structural unfolding. The technique isn't as great and there are lots of moments that suffer—bass notes being lost, uneven rhythms, smeared triplets—but there is a real sense of poetry which I didn't get nearly as much of from anyone else here. If it is the same pianist as 1 s/he definitely improved between the two recordings (actually, 6 sounds older than 1, so more likely got worse).

Final ranking 6 1 4 2 5 3.

I should note that if any of these were in my collection, I wouldn't get rid of them or spin them any less often; but if they turned out not to be, the only one I'd consider buying is 6.

I should also note that I currently have only 1 Waldstein in my collection, and it's on a period instrument (the disc with Opp.49, 53 and 54 from Brendel's Phillips set was scratched), so I don't have a lot of basis for comparison apart from having sight-read the sonata a few times (and of course Barenboim on LPs when I was a youngster).

Offline Brian

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Re: Blind Comparison LIGHTNING ROUND: Beethoven's 'Waldstein'!
« Reply #19 on: February 20, 2014, 09:22:08 PM »
There are a few days left to go, and much more time for many more votes and discussion points, but I just want to say two things:

1. I am absolutely fascinated by your answers so far, enough so that my opinion of one particular recording has changed significantly;
2. Pianist #1, who has been compared to Glenn Gould three times so far, is not Glenn Gould; (s)he recorded this sonata in 2013.