Author Topic: Kazune Shimizu's First Beethoven Go-Round  (Read 425 times)

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Offline amw

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Kazune Shimizu's First Beethoven Go-Round
« on: March 30, 2017, 02:56:50 AM »


https://www.amazon.co.jp/s/ref=nb_sb_noss?__mk_ja_JP=%E3%82%AB%E3%82%BF%E3%82%AB%E3%83%8A&url=search-alias%3Daps&field-keywords=%E6%B8%85%E6%B0%B4%E5%92%8C%E9%9F%B3%E3%83%99%E3%83%BC%E3%83%88%E3%83%BC%E3%83%B4%E3%82%A7%E3%83%B3

No Todd thread so for once I get first dibs on a Beethoven cycle :p

Kazune Shimizu's first set of the Beethoven sonatas for Sony Japan was recorded from 1994 to 1997 and is very unavailable, most of the volumes only offered as expensive used copies and some of them simply not on the market. A reissue is unlikely seeing as he's now re-recording the cycle for Triton/Octavia. That said, it is evidently floating around in shareable form (contact me for more details).

Based on the listening I've done, I see this cycle as superior to his new recordings, at least in the ones he's released so far. I will try to explain why with some quick notes on the sonatas.

Volumes 1 through 6 are organised on the basis of loose key relations, as is the first 75% of Volume 7. From there onwards he seems to have just presented the remaining sonatas in order of composition. Recordings are supposed to be taken from live performances, but the absence of slips and audience noise suggests some amount of studio editing afterwards—the one thing that is a noticeable live artefact is a not-always-clean use of pedal, plus applause at the end of a handful of sonatas.

Vol. 1
No. 1, Op. 2/1 - A surprisingly muted and low-key performance, not an extremely auspicious start to the cycle. Perhaps a deliberate choice to bring out the melancholy/Mozartian elements of the work, at the expense of the revolutionary, assertive ones. Or maybe it was just an off day for him. I give it a C-.
No. 13, Op. 27/1 - On the other end of things: an excellent performance of this often problematic work, maybe the best I've heard. Has much of the energy and spirit that was missing from Op. 2/1. Not that I've heard a lot, or listen to it very frequently, though. A+
No. 8, Op. 13 - Suitably dramatic, swift but with some weight to it, and some quite expressive playing. Very good although probably doesn't blow away the competition. B+
No. 31, Op. 110 - A very good "bread and butter" performance of the sonata—nothing is very far outside the mainstream, and there's not much individuality, but it has a certain rightness to it that's very satisfying. A-

Vol. 2
No. 2, Op. 2/2 - Another standout performance, near perfect in many respects. Has the grace and sensitivity the sonata needs, without ever tipping into being anodyne. Shimizu misses out on the controversial and probably unnecessary second half repeat in the first movement. A+
No. 9, Op. 14/1 - A fairly spirited and lively take on a sonata that's not usually that. It's good, but I feel like there's room for more depth. B
No. 27, Op. 90 - He kind of tries to fit each movement into one single mood. Which, to be fair, is often done, and tempting to do with this sonata, but like, this is still Beethoven. Also, the playing does come pretty close to typing. C-
No. 28, Op. 101 - Another solid "bread and butter" performance that perhaps doesn't quite reach the transcendence of Op. 110. Emotional weight & lightness are well distributed, and it is in the end a satisfying listen. B+

Vol. 3
No. 24, Op. 78 - I wasn't expecting much after finding Op. 90 disappointing, but this is a very nice performance with lots of inner life and vitality. A
No. 4, Op. 7 - Resembles the Op. 106 (infra) in being clean and somewhat emotionally detached, without much humour, combining weight with a staccato touch. Playing Op. 7 like Op. 106 does kind of make sense as they are sometimes considered the two most technically difficult of Beethoven's sonatas, though Op. 106 obviously is ahead by a pretty wide margin. A substantial performance, worth revisiting. A-
No. 11, Op. 22 - Straightforward, sober sonata gets a straightforward, sober reading. Tempi are on the faster side, comparable to Kovacevich, who plays with more power—and is probably more essential—but less clarity. Overall it's definitely to my taste but I would prefer more grace and poise to the rondo. B+
No. 26, Op. 81a - I've heard deeper, more ambiguous performances, particularly of the first movement, which is a bit unmemorable. There's nothing wrong with it I guess though. Competition is just fierce. B-

Vol. 4
No. 20, Op. 49/2 - It's unfair to expect much from this sonatina, designed for beginners to play. Its primary musical value is a certain freshness and grace and Shimizu brings those qualities to the fore well. A
No. 7, Op. 10/3 - I had pretty high expectations and they were basically met. This is one of the sonatas I've played myself and I was thinking most of the time "yeah, this is pretty much how I'd want to have done it". Not that that means much coming from me as opposed to someone who can actually play the piano, but I approve and would only have suggested slightly more weight and heroism. A+
No. 29, Op. 106 - I already wrote a bit about this: clean, decisive, swift, detached, somewhat analytical. There is room for more expression in the adagio, and the first movement is more athletic than joyful, but repeated listens have improved its standing with me overall. B+

Vol. 5
No. 10, Op. 14/2 - I've heard this piece done with more humour, more character, and/or more energy. A bit too undistinguished here. C
No. 3, Op. 2/3 - Has some of the heroism Op. 10/3 didn't have, and even some unexpected profundity. The slow movement here is particularly fine. Another standout. A+
No. 25, Op. 79 - Enjoyable, although the first movement is a bit of a headlong rush—not much space is given for the music to breathe. The other two movements are fine (although, admittedly, hard to screw up). B+
No. 21, Op. 53 - A performance that rewards careful listening, with a light touch and a lot of subtlety and reserve. For me it actually does work though. I do often like Waldsteins that are less heroic and extraverted, and have a bit of depth to them. This is definitely one such performance... not necessarily displacing existing favourites but still really good. A

Vol. 6
No. 6, Op. 10/2 - Mostly excellent. Shimizu leaves out the second half repeat in the short finale, which to my ears is necessary, and therefore forces me to deduct points. That said, the two minutes of finale we do get are among the best of his cycle. A-
No. 12, Op. 26 - The funeral march is intentionally somewhat grotesque, so it's interesting to hear the grotesque elements downplayed in the interests of pathos. It's effective, although feels a little manipulative. Rest of the sonata is top notch. A
No. 5, Op. 10/1 - Hard-driven and tinged with a little melancholy. Maybe a little on the Romantic side for Shimizu, but never mellow. A-
No. 23, Op. 57 - A really high quality Appassionata with as much power, energy and pathos as one would want. Tempi are also just about perfect. A+

Vol. 7
No. 19, Op. 49/1 - See comments on Op. 49/2 (supra). I do think a little more could be made of this sonatina, actually, but it's over quickly enough that one doesn't mind much either way. B
No. 15, Op. 28 - First movement is weak, and the music doesn't breathe. This sonata was a quiet revolution in Beethoven's creative life, and it should sound like one. Remaining three movements are much better but due to the apparent missed point, I can't give this more than a C+.
No. 16, Op. 31/1 - This is excellent—maybe lacks the spark of humour that animates the best recordings, but still pretty damn good. A-
No. 14, Op. 27/2 - First movement tempo is pretty much exactly where I prefer it (4:53) although I would prefer a little more flexibility and quieter playing. And a bit more delicacy in the second movement. Dynamic contrast isn't really Shimizu's thing. B

Vol. 8
No. 17, Op. 31/2 - A very high quality performance—I've heard better, but no real complaints with this one. The best performances probably have a bit more immediacy, is all. A-
No. 18, Op. 31/3 - Maybe a bit more aggressive than this sonata should be? It works very nicely in the even-numbered movements though, and the minuet is a bit more restrained. I feel like I'm going to end up enjoying this performance a lot. A
No. 22, Op. 54 - Solid middle of the road performance, maybe a bit short on subtleties and nuances but certainly high in energy. B+
Rondo, Op. 51 - As nice a performance as I've ever heard of this not very inspiring piece >_> A

Vol. 9
No. 30, Op. 109 - I'd probably have a higher opinion of this one if I hadn't just heard Maria Tipo's recording of the same for EMI, which is flat out better in every respect as well as more imaginative. That said, this isn't bad for a mainstream reading, though a more profound and hushed third movement would have been nice. B+
No. 32, Op. 111 - First movement has a couple of noticeable recurring mannerisms, which I do not mind. It certainly has the requisite weight and gravitas. Second movement starts out amiable and graceful but rather unexpectedly ends up scaling the heavenly heights and achieving a very moving closure. I'm honestly a bit impressed. A
Bagatelles, Op. 126 - Beautiful, if not extremely characteristic performances, although maybe Op. 111 just put me in a good mood. A-

My overall score for the cycle would be a B+. Potential points of comparison in terms of quality might include András Schiff and Igor Levit, from my perspective. Potential stylistic comparisons might include Paul Lewis, Richard Goode, Alfred Brendel, Mélodie Zhao or Claude Frank, though I prefer Shimizu to all of them save the last-named. I probably don't know enough cycles to make detailed pronouncements one way or another though.

From what I've heard, the newer recordings on Triton are slower, safer, more metronomic, and in worse sound. I would not rate the Triton Appassionata or Tempest above a B for instance.

If you're still not sure whether you ought to embark on the months-long quest for used copies and/or the minutes-long quest to download a file from the internet, here's the finale of Op. 27/1 for an example. If you do decide you need to hunt down physical copies, hopefully my notes give you some ideas of which volumes to seek out first. <_<

Offline Todd

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Re: Kazune Shimizu's First Beethoven Go-Round
« Reply #1 on: January 19, 2018, 09:32:46 AM »
I ended up procuring a copy of Kazune Shimizu's first cycle and decided to give a listen.  I opted to not reread amw's impressions while listening.  Where she and I differ in terms of qualitative appraisal, she is clearly wrong, and perhaps outrageously so.  (That's a joke, in case anyone takes it seriously.)


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For years, I perused the sites of various Japanese vendors, looking for new copies of all nine volumes of Kazune Shimizu's complete Beethoven piano sonata cycle on Sony.  I could never find all nine.  Used copies were available, but only at prices I thought unwholesome for used discs, so I didn't buy.  I was beginning to think I'd either never get to hear the cycle, or I might have to wait until one of the upcoming anniversary years.  Then a generous benefactor beneficently bestowed a copy on me, so one little dream came true.  I could listen to the cycle.  So I did.

Shimizu's cycle, like quite a few others, opens with Sonata Number One.  Shimizu's take is classical and often light.  The Allegro is mostly light, with only a few potent outbursts, notably in the coda, while the Adagio is surprisingly light and lyrical.  The Menuetto is too reserved to start, and though it picks up near the end, it never really has a lot of oomph, while the Prestissimo possesses sufficient drive and middle register heft but not really enough weight overall.  A good opener, but not top thirty stuff.  Op 27/1 follows.  Shimizu keeps it light and bright and flowing to start, but in the Allegro section, the sustain pedal goes down and the volume goes up, led by the left hand, creating a punchy effect.  The Scherzo alternates between a smooth and flowing sound and a punchy sound, too, with snappy rhythm in the trio.  The Adagio con espressione displays some gentle but not especially touching playing, and ends on a slow fade while Shimizu launches right into the Allegro vivace with vibrant high speed playing punctuated by hefty chords, while the final return of the slow material is very measured and nearly hypnotic, and the coda is Prestissimo fast.  Superb.  Op 13 follows, and Shimizu opts for a near-thundering start in the Grave and a high-speed, high-energy, but somewhat dynamically constrained Allegro section.  (Man, that right hand playing sizzles!)  The Adagio cantabile is a bit swift, and while Shimizu plays beautifully, the playing also sounds emotionally reticent.  Which is just fine.  The Rondo is fleet and Shimizu again displays superb dexterity, but the playing sounds somewhat contained again, very classical in presentation.  Still, superb.  Op 110 closes the disc.  Shimizu starts the swift overall Moderato cantabile molto espressivo (6'15") with some gentle, lovely playing that doesn't sound rushed at all, and then he speeds up significantly in the transition.  The tempo contrasts end up being at least as noticeable as the dynamic contrasts, and keeps the playing from attaining the level of late-LvB sound I generally prefer.  One minor quibble has to do with the left hand playing, which, while potent and obviously audible throughout, sounds a bit muddy.  (Has DM Lim spoiled my ears?)  The Allegro molto is molto indeed, with Shimizu playing very fast and hammering out most of the music.  It's a bucket of cold water in the face, musically speaking.  Shimizu sounds almost like a different pianist in the opening of the last movement, and the solemn and transcendent first arioso, which only gradually picks up pace and urgency.  The fugue remains very clear throughout with Shimizu starting softly and gradually building up to a massive sound.  I always enjoy hearing a steady, slow(-ish) tempo maintained while only volume markedly increases.  The transition to the second arioso is like the musical equivalent to a big rig firing its brakes, while the arioso itself sound much tenser than the first go-round.  The repeated chords go from satisfyingly quiet to Anderszewski-level loud (though not so tonally lustrous) to superb effect, and the inverted fugue does the whole clear, slow burn thing again, culminating in a fast, hard climax and dashed off coda.  Overall, a most excellent disc one.

The second volume opens with the second sonata.  Shimizu plays it fast and peppy in the repeatless Allegro vivace, slow and modestly expressive at the start of the Largo, but as time goes on, it sort of displays some austere solemnity.  The Scherzo is playful and crisp in the outer sections, with hints of restrained urgency in the trio, while the Rondo is lovely, flowing, and delightfully peppy except for the very stormy, within classical confines, middle section.  Op 14/1 follows, and Shimizu opts to play the Allegro fast overall, and very fast in the ascending passages.  The playing sounds almost jittery, but it never goes overboard.  Shimizu's style stays quite similar in the Allegretto and the Rondo, pushing the latter much the same way he pushed the first movement.  The disc then jumps to Op 90.  In the first movement, Shimizu plays fast and imbues much of his right hand playing with an edge more than hinting at anger or despair, the forte passages with heft, and the long right hand run with a sense of urgency.  The second movement is generally lyrical, and good enough to make one wonder what Shimizu might do with earlier Schubert sonatas, but he also plays with some residual bite at times, and there are hints of late LvB goodness, too.  The disc closes with Op 101.  The opening Allegretto ma non troppo sort of takes the hints contained in Op 90 and makes them the interpretive focus, with Shimizu getting the sound right, while still making sure to play with clarity and, when need, the right degree of heft.  In the march, Shimizu focuses on delivering ample weight and potent accents at a reasonable speed.  The Adagio ma non troppo manages to sound just slow enough and just longing enough, and just desolate enough for a brief period about halfway through, to fit comfortably in the late LvB soundworld, and the final movement starts with fast and bright trills before launching into fast and bright playing of the fugal material that sounds almost like supercharged baroque playing.  The playing sort of loses its late LvB quality as a result, but it's a refreshing take sure to leave the listener more awake and alert when it ends. 

Volume three starts off with Op 78.  The Adagio cantabile is fairly mellow and lovely, while the Allegro ma non troppo section adds a bit of energy and playfulness to the mix.  It's kind of chill.  The Allegro vivace ramps up the speed and fun.  An excellent start.  Given Shimizu's style to this point, I expected the Allegro molto e con brio of Op 7 to be of the super-fast variety, but it turns out to be of the leisurely but still nicely swift and flowing variety, with plenty left hand oomph.  Shimizu keeps the rhythm bouncing, brings a slight bit of drama here and there, but generally keeps it light and youthful.  The Largo sounds a bit quick and tense, and the big tolling bass notes have adequate impact, while the repeated three note right arpeggios are cute, but in a good way.  Shimizu keeps the drama contained relative to some other versions, which fits in with his approach.  The Allegro is quick, with Shimizu playing passages in an almost start-stop fashion with very brief pauses.  It still works just fine, and the trio sounds sort of italicized, with a lightly rumbling bass line.  The Rondo ends with swift, spritely playing, with hints of urgency in the middle section.  Superb.  Next up, Op 22.  Now this starts with a very fast Allegro con brio characterized first by a light, playful sound, then by beefy, fast forte playing, and in the middle section, Shimizu just speeds up a bit more.  It's sort of one-trick, or maybe one-and-a-half tricks, but it works.  The Adagio is just a bit quick, but more than a bit songful in the opening and retains it more or less throughout.  The Menuetto sounds lovely and lively in the other sections, and fiery but controlled in the middle section, and the Rondo is light fun and energized as though maybe Shimizu had quickly downed a half dozen shots of espresso before starting the movement.  This is not a reading for those wanting a more leisurely, flowing reading.  The disc ends with Op 81a.  Shimizu holds back in the introduction of the first movement, creating a sense of resignation, then plays with more celebratory abandon.  Some of the left hand playing is accented just so, to good effect.  The second movement remains taut and tense, with some nice forte playing approximating controlled emotional outbursts, and then finally, the Vivacissimamente is quick, cleanly articulated, with ample bass weight and a celebratory feel.  Shimizu never goes for anything outlandish in terms of dynamics or rubato, so the playing remains quite classical in nature. 

Volume four starts off with a quick, light, and tuneful Op 49/2, with Shimizu's quickness in the Tempo di Menuetto a purely classical delight.  Op 10/3 follows.  The Presto is a delight, dashed off with verve and precision, and more than ample strength when needed.  Shimizu plays the Largo slow and somber, with early hints of drama, with loud forte playing, and some nicely tense quieter playing.  The only downside of his approach is that given how powerfully he plays earlier forte passages, the climax sounds less imposing, though the playing speeds up just the right amount.  The Menuetto offers a nice contrast in the outer sections, with the trio dashed off with lots of left hand oomph and admirably clean playing.  The Rondo is nice and peppy, with Shimizu again displaying some mighty fine left hand playing.  The disc ends with Op 106.  Shimizu plays slower than hoped at 10'23", but he manages to infuse the music with ample forward drive and energy and scale.  But it lacks the snap that most of his performances to this point bring.  Within its performance parameters, it is excellent, I guess I just wanted even more.  The Scherzo follows suit, being somewhat more standard in timing than expected, though it is likewise excellent.  The Adagio comes in at a middle of the road 18'31", and here Shimizu starts off with a slow but flowing tempo and a solemn sound, with not a little beautiful right hand playing.  As the playing becomes slower and more subdued, it doesn't become especially desolate.  Throughout, Shimizu's left hand playing is remarkably steady and clear without once sound overbearing.  It is about halfway through that the style and even tempi of the opening two movements sort of jell to make a most handsome whole.  Shimizu's playing also becomes more dramatic and intense, but he never sustains such passages too long.  The final movement starts with a conventional enough Largo, but then launches into one of the fastest, most exciting fugues I’ve heard.  It is dazzling and nearly breathless in its delivery, some delightfully rumbly bass before the coda, and a hammered out coda of no little excitement.

Volume five opens with Op 14/2.  Shimizu plays it with a quick-ish overall tempo, a generally light touch in the Allegro, though he plays with ample power when called for and his digital dexterity is unassailable.  The Andante theme and variations stays quick, alert, and generally playful, with a nicely bold fortissimo chord to end it, and the Scherzo keeps the same feel.  Op 2/3 follows.  Shimizu plays the Allegro con brio in a properly speedy manner, dashing it off in 9'38", meaning the playing takes on a sort of frantic sound, though it is always controlled and energetic.  Nice.  The Adagio remains fairly taut in the opening, with Shimizu playing with a nice degree of restraint, even in the second theme, where he holds back on the tolling bass notes, though later on Shimizu wails on the keys to nice effect.  The overall feel of the movement borders on the bland, though.  The Scherzo is plucky, with very clear voicing in the outer sections, and a punchy and fast trio.  The Rondo finds Shimizu playing with something approaching the frantic style of the opening movement, but it is so energetic and clean and fun that it makes for the just right virtuosic closing movement.  Op 79 is up next, and Shimizu keeps with the quick and light approach, sensibly enough, in the Presto alla tedesca, but then he switches gears dramatically in the slow, touching, and lyrical Andante, before switching back to light and fun playing in the Vivace.  The Waldstein closes the disc.  Shimizu starts the Allegro con brio slower than expected with kind-of-loud-for-pianissimo chords, then switches to faster, more powerful playing that, as with the repeated chords, sort of has a bopping rhythm.  He plays the movement fast, but not too much so, and he really plays up dynamic contrasts nicely and knows exactly when to back off on the tempo, and by how much.  The Introduzione is suitably slow and introspective, while the Rondo really takes off after the trills, with swelling dynamics and very fast playing of no little excitement.  Too, Shimizu sees fit to use some nice pauses for effect in places, and generally delivers a rousing final movement.     

Volume six opens with Op 10/2.  Shimizu plays the Allegro with just right amounts of speed, energy, and youthful fun, moves to a Menuetto that is fairly straightforward, and concludes with a nicely peppy, if unfortunately repeatless, Presto.  Op 26 follows.  The Andante theme is a bit brisk, but attractive, and the variations more or less follow suit.  One neat feature is Shimizu's well-judged forte left hand playing, adding real weight and scale.  The Scherzo is zippy and potent.  The funeral march slows things down, but it's hardly slow.  It's also comparatively subdued dynamically and a bit tense.  By starting off somewhat subdued, Shimizu allows himself some nice and contrast-y outbursts, though he largely keeps the movement contained.  The concluding Allegro returns to fast and potent playing evident in the Scherzo.  Overall, excellent, though I could have done with a weightier funeral march.  Op 10/1 follows, exploding into being, with high-speed ascending arpeggios, moving to very fast and energetic playing thereafter.  The Adagio is more restrained, even if it sounds Andante-ish, quite attractive, and it flows along nicely.  The Prestissimo closer is predictably swift and energetic overall, with Shimizu's right hand playing delightfully clean and clear.  Outstanding.  The disc closes with Op 57.  Shimizu holds back in the opening bars of the Allegro assai, and then at just shy of forty seconds in, he unloads, ramping up power and speed, then backing off, playing jittery repeated notes, and maintaining a tense sound, backing off a bit, and then repeating the whole process.  The Andante con moto brings the energy and excitement level down a bit, allowing for a sort of cooling off, but even so, it is quick and tense.  The Allegro ma non troppo is predictably very speedy and energetic, rushing forward, with superb fingerwork, superb dynamics, and oodles of energy.  This Appassionata brings to mind Seymour Lipkin's.  It's a fast and punchy middleweight version, though Shimizu's playing is more refined and cleaner than Lipkin's.  Good stuff.

Volume seven starts with Op 49/1, which, like the second of the set, is a classical miniature, with nothing too heavy done to it.  The Pastorale follows.  Shimizu plays the first theme with a generally steady tempo and nice lyrical sound, with the bass line insistent but not overbearing.  He then builds up to a satisfying but not thundering climax; the imperative seems to keep things classically proportioned.  In something of an unexpected development, Shimizu plays the Andante notably slower than normal.  The playing is fine, but it doesn't really work.  The Scherzo is also a bit more restrained tempo-wise than expected, but it is more in line with most recordings and Shimizu's overall style, and the rhythmic sureness and dynamic contrasts work just swell.  The Rondo more or less flows along nicely, with Shimizu also making sure to play with both satisfying power in forte passages, and especially in the middle section, and some playfulness in some quieter right hand passages, and impressive digital dexterity in the coda.  The sonata is three-fourths very good.  Next up, one of the critical middle trio, namely 31/1.  Shimizu starts with a quick and dynamically varied Allegro vivace.  There's no doubting Shimizu's ability to play the music, but the playing is more of the serious sort rather than the playful sort, which is just fine.  Who doesn't want some slap in the face fortissimo playing in the coda?  Shimizu then plays the Adagio grazioso at a swift tempo but with a relaxed mien.  The left hand playing is a marvel of limpid dance rhythm while the right hand playing spins off in various directions.  In the middle section, Shimizu tightens up the playing in every regard, injecting some sober energy into the mix.  He then keeps everything tighter and speedier in the return of the opening materially, the dance like rhythms becoming gently frantic, the right hand playing darting around.  The Rondo has plenty of drive, and sounds sort-of groovy.  Overall, this is a rock-solid take.  The disc ends with the Moonlight.  Shimizu goes for an Adagio sostenuto that one might be more likely to call Moderato, with the melody dominant, and a taut bass line.  The Allegretto is unfussy and bass rich, and just right.  Though the Presto agitato is not crazy fast, Shimizu's playing is nicely swift and weighty.  Truth to tell, I've come close to being burned out on this sonata, but this version works well enough. 

Der Sturm opens volume eight.  Shimizu dispatches with the opening material by playing the arpeggios pretty quick, though he does use extended pauses, and then he launches into an Allegro characterized by decent speed and nice dynamic swings, creating ample drama.  Every time Shimizu hammers out forte passages, it wallops the listener, provided the volume is turned up enough.  (How else would one listen?)  He knows when and how to play the slower music with just right tempi.  Shimizu's take on the Adagio is of the comparatively quick and tense variety, and his take on the Allegretto is of the reasonably paced and tense-ish type, though Shimizu again hammers out the loudest passages.  That's two out of two of so far in Op 31.  The third makes it three.  The Allegro is quick, playful, and punctuated by powerful outbursts.  The Scherzo offers more of the same, with even more powerful outbursts.  Shimizu backs off a bit in the Menuetto and plays very nicely, if a bit formally, but then the Presto con fuoco returns to the boisterous, if controlled, potent, fast, energetic style of the first two movements, only more so.  Sweet.  Op 31 is always critical for me, and Shimizu nails them.  Sure, I can think of better versions, but I'll say he's top quintile here.  Op 54 follows.  Shimizu plays the first theme in the opening movement in rather attractive fashion, while the triplets are played with much more power and incisive staccato.  Very nice.  The Allegretto is a blockbuster.  Not as fast as Paik, Shimizu comes closer than most to matching the Korean master, and Shimizu also infuses his playing with about the same overall level of energy.  The left hand playing is occasionally pounded out to super effect.  A high voltage closing movement.  The first of the Op 51 Rondos closes the disc.  Shimizu's style is light and rather delightful in the outer sections and punchy in the middle, and it makes for a nice extra.

The final volume includes Opp 109 and 111 as far as sonatas go, and the Op 126 Bagatelles.  In 109, Shimizu plays the opening Vivace with a nice degree of transcendent sound while still keeping it in the classical realm, and his touch seems more varied, too.  He doesn't hold back in the forte passages of the Adagio section, but he doesn't overdo it, and when he transitions back to gentle playing, it sounds elevated as well as well controlled.  The Prestissimo, by way of contrast, is bold, loud, and powerful.  The Andante theme of the last movement finds Shimizu playing with lighter, more nuanced touch, and generating more nice, transcendent sound.  He then goes even further with soft, gentle, and slow playing in most of the first variation.  The second variation is quicker, more pointed, but gently so, evoking "little stars", while in the third variation Shimizu manages to speed way up, playing the music at a very fast but perfectly controlled tempo, while also maintaining an elevated sound.  The fourth backs off again, to nice effect.  Shimizu plays the fifth variation almost as powerfully as the Prestissimo.  The final variation starts like the theme, but quickly builds in speed and power to the powerful climax, and then it ends with a slow, serene coda that seems drawn out due to the playing immediately prior to it.  This is an Elysian Fields ending.  Good stuff.  Op 111 starts with a heavy, almost lumbering Maestoso, with Shimizu seeming to go for a quasi-orchestral sonority.  It's nice.  The playing backs off substantially in volume before building back up, dropping off again, then plateauing, before blurred left hand trills launch the Allegro.  Shimizu starts it off slow and lumbering, too, but quickly picks up the pace a bit, though less than initially anticipated.  Shimizu maintains a heavier rather than speedier take throughout, and some of the playing sounds somewhat garbled or blurred in a couple places, though that seems more purposeful than due to poor playing.  The Arietta starts slow and slightly heavy, though elevated, and the second half becomes lighter and more elevated.  The first variation sheds some of the heaviness of the Arietta, sounding even more elevated.  The second variation is much quicker and pointed, with rocking rhythm, and then Shimizu plays the third variation with one of the fastest overall tempos I've heard, pushing almost to the point of being rushed, and the right hand playing sort of cascades, while some of the left hand playing is of the aural slap in the face variety.  This is high voltage stuff, almost like a final rugged outburst, and it’s what I hoped the Allegro in the first movement would have been like.  Starting with the fourth variation, Shimizu switches gears, going straight to transcendent playing.  The "little stars" are superb, melody-led and with terraced dynamics and precise playing.  The first chain of trills sounds quick and a bit cutting, with the music that follows more or less sounding like where Op 109 left off, changes to more robust, almost urgent playing before the final chain of trills starts.  Shimizu starts off quick and cutting, but he quickly backs way off in terms of volume, at points sounding almost as quiet as Yaeko Yamane, but no matter the volume, the playing from this point is of the elevated, transcendent type, finally reaching the final destination of Elysium in the coda.  The sonata cycle ends with an excellent Op 111, though the other two sonatas in the final trio are more to my taste.  The Op 126 Bagatelles end up serving as a most welcome, extended encore.  Shimizu plays fast, slow, powerfully, gently, etc as needed.  It's good, though both Brendel and Sanchez remain firmly ensconced as my favorites here.

I waited a long time to hear this cycle.  It was worth the wait.  Like most cycles from Japanese pianists that I have heard, Shimizu is very serious and earnest in his overall approach.  He does play with a sense of fun on occasion, but never with abandon, and always with focus.  He delivers superb renditions of the Op 31 sonatas, the last three sonatas are all at least excellent, some of the middle sonatas are outstanding, and he has far more hits than misses.  He does not achieve the same degree of interpretive greatness as my top ten cycles, but this is an easy second tier pick.   

Since Shimizu is now in the midst of recording his second take on the cycle, I need to decide if I should buy individual discs as they are released or wait and see if they are packaged up as a box at some point.  I'm favoring the latter today, but that could change.

Sound is excellent, especially given that these are live performances.  Often times, the audience is nearly silent, with just some quiet seat shuffling and coughs/throat clearings audible here and there, and some applause after some works.
The universe is change; life is opinion.   Marcus Aurelius, Meditations

Offline Alek Hidell

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Re: Kazune Shimizu's First Beethoven Go-Round
« Reply #2 on: January 19, 2018, 08:28:27 PM »
*Genuflects in amw and Todd's general direction*

I know I'm a dilettante in classical music, but you two make me feel like a small child among intelligent adults when you talk about this music. ???

Thanks. Seriously. :)
"When I give food to the poor, they call me a saint. When I ask why they are poor, they call me a communist." - Hélder Pessoa Câmara

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