Author Topic: The Asian Invasion  (Read 9950 times)

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Offline aukhawk

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Re: The Asian Invasion
« Reply #100 on: January 05, 2018, 03:09:08 AM »

Klara Min is yet another Korean pianist with a fine pedagogical pedigree making a first appearance in my collection.  ... ...

The 2015 recording was made in Sono Luminus Studios, and not unexpectedly, sound is superb.  The close microphone placement definitely benefits the quieter playing more, though maybe a tad more space could have benefitted the loudest passages.  I look forward to hearing more from Ms Min.

Such as her Chopin Mazurkas, recorded in 2012 and for a different label, Delos.



Programming is a problem - I mean who wants to listen to 17 consecutive Mazurkas?  12 of these are in a minor key, which made the disc very attractive to me, and for the most part this is quiet and contemplative music.  So much so that the two C major Mazurkas played back to back plumb in the middle of the recital come as a bit of a rude interruption.  I'm no expert on Chopin style, but Klara Min seems me to adopt a neutral approach, gentle but with great clarity and very well recorded, that lets the music shine through.  Very enjoyable - but maybe over two or three sessions, 5 or 6 Mazurkas at a time is enough!

Offline Todd

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Re: The Asian Invasion
« Reply #101 on: January 08, 2018, 06:17:36 AM »



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

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Re: The Asian Invasion
« Reply #102 on: January 15, 2018, 06:37:00 AM »



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

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

Good stuff.
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Offline amw

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Re: The Asian Invasion
« Reply #103 on: January 15, 2018, 11:49:17 AM »
I’m a fan of her playing in general but didn’t know this existed, so thanks...

Offline Todd

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Re: The Asian Invasion
« Reply #104 on: January 22, 2018, 06:26:37 AM »



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

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

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

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Re: The Asian Invasion
« Reply #105 on: January 29, 2018, 06:26:44 AM »



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

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

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

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

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

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Re: The Asian Invasion
« Reply #106 on: February 01, 2018, 04:28:23 AM »


Ji Goldberg Variations, worth hearing, some staggering of voices and unusual ornaments. Entertaining.
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Offline Todd

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Re: The Asian Invasion
« Reply #107 on: February 05, 2018, 06:25:45 AM »



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

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

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

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Re: The Asian Invasion
« Reply #108 on: February 12, 2018, 06:27:37 AM »



The King is dead!  Long live the Queen!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Re: The Asian Invasion
« Reply #109 on: February 19, 2018, 06:30:41 AM »



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

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

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Re: The Asian Invasion
« Reply #110 on: February 26, 2018, 06:24:59 AM »



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

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

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

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

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Re: The Asian Invasion
« Reply #111 on: March 05, 2018, 06:27:46 AM »



When I signed up for Amazon Music Unlimited, many thousands of interesting titles became available to me, and when I did a quick search for the Hammerklavier, many of the usual suspects appeared in the result list, but so did some unknown ones, like this one.  This disc is from the CD Baby label, meaning it was most likely self-produced by the pianist.  Said pianist, Makiko Hirata, was born in Japan and started her training there before moving to the US and studying at the Juilliard and taking her Bachelor's at Manhattan School of Music and her Master's at New York University.  She's done the competing and performing thing, though some of it with B- and C-list collaborators, not that there's anything wrong with that.

The disc is a mixed rep affair, with Scarlatti's K5 and K119 sonatas opening the disc, the 106 filling the middle, and Esa-Pekka Salonen's Dichotomie, from the year 2000, ending the disc.  The two Scarlatti pieces are nicely done, but they don't stand out in the manner of, say, Pletnev or Hinrichs or Kamenz, and the piano is recorded efficiently rather than luxuriously.  The Beethoven opens with Hirata playing the Allegro at a nicely paced 10'25".  Sure, it could have been faster, but it could have also been slower.  Hirata uses personal accenting and rubato to good effect, and keeps things nicely clear.  Here and there things don't flow especially well, but that sounds due to interpretive choices.  Dynamic swings aren't the widest, but that may be due to the recording and/or streaming.  Hirata's tone is generally lean and pointed as well, which helps make the piece sound classical in mien.  The Scherzo is stylistically similar, though the middle section finds the pianist scampering frenetically, which here is a good thing.  The Adagio is moderately paced at 17'37", and Hirata imparts a bit of fire early, but for the most part the playing is cool and detached rather than desolate and moving, intensely or otherwise, at least until near the end.  The final movement starts with a tense Largo with some passages played a bit too fast.  The Allegro starts with a big mash of notes and then transitions to a high-speed, high excitement fugue with less than world class clarity.  Overall, it's a middle of the pack type recording.  Salonen's two movement piece is something new for me.  The first movement, Mécanisme, blasts out of the gate, with flurries of notes hurled at the listener.  Composer short-hand might be a blend of Prokofiev and Stravinsky and Antheil and human-played Nancarrow, but Salonen is his own man with his own voice, and he quickly and smoothly and flawlessly transitions between nearly brutal passages and something more reserved.  Hirata seems quite comfortable here, too.  The second movement, Organisme, retains the obviously modern sound, but it is not as aggressive.  That written, it's hardly easy listening.  It is appealing in its revved up, Minimalism-informed style.  This is the kind of work that Yeol Eum Son or Markus Bellheim might make even better, but Ms Hirata does fine work.

A few audible pops while streaming indicate that a secure copy of the recording was not made.
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Offline Todd

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Re: The Asian Invasion
« Reply #112 on: March 12, 2018, 05:29:11 AM »



Japanese conductor Eiji Oue might be considered cheating a little for this thread, rather like Myung Whun Chung, but I'll cheat.  I've never heard Oue in Mahler, and this made for a good opportunity.  Oue's take is different than most others.  There's a Celibidachean element to it in that this recording comes in at a hefty 95'+.  There's also a focus on detail and tinkering everywhere.  The over thirty-one minute long Andante comodo starts off sounding quite beautiful, and in many places it stays that way, but an also slightly off, slightly eerie-cum-despondent sound can be heard, and that's all fine.  What fascinates and both simultaneously attracts and slightly repels are some of the numerous small touches.  Oue extends note values here, there, and everywhere, sometimes more discreetly than others.  When he does it with the brass, it's the most prominent, but other sections get their turns.  Some passages will start haltingly to then lurch forward.  The movement loses some of its overall cohesion, but some of the individual ideas are impossible to ignore.  Too, though no one would ever confuse the NDR band for Fluffy's Berliners, some of the string playing is quite lovely, with some tremolos whispered out.  Sometimes, in the slowest passages, the whole movement seems on the verge of collapsing.  That's not to say there's not something appealing in that.  Im Tempo eines gemachlichen Landlers comes in at a lengthy 19'08", often sounds lethargic and drained of any dance like rhythm, exaggerated or grotesque.  Some may very well find the distended tempi grotesque in its own right, and the few times Oue whips the band into a frenzy, he them turns around and slows things way down.  Some passages have almost every gesture emphasized, and others none.  It is, shall we say, a very non-standard reading.  The Rondo Burleske, at 15'18", is also slower than normal, but the overall effect on the music is not quite as extreme as in the first two movements, though this take is not a high voltage, violent take.  One benefit of the broad approach is that one gets to listen to details at one's leisure.  The concluding Adagio is also slow at just over a half-hour, but slow final movements are much more common in my listening experience.  It's in line with other emotive slow readings.  Oue gets some incredibly delicate, sweet playing from the violins early on, and as the movement goes on, it becomes a sorrowful lament, and the coda and the closing pages, after a very long pause, take a suitably long time to deliver.  It's the easiest movement to digest as it sounds most standard.  Sometimes throughout the work, the corporate playing in the live recording sounds a bit taxed, but nothing to detract from the proceedings.

Sound even streaming is excellent, which is common for Exton.  While not a first choice, and at times unique to the point of weirdness, there's something compelling here.  I may have to plump for an optical disc or download.
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Online Jeffrey Smith

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Re: The Asian Invasion
« Reply #113 on: March 12, 2018, 07:08:31 PM »



Japanese conductor Eiji Oue might be considered cheating a little for this thread, rather like Myung Whun Chung, but I'll cheat.  I've never heard Oue in Mahler, and this made for a good opportunity.  Oue's take is different than most others.  There's a Celibidachean element to it in that this recording comes in at a hefty 95'+.  There's also a focus on detail and tinkering everywhere.  The over thirty-one minute long Andante comodo starts off sounding quite beautiful, and in many places it stays that way, but an also slightly off, slightly eerie-cum-despondent sound can be heard, and that's all fine.  What fascinates and both simultaneously attracts and slightly repels are some of the numerous small touches.  Oue extends note values here, there, and everywhere, sometimes more discreetly than others.  When he does it with the brass, it's the most prominent, but other sections get their turns.  Some passages will start haltingly to then lurch forward.  The movement loses some of its overall cohesion, but some of the individual ideas are impossible to ignore.  Too, though no one would ever confuse the NDR band for Fluffy's Berliners, some of the string playing is quite lovely, with some tremolos whispered out.  Sometimes, in the slowest passages, the whole movement seems on the verge of collapsing.  That's not to say there's not something appealing in that.  Im Tempo eines gemachlichen Landlers comes in at a lengthy 19'08", often sounds lethargic and drained of any dance like rhythm, exaggerated or grotesque.  Some may very well find the distended tempi grotesque in its own right, and the few times Oue whips the band into a frenzy, he them turns around and slows things way down.  Some passages have almost every gesture emphasized, and others none.  It is, shall we say, a very non-standard reading.  The Rondo Burleske, at 15'18", is also slower than normal, but the overall effect on the music is not quite as extreme as in the first two movements, though this take is not a high voltage, violent take.  One benefit of the broad approach is that one gets to listen to details at one's leisure.  The concluding Adagio is also slow at just over a half-hour, but slow final movements are much more common in my listening experience.  It's in line with other emotive slow readings.  Oue gets some incredibly delicate, sweet playing from the violins early on, and as the movement goes on, it becomes a sorrowful lament, and the coda and the closing pages, after a very long pause, take a suitably long time to deliver.  It's the easiest movement to digest as it sounds most standard.  Sometimes throughout the work, the corporate playing in the live recording sounds a bit taxed, but nothing to detract from the proceedings.

Sound even streaming is excellent, which is common for Exton.  While not a first choice, and at times unique to the point of weirdness, there's something compelling here.  I may have to plump for an optical disc or download.

Hmm, I am interested. But Amazon offers only MP3, and I would want a physical CD.  Any leads?

Offline Todd

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Re: The Asian Invasion
« Reply #114 on: March 13, 2018, 05:21:46 AM »
Hmm, I am interested. But Amazon offers only MP3, and I would want a physical CD.  Any leads?


Amazon Japan or HMV Japan.
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Offline Todd

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Re: The Asian Invasion
« Reply #115 on: March 19, 2018, 05:25:43 AM »



It seemed like a good time to hear a new take on some DSCH.  I opted for a violinist new to me in the form of Bonjiu Koo, in what appears to be her only recording, from 2011.  The Sony Korea execs went almost all-out, enlisting conductor Maxim Shostakovich to lead the North Czech Philharmonic Orchestra in the main work.  Pianist Sergio Posada Gomez was tapped for the Op 134 Violin Sonata and a couple Op 34 Preludes, transcribed for piano and violin, that end the disc.  The packaging is of the posh cardboard trifold type, and the covers and booklet contain seven shots of the violinist, two of her violin, one of the violinist and conductor, and each of the conductor and band.  The pianist gets no love.  But hey, the fashion stylist gets a name check.  Ms Koo was born, raised, and mostly educated in South Korea, though she earned her PhD at Yale.  She appears to perform mostly in her home country and with B- and C-list orchestras in Europe.  To her credit, she owns the copyright to this recording.

In the Concerto, the Nocturne is dark hued and ominous and rich.  Koo's tone is likewise dark, and it seems like she might be spotlit some; though her tone sounds nice, it does not strike me as big in the sense of someone like Zukerman, though the richness is reminiscent of Pinky's.  As the music progresses and the orchestral accompaniment starts to grow weightier, Koo's playing takes on a greater sense of urgency, but both are fleeting.  The Scherzo does not start off in particularly demonic fashion, and Shostakovich and the engineers keep Koo the center of attention.  It's not until almost three minutes in that the orchestra and soloist ratchet up intensity, with the more effective change coming from the orchestra.  As the movement progresses, one keeps waiting for the playing to catch fire, but for the most part it doesn't.  One can listen to Oistrakh or Tetzlaff for something more demonic.  That written, a quick comparison with the more superficially exciting Benedetti shows that Koo's sound stays fuller and darker throughout, with no edginess like in the Scot's performance.  The Passacaglia opens in suitably ominous and potent fashion, but that's because it's orchestral.  The playing sounds a bit slow, which ends up jelling with the soloist's conception, and in this movement, Koo's rich tone and sorrowful playing work much better.  The Burlesque closer is higher energy, but ultimately it, too, seems a bit contained.  While not the strongest version I've heard, there are some nice things to hear, including Koo's almost always rich tone. 

The Violin Sonata goes better.  Recorded in Skoda Studio in Vienna, in a small space, with Gomez using a Bosendorfer, both instrumentalists sound big and vibrant.  This is late, at times bitter, and sarcastic DSCH.  Koo's tone becomes more astringent in the biting Allegretto, and the duo plays with weighty aggression.  The use of a Bosendorfer was a good musical choice; it offers even more of a contrast with Koo's playing than a Steinway would.  The Largo closer starts with a plodding sound from the piano, banged out.  Sometimes in the movement, Koo sounds almost as though she's playing a viola, until she goes up in register.  It's really quite effective.  As the movement progresses, some of the playing becomes almost unbearably tense.  It's really quite fine.  I've been remiss in my collecting duties as it pertains to this work, having only Keulen/Brautigam in my collection.  This newcomer is decidedly preferable.

The disc closes with Op 34, numbers 10 and 15, with Koo playing the right hand part on violin.  Typically, I'm skeptical of such chicanery, and if I'm not completely sold on the idea, it's executed nicely enough here.

Exemplary sound.  It is not as dynamic and the Tetzlaff recording in the concerto, though the sonata pulls off a nice "they are here" sound. 
The universe is change; life is opinion.   Marcus Aurelius, Meditations

Offline Todd

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Re: The Asian Invasion
« Reply #116 on: March 26, 2018, 05:17:56 AM »



[This will also be posted in "New" Music Log.]


What an age we live in when not one, but two projects to record the complete keyboard sonatas of Leopold Koželuch are currently underway.  Kemp English is recording the cycle for Grand Piano* while Jenny Soonjin Kim is doing so for Brilliant Classics.  Mr English is further into his cycle than Ms Kim, but as Ms Kim's also satisfies my desire to listen to Asian artists, I decided to have this twofer be my first listen to an all-Koželuch release. 

Ms Kim was born in Korea and earned her bachelor's in music from Seoul National University before pursuing additional studies first at the Salzburg Mozarteum, then UCLA, and finally earning a PhD in Historical Performance Practices from Claremont Graduate University, where she teaches.  So she comes to this endeavor with a hefty academic background.  Unsurprisingly, given her background, she uses a fortepiano in what at times sound like live recordings made at Kresge Chapel on the campus of Claremont School of Theology.  As to the composer, Koželuch is one of those lesser known classical era composers whose name I've seen but whose music I've never really delved into.  Born in 1747 in what is now the Czech Republic, he studied for a while in his hometown before studying with his cousin, one František Xaver Dušek, a rather well known musical personage.  Koželuch apparently was quite famous in his day and cranked out many works in multiple genres, and when Mozart died, Koželuch took over some of his court functions. 

To the music.  This twofer contains the first eight of over fifty sonatas.  All but one are in three movements, with the outlier a two movement job.  All more or less adhere to the common fast-slow-fast structure.  I'd be exaggerating if I wrote that these sonatas rise to the same level as the best of Mozart's, or even the very best efforts from Haydn or CPE Bach, but they definitely have their formidable charms.  The best ones on offer best (sometimes handily) the lesser works from the bigger names.  Aided by the crisp sound of the fortepiano, the fast movements are clean and clear and generally ebullient, which is aided by Kim's obviously excellent playing.  Unsurprisingly, the slow movements lack the same degree of lyricism that modern grands can offer with their lengthier decays and greater sustain capabilities, but the softer sound of the instrument offsets that to a significant degree.  The first two sonatas sort of sound like elaborate background music, but come the opening Allegro con brio of Op 1, No 3, one encounters music as fun as anything by Haydn.  One also hears deft mood changes, including some music that satisfyingly dramatic without ever becoming heavy.  Nice.  The Poco Adagio that follows is fairly Mozartean and very nicely played by Kim, and the concluding Rondeau offers more contrasting material that moves beyond simple fast-slow-fast.  So one needs to wait until only the third sonata for something ear-catching.  The two movement Op 2, No 3 sonata starts off with a Largo - Poco presto movement that opens and closes with slow, dramatic music, with more spirited music in the Poco presto section, and ends with a fun Allegretto.  It's a piece that an interventionist pianist could potentially make a meal of.  The set ends with a nicknamed sonata, "The Hunt", and it's the best thing on the twofer.  The opening Allegro molto is rhythmically and dynamically bold.  The very long second movement - eleven minutes here - is an Andante and variations, with the theme an original one of not a little sophistication.  Kim demonstrates the dynamic range of her instrument with some unexpectedly pointed sforzandi (and this from streaming), and Koželuch's variations have some nice invention in them.  The concluding Rondeau is quick, dynamic, and fun.  Though Kim plays it splendidly and with plenty of dynamic range, this work begs to be played on a modern grand. 

This twofer does make me wonder what the second completed twofer offers - more of the same is my initial guess - as well as what Ms Kim sounds like in other repertoire.  As luck would have it, she recorded core rep items for Arabesque Records, so I can find out.  Also, it would be interesting to hear how these works fare when played on a modern grand, so I will give one or two or more of Mr English's discs a shot at some point.  I will almost certainly be listening to Ms Kim's second volume in the near future. 






I enjoyed the first volume of Jenny Soonjin Kim's Koželuch's sonatas enough that I figured I should listen to her second volume right away.  Another twofer with another eight sonatas, it picks up where the prior volume left off.  Sonatas range from two to four movements this time around.  The pieces sound stylistically, and more important, qualitatively equal, or really close to, those of Haydn certainly, and maybe even Mozart.  Dynamic shifts are more pronounced in some of the sonatas than in the first volume.  While all the sonatas hold their appeal, lucky Number Thirteen stands out as especially enjoyable, and brimming over with ideas.  And if the Fourteenth seems something of a step down, with a slow movement that overstays its welcome, all is well again in the most excellent Fifteenth Sonata, in E Minor, Op 13, No 3, which has hints of drama in just the right places and proportions.  So does the tripartite opening the Sixteenth sonata, which has a more agitated K457 vibe that's almost proto-Beethovenian.  Kim again delivers all the sonatas with some very fine playing.  When she's done, if Brilliant issues the complete set, I may spring for it, provided the modern grand alternative is not better.  (The downside to having two ongoing complete sets is that both may be good enough to warrant purchase.) 



* Mr English also wrote his dissertation on Koželuch's keyboard sonatas.  It is available online: https://digital.library.adelaide.edu.au/dspace/bitstream/2440/84697/8/02whole.pdf
The universe is change; life is opinion.   Marcus Aurelius, Meditations

Offline Todd

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Re: The Asian Invasion
« Reply #117 on: April 02, 2018, 04:19:04 AM »



This disc by Collegium Vocale Seoul caught my eye when it was released, but importing a physical copy was too expensive for my liking, so I back-burnered it.  This is another perfect disc for streaming as it is more a themed disc than a disc devoted to one or two works or groups of works by one or two composers.  It is comprised of eleven different works by as many composers, ranging chronologically from Palestrina to Nystedt.  Each individual piece is short, and the stylistic differences make for nice contrasts, and the disc ends up being successful if for nothing else than it serves as an advertisement for the fine ensemble.  The singers all sound splendid and they work together beautifully, which is a good thing since only a couple pieces include an organ accompaniment.  Perhaps one might wish for a bit more interpretive style, but in terms of execution there’s nothing to kvetch about.

The ensemble has also recorded Durufle’s Requiem, so I may give that a listen at some point.   
The universe is change; life is opinion.   Marcus Aurelius, Meditations

Offline Todd

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Re: The Asian Invasion
« Reply #118 on: April 09, 2018, 04:18:29 AM »



This is Li-Wei Qin's third appearance in this thread, and the first as a soloist.  This recording of the Walton Cello Concerto, with revised ending, and the Elgar Cello Concerto, with Britten's Four Sea Interludes sandwiched in between, appears on both the ABC Classics and Decca labels.  I picked up the ABC branded version as an Amazon Add-on.  Qin is joined by Chinese conductor Zhang Yi at the podium.

The disc opens with Walton's work.  Qin is spotlit, which poses no issues at all given his gorgeous playing.  There is no passage that he plays with anything less than great beauty and nuance.  Indeed, one might almost hope for some more intense playing, or one would if Qin's playing wasn't irresistibly beautiful, lyrical, and nimble.  The dude seems to play everything with consummate ease, up high, down low, in the middle, and at all speeds and dynamic levels.  In the Elgar, Qin plays with sometimes generous vibrato in a heart-on-sleeve, lyrical style that works just splendidly.  I doubt it would displace established favorites for anyone, but that's not at all to say that the playing is not splendid in every regard and that it can withstand comparison to even du Pre or Fournier, though it's different from both.  When Qin revs up, his playing is really quite delightful, displaying more of that effortlessness evident in the Walton. 

The Britten Four Sea Interludes may lack the ultimate punch that Colin Davis brings, though not by much, and Yi, as he does throughout the disc, leads the LPO is magnificent, beautiful, meticulous playing.  Add in fully up to modern snuff sound, and this is a peach of a disc.
The universe is change; life is opinion.   Marcus Aurelius, Meditations

Offline Todd

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Re: The Asian Invasion
« Reply #119 on: April 16, 2018, 04:24:33 AM »



Last year, on a whim, I picked up Sonig Tchakerian's recording of Bach's Solo Violin Sonatas and Partitas from Decca Italy and ended up with near or actual personal reference set.  As part of my continued exploration of recording by Asian artists, or now titles released in the Asian market only, I picked up Suyoen Kim's 2011 recording for DG.  I was hoping for another home run.  I didn't quite get it.

Don't get me wrong, as also evidenced by Kim's playing on her Mozartiana disc, Kim has got a hefty amount of talent, and she knows this music.  (One can watch a recital on YouTube where she plays the complete collection in one go.)  There's certainly nothing at all wrong with her playing or interpretation.  The overall tempi are slightly broad, but that's perfectly fine.  She's very somber, very serious, almost devotional much of the time.  That's a perfectly acceptable approach.  Her playing does sound a tad edgy on occasion, but that's not a problem, either.  In fact, there is no real problem.  It is a good recording.  Some of the individual movements are much more than that.  The Andante of BWV1003, for instance, sound gorgeous and moving, and BWV1005 as a whole is superb, but the opening Adagio is something special.  But the set as a whole lacks the unique, personal, almost or actual idiosyncratic vibrance of Tchakerian.  It is not as polished as Grumiaux.  It is not as precise as Tetzlaff I.  It is a fine addition to my collection, but I don't see it ever becoming my first choice in this music.

Sound is excellent, though the reverb sometimes sounds artificially enhanced.

On an irrelevant note, this set comes in a package new to me.  It's an extra thick case with a disc on each side of the case, sort of like two-thirds of an old-style, fat double CD case.
The universe is change; life is opinion.   Marcus Aurelius, Meditations