Author Topic: Schubertiade!  (Read 13571 times)

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Offline Brian

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Re: Schubertiade!
« Reply #60 on: April 25, 2016, 06:29:25 AM »
Why are we not all living in London so we can go see Krystian Zimerman do D. 959 and D. 960 tomorrow with an encore of Szymanowski mazurkas.

Offline Mandryka

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Re: Schubertiade!
« Reply #61 on: April 25, 2016, 08:16:56 AM »
Why are we not all living in London so we can go see Krystian Zimerman do D. 959 and D. 960 tomorrow with an encore of Szymanowski mazurkas.

Thank you, I have just booked my ticket. (I have a recording of him playing this stuff somewhere earlier this month, and despite bad sound I can tell it is a fine performance.)
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Offline Mandryka

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Re: Schubertiade!
« Reply #62 on: April 26, 2016, 01:49:03 PM »
Why are we not all living in London so we can go see Krystian Zimerman do D. 959 and D. 960 tomorrow with an encore of Szymanowski mazurkas.

The high point was 960/ii. 959/i had a lot of drive forward - like goal directed Beethoven. 960/i had one or two special things at the micro level, voices brought out. Mostly the impression in the Schubert was of great virtuosity. And just the right light touch in the third movements.

His piano (what is it? Is it some sort of one-off he commissioned?) is well balanced. I thought to myself that so much of what he does (when it comes off) is about sound, beautiful sound, that I understand why he doesn't want recordings.

Lots of empty seats. The Uchida fans boycotted I think.

Lots of people texting during 959; not at all in 960. I thought to myself that 960 is much better music.

His way of playing is  cool most of the time, so the impression is just of great skill and lovely sound. Very nice and impressive, but a bit limited from the point of view of interpretation.   But when he goes deeper into the expressive  possibilities  of the music, it is really special.

The Szymanowski nocturnes and encores did nothing for me I'm afraid. Not my sort of music.
« Last Edit: April 26, 2016, 01:52:17 PM by Mandryka »
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Offline Todd

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Re: Schubertiade!
« Reply #63 on: April 26, 2016, 04:43:47 PM »
His piano (what is it? Is it some sort of one-off he commissioned?) is well balanced.


I believe he uses Fabbrini modified Steinways and travels with his own piano(s). 
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Offline Florestan

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Re: Schubertiade!
« Reply #64 on: April 27, 2016, 12:07:10 AM »
Lots of people texting during 959

Hang´em, I say!
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Offline Mandryka

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Re: Schubertiade!
« Reply #65 on: October 27, 2016, 07:40:19 AM »




After having heard a fair number of recordings by Steven Osborne, I have come to see his style as what I'll call museum quality piano playing.  He never puts a wrong foot forward.  Everything is meticulously played.  His recordings have a sheen of perfection about them, and they practically yell, or at least politely proclaim, this is classical music.  Yet something is held back.  There's a reserve, a detachment to his playing.  His style, for me, pays huge dividends in Ravel, and works quite well in Messiaen, too, but in Debussy, Mussorgsky, Prokofiev, Rachmaninoff, and Beethoven, there's a sense of things being a bit too smoothed over and constrained.  The limitations are only evident if I opt to compare him to other pianists, and even then it is only the interpretation that I may have concerns about – if ''concerns'' they be.

I didn't come to his Schubert with trepidation.  I came to it with eagerness.  My eagerness was rewarded.  For the most part.  The disc opens with D935, and all four impromptus sound unfailingly beautiful, though not lush and warm in the manner of Lifits, but rather polished, bright, and colorful.  And the melodies are the thing here.  Not to take anything away from Osborne's rock-solid left hand playing in terms of steadiness or clarity, but time and again on this disc, the right hand playing mesmerized me.  His gentle dynamic gradations at the quieter end of the spectrum are glorious, and when the music should sing, it does.  The great A flat major Impromptu, surely one of Schubert's greatest pieces, may (?) lack the intensity or deepest depths of some other versions, but it is so steady, so precise, and so controlled as to demand absolute focus from the listener.  The melodies in the F minor Impromptu offer aural bliss.  D946 starts off with a somewhat vigorously paced Allegro assai, which nonetheless remains lovely throughout.  The Allegretto is lovelier yet, if perhaps lacking the otherworldliness of Kars or experiential depth of Paik.  The Allegro is lyrical and the coda packs something of a punch.  It is not dark, heavy, brooding ''late'' Schubert, but it is effective on its own terms.  The disc ends with D576, Variations on a theme by Anselm Huttenbrenner, a piece I'm not even sure I've heard before (I'd have to check my collection).  It is a most enjoyable piece, if not a grand set of variations.

Listening, I sensed that museum quality feel to the playing throughout.  It lacks that something special that, just sticking to this thread, Fray or Lifits brings.  But that is observation more than criticism.  This is an extremely fine disc, and one of Osborne's better outings.  I certainly would not object if he recorded more Schubert.  And I'd really like to hear him in person.

SOTA sound.

I think this is a pretty fair assessment of what I hear in the recording too. He makes me think of Leonhardt,  in that there's a sense of abandon of self that you hear in Leonhardt's later recordings:  performer's ego is abandoned. And there's the same expressive control which makes the music sound almost abstract - abstracted from this musician's and composer's feelings, it becomes an account of something more generally humane. Am I talking rubbish?

Anyway good disc. When I first came across Osborne in the 1980s I was very impressed, but less so by the intervening performances, including his Schubert sonatas. This recording makes me think he's finally finding his own voice, his  genius is starting to flourish. 
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Offline Todd

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Re: Schubertiade!
« Reply #66 on: January 27, 2017, 08:43:09 AM »



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

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

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

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Re: Schubertiade!
« Reply #67 on: March 31, 2017, 12:35:06 PM »



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

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Re: Schubertiade!
« Reply #68 on: March 31, 2017, 05:33:13 PM »
An exemplary review of the Naxos Schubert complete lieder.

http://www.arkivmusic.com/classical/album.jsp?album_id=652031

See the SDCB thread for the sale at jpc, and Amazon de
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Offline Todd

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Re: Schubertiade!
« Reply #69 on: April 02, 2017, 10:55:53 AM »



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

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

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

A superb disc.
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Offline Todd

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Re: Schubertiade!
« Reply #70 on: April 23, 2017, 11:41:03 AM »



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

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

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

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Re: Schubertiade!
« Reply #71 on: May 05, 2017, 07:15:22 AM »


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


Ran Jia's major label debut.  Who is Ran Jia, you ask?  She's a twenty-seven year old pupil of Gary Graffman, and daughter of composer Jia Daqun.  She appears to have a thing for the music of Schubert.  Her first, non-major label recording was of the D664 and D960 sonatas, and just a couple months back (March 2017 as of the time of writing), she presented a Schubert cycle for her Berlin debut.  Somewhat like with Hideyo Harada's disc, I sort of judged a book by its cover, and foolishly assumed from the glamour shot on the cover, and the other glamour shots in the booklet, that Ms Jia would play soft and tender.  Nope.  Fortunately, I enjoy her playing more than Harada's. 

The disc opens with D958.  It's evident that slow, deeply contemplative Schubert is not Jia's style.  She plays with more speed and grit.  Her Schubert is harder, though her playing can be quite beautiful at times.  It's close to a steel fist in a velvet glove approach.  Let's say anodized aluminum in comfy suede for Jia.  And as Jia demonstrates in the Adagio, she can belt out forte chords rather well.  The bass registers don't dominate or anything, but sometimes they really rumble.  The tense, almost jittery speed is most evident in the outer movements, and she seems to be in something of a hurry to finish the Allegro - to excellent effect.  She takes the time througout the work to pay some attention to details, as with the wonderful, extended right hand run in the opening, but this is a hard, cool, modern-classical hybrid approach.  Good stuff. 

So, too, is D845.  And unsurprisingly, it is of the quick, tense, almost angry variety.  It doesn't have the power of Lupu or the intensity of Gulda, but the opening movement moves forward at all times.  Jia does slow down as appropriate, but these passages seem like respites before revving back up.  The Andante poco mosso is plucky - and tense.  The way she dashes off right hand figurations throughout is most captivating, and the slower music is dark, 'late' Schubert.  The tense feel permeates the Scherzo, too, with Jia rushing through some transitions - again, to excellent effect.  The propulsive Rondo wraps up some fine Schubert.  Here's a D845 that offers a pretty strong contrast to the equally compelling but very different take from Michail Lifits, to stick with other young(-ish) pianists offering some fine, modern Schubert. 

The disc concludes with three Preludes for Piano by the pianist's father.  The brief pieces are decidedly post-war modern works.  Some knotty, chord-heavy writing interspersed with some attractive melodic content, not least in the Homage to Schubert, which derives from D845, and some brief, sparse passages make me rather wish more than three short pieces were included.  If Jia were to devote an entire disc to her father's output, I'd give it a shot.

Sound is very good, but somewhat problematic.  It's not ideally clear by contemporary standards, and it's as though the engineers couldn't capture Jia's dynamic range properly, so the slightly distant recording checks most but not all sonic boxes.  The disc sounds slightly better through headphones, but the same issues persist no matter the transducer type used.

I will keep an eye on this pianist, and when she records D894, I will buy with alacrity.  Maybe she can record some Schoenberg or Prokofiev or Ligeti or Schnittke while she's at it.

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Offline Todd

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Re: Schubertiade!
« Reply #72 on: May 29, 2017, 07:06:04 AM »



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


A half-dozen Schubert sonatas from Julius-Jeongwon Kim.  Mr Kim is a former child prodigy turned professor and performing musician who, in 2012, gave the second performance of Rachmaninoff's Fifth Piano Concerto before making the first recording for Deutsche Grammophon.  The Fifth?  It's a reworking of the Second Symphony by Alexander Warenberg done at the request of the composer's grandson.  Earnest effort or something of a gimmick, Kim has one unique achievement under his belt.  He also made some other core rep recordings for EMI in prior years, so he's been around the block, as most forty-somethings have.

On to the recordings at hand.  The first disc of the trio contains D157 and D894, meaning that my first exposure to Kim matches up in terms of repertoire, sans a small encore, to one of my favorite Schubert discs of the century so far, Arcadi Volodos' Schubert disc.  While I really didn't expect Kim to match Volodos, and if ultimately he doesn't, there is much to enjoy in the first disc.  D157 starts off somewhat haltingly, with clipped chords and phrase endings, but once the Allegro ma non troppo moves into the more flowing music, Kim plays with nice drive, lyricism, and scale, and his melody is both lovely and almost eerily precise.  The Andante displays some of the same style of playing, and comes off as decidedly and purposely unsentimental, and nearly cold, and Kim plays this way until about five minutes in, and then, bam, biting forte chords assault the listener's ear to surprising and convincing effect.  Kim then plays the concluding Menuetto briskly and unsentimentally.  It's certainly possible to play with a bit more lyricism, but the overall conception works.  The great D894 follows.  Here, Kim faced not only long-standing memories of Volodos, but also fresher memories of Sheila Arnold.  Kim's starts off with an eighteen minute Molto moderato e cantabile, yet given the length, the tension of his playing makes it seem quicker than that, and again it sounds unsentimental.  His tone is attractive, but it is possible to say the playing is not the most lyrical or endearing, though Kim's style has it's own appeal.  He also keeps dynamics somewhat under wraps, never really thundering out forte passages like Arnold, let alone Michail Lifits.  Again, it's another way to play, and I hasten to add that Kim does not sound at all small-scaled; it seems more about control.  The Andante sounds both tonally pleasing and musically severe, with Kim playing with a controlled tempo, and here he ratchets up the volume of the loudest playing more so than in the opening movement.  He sort of shifts the center of the work to the second movement, something I've heard many times in D960, but rarely in this work.  The Menuetto remains contained and controlled, and dynamic contrasts are nicely pronounced, with Kim playing aggressively at times.  Kim finally lightens up a bit in the Allegretto.  While not slight or wispy, it seems a smidge sunnier and definitely more lyrical than the preceding movements.  Overall, if the playing lacks Volodos' even more marked command, and Arnold's balanced magic, Kim's take is excellent in a very serious sort of way.

The second disc contains D568 and D664, opening with the former.  The sound seems a bit brighter, more metallic, and slightly more distant.  Kim's playing in the opening Allegro moderato is all about nearly relentless forward drive and energy, and while not especially lyrical, Kim does keep the playing attractive before moving onto a tense Andante molto characterized more by insistent left hand playing than beautiful melody.  The Menuetto, especially in the trio, sounds a bit more lyrical, but never strays far from the tenser overall conception.  Same with the concluding Allegro moderato.  Generally, I prefer D664 to be very lyrical, though there are exceptions.  Kim does indeed play the piece more lyrically than D568, but he maintains a nice degree of tension and plays with some heft as appropriate in the opening Allegro moderato.  He goes one better and plays the Andante in unabashedly beautiful and lyrical fashion, with hints of gentle urgency and an approximation of melancholy.  The concluding Allegro starts off similarly, but quickly finds Kim playing with significant scale and power, though he keeps the tempo steady and just about right overall. 

The final disc contains D557 and D958.  Sonics are more like the second disc, leading me to think the final two discs were recorded at the same sessions, though I could obviously be wrong.  Anyway, D557 sounds brisk, crisp, and clear, with incisive staccato playing and light pedaling.  The playing displays hints of lyricism, but is more about drive and bite, at least in the first two movement.  Kim does lighten up just a bit in overall mood, if not entirely in delivery, in the Allegro, though even here the middle section is fiery and intense, almost an early test-run for D784.  D958 ends the set.  Kim's set arrived shortly after Ran Jia's superb Schubert single disc, and I decided to give her take a listen a couple hours before my first listen to Kim's take.  Kim's tempi are slightly slower than Jia's in all movements but the Menuetto, but that doesn't stop Kim from launching the first movement with an at times intense, loud opener.  Kim builds to satisfyingly loud, sharp forte playing with more apparent overall power than Jia, though the lower registers are comparatively light.  His rhythmic drive is superb, too, and when he backs off, there's a bit more of a contrast than with Jia, who sounds more tense throughout.  Kim's approach stays the same in the hard-hitting Andante poco mosso.  Indeed, more than in D557, the playing here makes me want to hear what he might do with D784.  Kim keeps up the almost aggressive, at times stingingly metallic approach right on through to the end, with the Rondo almost enough to grind down listeners more accustomed to more lyrical Schubert.  In some ways, Kim's take is more involved and involving than Jia's, but on the flip-side, Jia adds more unique touches.  Advantage Jia, but Kim ends on a strong note.

Overall, Kim's Schubert comes across as intellectual, serious, maybe a bit grim, though when he arrives at one of the 'late' sonatas, he adds real intensity and drive to the mix.  In this regard, he reminds me of Paul Lewis.  Hopefully, he records more Schubert, because I wouldn't mind at all hearing how he handles D845, D850, and, of course, D960, but if this threefer ends up being it, it's a good set to have.  (Here I refer to studio recordings, of course, because D845 is on YouTube, along with other works.)  I wouldn't mind hearing more from Kim outside of Schubert, either.  I think he could deliver some fine Brahms, and more serious fare from the 20th Century might also sound quite good.  Oh, and I wouldn't mind if he recorded some Beethoven.

Sonics for this strictly Korean market release are a bit resonant but superb, though I found I had to listen slightly louder than normal to get the piano to sound as natural as possible.  In an unusual step for me, I listened to this set first in my main rig which is situated in a small, but dedicated and quasi-treated stereo room and then in my 2.1 channel home theater situated in a much larger room.  I cranked the volume in the large space, and the sound seemed more natural and, as recorded, Kim plays with a big sonority. 
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Offline Todd

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Re: Schubertiade!
« Reply #73 on: June 06, 2017, 05:31:08 AM »



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

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

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

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Re: Schubertiade!
« Reply #74 on: September 06, 2017, 05:43:50 AM »



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

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

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

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

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

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

Sound is close and dry and bass-light, with some pedal stomps audible here and there.
The universe is change; life is opinion.   Marcus Aurelius, Meditations

Offline Todd

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Re: Schubertiade!
« Reply #75 on: September 13, 2017, 05:22:54 AM »



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

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

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

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

Sound is poor for its early 90s vintage.  Small, boxy, dynamically constricted, midrange dominated, with a nearly constant dull glare, it is far from ideal.  Levine deserved better.
The universe is change; life is opinion.   Marcus Aurelius, Meditations

Offline Todd

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Re: Schubertiade!
« Reply #76 on: September 15, 2017, 06:04:51 AM »



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

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

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

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

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

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