Author Topic: The Asian Invasion  (Read 14873 times)

0 Members and 1 Guest are viewing this topic.

Offline Todd

  • Veteran member
  • *
  • Posts: 15507
Re: The Asian Invasion
« Reply #120 on: April 23, 2018, 04:26:54 AM »



Anna Kurasawa is a name new to me.  Born and raised in Japan, she lived and studied in her home country until graduating from the Toho Gakuen College of Music, and thereafter she moved to Germany to study there, as well as in France.  Along the way, she won various competitions.  This debut disc of Brahms and Rachmaninoff was released by Naxos Japan.

The disc opens with the Brahms Third Sonata.  Kurasawa starts off with a bass-rich, weighty, and quite slow Allegro maestoso that comes in at 11'40".  Sometimes, in such slow recordings, musical lines can be stretched to the breaking point, but that doesn't happen here.  Instead, the playing becomes more episodic and more sectionalized than normal.  That doesn't help.  Kurasawa plays the Andante espressivo at a more conventional tempo.  She avoids the more intimate approach of FFG and instead, like others, keeps the approach larger in scale, though it nonetheless sounds attractive, if not perhaps as flowing as other versions.  Kurasawa reverts to the slower than normal pace in the Scherzo, which makes it kind of trudge along as a result.  The same applies to the Intermezzo.  The finale, too, is slow, though here, like in the opener, she creates a nice sense of scale.  Overall, the sonata is slower than I prefer and doesn't match up to preferred versions.

The Rachmaninoff Moments Musicaux don't display the same excessive slowness, but they are on the generally broad side, which is, or can be, fine.  Unfortunately, Kurasawa doesn't really play up Rachmaninoff's harmonic richness well, nor does she dazzle with virtuosic display.  She's not really very romantic, either.  The playing often seems kind of rote and drab.

Here's a case where streaming is ideal; I would have been more disappointed had I shelled out green for this.
The universe is change; life is opinion.   Marcus Aurelius, Meditations

Offline Todd

  • Veteran member
  • *
  • Posts: 15507
Re: The Asian Invasion
« Reply #121 on: April 30, 2018, 04:24:55 AM »



It took me a while to get to Klara Min's Chopin Mazurkas disc.  It's been available for streaming for a good long while, but my experience with her Scriabin strongly suggested that a minimum of sixteen bit resolution is needed to appreciate what she does with the music.  And what she does here is similar to what she does with Scriabin: her tone is slightly bright and her playing is of the supremely fastidious and very personal sort.  While her rhythmic sense appeals, she lacks the more overtly dance-like rhythm of some other pianists.  Rather, Min lavishes immense attention to matters dynamic and tempo related.  Her dynamic gradations are so finely controlled as to invite - nay, demand - hushed, fully attentive listening.  Too, her rubato, with the minutest of minute shifts in tempo, demand attention.  The Mazurkas are, of course, short works, yet as presented here, each one is a self-contained work with nearly infinite details to attend to, and sometimes the result is that a two minute piece, though not slow, seems to go on longer than expected as Min will make the relative note value and dynamic shadings between two notes stand out, and she will render an arpeggio a series of events chained together rather than something dashed off.  Sometimes one forgets what one is listening to.  In some ways, Min goes further than Vassily Primakov or even Jean-Marc Luisada in terms of personalizing and micro-managing the pieces.  That's not a bad thing, not at all.  The only complaint I have is that she did not record the complete set of Mazurkas.  Min's discography is thin, though as luck would have it, her web-site states that she recorded for Steinway & Sons this month, with the release slated for June.  I don't know what she recorded, but I suspect I'll listen to it.   
The universe is change; life is opinion.   Marcus Aurelius, Meditations

Offline Todd

  • Veteran member
  • *
  • Posts: 15507
Re: The Asian Invasion
« Reply #122 on: May 07, 2018, 04:28:10 AM »



Takashi Asahina is a conductor I have long associated with Bruckner more than anything.  I figured now was as good a time as any to stream him conducting something else.  I settled on Beethoven.  This complete symphony cycle is recorded with the Osaka Philharmonic.  You know, his orchestra, as in the one he established in 1947 and led until his death.  This cycle was recorded in the year 2000, the year before his death.  He was 92 years old at the time.  This was his final presentation of the cycle.

Asahina's Beethoven is old school and that is evident from the opening bars of the First.  Tempi are broad, sometimes very broad.  Flashy gestures are a no-go.  Reverence is a must.  He's conducts like Takahiro Sonoda plays piano.  And there's nothing wrong with that, not at all.  The first two symphonies sound very stately, and more than occasionally reserved, the First relatively more than the Second.  That's not to say that they sound stodgy and don't flow, because they always sound forward-moving, and the finale of the second has some pep in its step.  The Eroica is very slow.  As in almost late career Carlo Maria Giulini slow.  He takes nearly as long as the Italian's LAPO take in the opening movement, and even longer in the funeral march, where he's in Celi territory.  Listeners who like slow burn Thirds have a higher probability of liking this than people who prefer speed, and Asahina does an estimable job of building up momentum and scale, but he doesn't achieve Giulini's ultimate power and granduer.  The funeral march, despite its length, never sags, and the Scherzo is hefty yet energetic.  The final theme and variations comes in at over thirteen minutes, and while it does sound quite slow, it is large of scale and possessed of seriousness and grandeuer and works well within such a broad conception.  Asahina's style works well overall here.  It doesn't work so well in the Fourth.  The first movement is on the slow side, but it's weighty, and the second and third movements sound similar, but the finale is just way too slow and heavy.  The Fifth is a slow, weighty, old-school reading, and one needn't listen beyond the lengthy fermata at the end of the somewhat famous opening to understand that.  How much one likes such an approach overall may or may not determine how much likes this reading.  I like it quite a bit, though the too slow tempo prevent it from being a favorite.  Slow tempi do not necessarily prevent maximum enjoyment in the Pastorale, and that's the case with this performance.  The first three movements move along at a leisurely pace, to the point that some may find the playing too slow, but it flows.  The Sturm is hampered just a bit by the slow tempo, but there is plenty of oomph.  Asahina then closes with a too-grand-but-so-what? and quite lovely Shepherd's Song.  It's a highlight of the cycle.  The Seventh, as expected, is broad of tempo and grand of gesture, especially in the often massive, dirge-like Allegretto.  The Presto is very dignified, but also sounds like an Adagio most of the time.  The somewhat stately Allegro con brio works well, especially when Asahina brings it in the coda.  Overall, it's decent, with that monumental Allegretto good enough to stick in the memory.  The Eighth falls right into line with the rest of the cycle to this point, and ultimately that means it is less than ideally satisfactory.  More snap is needed.  Fans of slower versions of this symphony may be more enthusiastic.  Not surprisingly, Asahina's Ninth is broad of tempo and stately of presentation, and also unsurprisingly, the Adagio is very fine indeed.  Generally, I like higher wattage takes here (eg, Munch), but Asahina's is a very fine example of its kind. 

This set offers yet another example of the value of streaming.  At its current price, I doubt I'd buy a physical copy of the cycle, but I got to hear it anyway, and in the event it ends up a budget issue at some point, I may buy it just to hear better what the engineers captured.
The universe is change; life is opinion.   Marcus Aurelius, Meditations

Offline Todd

  • Veteran member
  • *
  • Posts: 15507
Re: The Asian Invasion
« Reply #123 on: May 14, 2018, 03:41:19 AM »



Yurino Izumi is so obscure that the only reason I stumbled upon this disc is because it showed up in Amazon Music's queue while I perused for new Schubert recordings.  Ms Izumi, per her poorly designed and maintained web-site, was born in Japan in 1983, studied there and in Paris, won a few competitions and awards, and currently concertizes.  This is her only commercially available recording as far as I can tell, and I opted to stream it.

The disc includes eight Liszt transcriptions of Schubert lieder and the D894 sonata.  The lieder transcriptions for the most part sound beautiful and lyrical and almost always favor the melody over the accompaniment.  The combination of streaming and less than A-list engineering for the live recording mean that dynamics are not world class, but that's more or less fine.  Sometimes, as in Die Forelle, Izumi's playing fits well, but in neither Gretchen am Spinnrade nor Erlkoenig does she really generate quite enough dramatic tension, though the latter does possess ample scale.  In the sonata, Izumi takes her time with a 19'11" Molto moderato e cantabile where too compressed or limited dynamics are offset by a lovely cantabile style.  While not devoid of some darker or stormier passages, the opener ends up being mostly about lyrical beauty.  The Andante is a bit slower and more introspective most of the time, and more beautiful yet.  It also ends up having more intense playing as well, indicating that at least part of the first movement's comparatively narrow dynamic range was an interpretive choice.  In the Allegro moderato Izumi somehow manages to play even more beautifully than before in the slow music, and she deploys some discreet rubato to good effect.  Unsurprisingly, Izumi ends by playing a lovely Allegretto. 

The disc is entertaining enough overall, and streaming probably doesn't offer the very best possible sound, but I think I'll pass on buying a physical copy, though I would not be averse to listening to any potential future releases from Ms Izumi.
The universe is change; life is opinion.   Marcus Aurelius, Meditations

Offline Todd

  • Veteran member
  • *
  • Posts: 15507
Re: The Asian Invasion
« Reply #124 on: May 21, 2018, 03:46:38 AM »



I found Eri Ikezi's sole disc, for Newport Classics, whilst hunting for Amazon Add-ons.  Ms Ekezi was born in Japan and received her early training there.  She made her Carnegie Hall debut at the age off 11, and she studied at Juilliard. She is also a noteworthy ultra-obscure pianist because she changed careers entirely.  She now works in France as a culinary journalist and artisanal chocolatier.  She has been involved with the website The Chocolate Life for years.  In addition to her Juilliard studies, she also has a degree in math from UC Berkley and a Master's in International Economic Policy from Columbia.  That's a pretty heady CV for a chocolatier.  Another minor note, the producer of this recording, David Dubal, dedicated his book about Vladimir Horowitz to her. 

The disc opens with Brahms' Second Piano Sonata.  The recording is bass light, and Ikezi's upper registers sound flinty or brittle on occasion, but she seems to have no difficulty in the opening movement or Scherzo in terms of generating intensity or forward drive.  Truly large scale is lacking, though that is likely at least partly due to the recording.  The Andante is a bit angular, but nicely done.  The Finale starts off quiet, and Ikezi demonstrates excellent control, but in the loudest music, the playing comes close to banging, though scale increases.  Overall, it's a serviceable reading.  Next is Ferrucio Busoni's Sonatina No 6, "Super Carmen".  I've only ever heard Egon Petri's version, and my fuzzy memory is of heavy, virtuosic, unsatisfying music and playing, which is repeated here.  Schubert's D760 follows, from which the disc takes its name.  Ikezi tears into the opening.  It's not the fastest version out there, though it is swift, but it's a wall of sound.  She quickly backs off, but subtlety isn't really the name of the game here; forward motion is.  While Ikezi generates some lovely melodies, her accompaniment is almost always twitchy, raring to go.  The pianist punches out sforzandi with the best of them all throughout the work.  The Adagio finds Ikezi playing much more slowly, with a sort of funeral march mien at the outset, and the playing takes on a Lisztian feel later on.  This is grandly conceived, extroverted, gallery pleasing Schubert of near-symphonic scale.  The Presto and especially the Allegro are all energy and forward drive, sometimes to the edge of aggression.  It's not much more than an exciting surface reading, but as far as that goes, it's good.  The best work on the disc is Chopin's Fourth Scherzo.  Of the unabashedly virtuosic sort, with ample dynamic gradation and tonal variation, Ikezi displays more affinity for the music.  While not the best I've heard, this is a big league take, or at least a Triple-A take that bests some big names.

Ms Ikezi certainly had the chops to play some big pieces, and may still.  Better production and repertoire choices may have made for a better debut disc, but in any event, it appears likely that this disc will end up her entire recorded legacy.  It's not bad.
The universe is change; life is opinion.   Marcus Aurelius, Meditations

Offline Mookalafalas

  • Veteran member
  • *
  • Posts: 2753
  • Location: Taiwan
  • Currently Listening to:
    Telemann, Russian music and musicians, Piano sonatas
Re: The Asian Invasion
« Reply #125 on: May 21, 2018, 05:35:09 AM »
 I hope her life isn't as tragic and messed up as it sounds. Sounds like 3 huge and hard won careers thrown away.
It's all good...

Offline Brian

  • Veteran member
  • *
  • *
  • Posts: 20256
    • Brian's blog
Re: The Asian Invasion
« Reply #126 on: May 22, 2018, 06:59:36 AM »
I hope her life isn't as tragic and messed up as it sounds. Sounds like 3 huge and hard won careers thrown away.
Do you know something we don't? Is there a biography somewhere online? I read your post before Todd's and thought maybe she was dead or missing, but instead she's...a chocolatier? There are worse fates!

Offline Mookalafalas

  • Veteran member
  • *
  • Posts: 2753
  • Location: Taiwan
  • Currently Listening to:
    Telemann, Russian music and musicians, Piano sonatas
Re: The Asian Invasion
« Reply #127 on: May 22, 2018, 04:14:34 PM »
Do you know something we don't? Is there a biography somewhere online? I read your post before Todd's and thought maybe she was dead or missing, but instead she's...a chocolatier? There are worse fates!

   She spent thousands of hours to become a concert pianist, and gave it all up, 4 years getting a math degree from America's top U and gave it up, and an equally impressive MA and gave it up. To me it sounds like someone with staggeringly great talents, who pursues enormous goals, and then upon achieving them feels some compulsion to throw them away.
It's all good...

Offline Todd

  • Veteran member
  • *
  • Posts: 15507
Re: The Asian Invasion
« Reply #128 on: May 28, 2018, 04:03:01 AM »



Korean pianist William Youn caught my eye when he released the second disc in his now complete Mozart piano sonata cycle.  One off discs are common; second discs often presage even more to come.  I decided to be patient and wait.  After all, I've got more than a few Mozart cycles.  Also, waiting afforded me the option of hearing him teamed with Nils Mönkemeyer in a Mozart collection for Sony Germany.  The extremely high-grade results increased my interest in hearing this cycle. 

Mr Youn did his early training in his home country, did some studying in the US, and ultimately moved to and studied in Germany, which is his home base now.  Youn also does a lot of work with A-list orchestras and artists, which hints at good things.  Very good things.

The first disc starts off with K282, still fresh in my memory after listening to forty-three versions in short-ish order.  Youn starts with a sensibly paced, lovely, dynamically nuanced and precisely controlled Adagio.  One marvels at his touch in almost every bar.  The all-repeats-included minuets sound both delicate and rhythmically alert, while the Allegro is light and fun.  I don't know if I'd say it quite matches my top tier, but it hardly lags far behind, easily nestling in with the second tier folks.  At least.  Next, Youn jumps to a big un' in the form of K310.  He starts the Allegro maestoso with a sense of drive and insistent left hand playing, and if it is not the last word in drama, it is driven enough in a classical sort of way.  And Youn's fingerwork is so clean.  The Andante cantabile is measured and lovely and often subdued and delicate.  One might level a charge of it sounding too delicate, too precious, but such a charge would not really be accurate.  Here's delicate playing of the most nuanced variety.  Besides, how can one not love his trills?  Anyway, the more intense middle section demonstrates that Youn can, when so inclined, play with elegant fire.  The Presto is intriguing in that Youn simultaneously holds something back but moves forward with perfectly judged everything.  In K330, Youn plays the repeat laden Allegro moderato in such a way that it's nine and half minute length wafts through the air almost breezily.  It's tempting to say the left hand playing is the draw until one repeatedly delights in the right hand melodies dispatched with such disarming ease.  The Andante cantabile is heavy on the cantabile, which works just swell.  Youn plays with a bit more projection, of the eminently tasteful variety, in the Allegretto.  It's bold but light.  The disc closes with K570. Youn keeps the Allegro both forward moving and poised, not trying to make it sound like a "late" work, but rather just more refined than some of its predecessors.  The Adagio is simple and serene, a case of doing more with less overt expression, though Youn displays his marvelous touch repeatedly throughout.  The Allegretto, with its steady rhythm, clean playing, and perfect scale ends things properly.  Nice.  Very nice.

Disc two starts off with K280.  Youn starts with some zip, but of the elegant variety.  Much nuanced dynamic shading and ornamentation is to be heard, too.  In the Adagio, Youn plays beautifully, with subtle rubato, and he maintains a classical reserve at all times, even when there's obviously something just below the surface.  Youn plays the concluding Presto at a well nigh perfect tempo, and while he adds numerous personal touches, it all sounds entirely fitting.  K311 follows.  Youn takes the con spirito designation seriously, to extremely good effect.  Light, quick, and at times playful, with discreet but not too discreet ornamentation in one spot, it delights for the duration.  The Adantino finds Youn following the con espressione designation, too, and sounds tasteful with hints of playfulness and proto-romanticism, though it falls strictly within classical bounds.  The Rondeau is spirited and clean, with Youn taking turns spotlighting melody and accompaniment with precise control.  K332 starts off with a pleasantly rushed Allegro, though that effect is fleeting.  For the most part, the movement is swift and tastefully forceful.  The Adagio is slow and deliberate and executed with an ear to forensic precision.  Youn opts for all the repeats in the Allegro Assai, and even with a brisk tempo, it comes in at 10'30".  Youn mixes things up enough to make the time fly by.  Excellent.  K545 closes the disc, and here Youn starts it off precious and restrained in the Allegro, but spices it up a bit with ornamentation.  The Andante borders on being a show-stopper.  Playful and light, the left hand playing manages to bounce along yet be mechanistically perfect while the melody is most pleasurable, with even the last two notes distinctly appealing.  The Rondo is fun with hints of fire.  Most excellent.

The third disc starts off with K279. The more resonant recording lends a bit more thickness to the already heavier sound Youn goes for - not that it's ponderous, or anything like that.  This sonata can be a long slog, and while Youn does nothing to shorten it, his touch and taste make it anything but wearying; the Allegro is satisfyingly energetic, the Andante is expressive and nuanced, and the concluding Allegro is spritely and cleanly articulated.  Yep, it's a goodun.  Next up, the critical K331.  Youn delivers a lovely Andante theme, though even more beautiful can be heard, and he adds his little touches with eminent tastefulness.  He cruises through the variations, deploying his full bag of tricks displayed to this point to excellent effect.  The way he ends some phrases and accents are especially effective.  He's not afraid to add dashes of showy playing, with said showiness always being of the appropriate sort.  Youn plays the Menuetto with much style, but also much more overt ornamentation.  Some listeners may find his embellishments a bit much.  Not me.  He then ends with a mostly light touch Alla Turca.  Even the fastest, loudest playing displays a not over the top touch.  The disc ends with a hulking, half-hour take on K533.  Youn dispatches the opening Allegro, all 10'44" of it, with an effortless lightness.  It zooms by.  The even more extended Andante is a dreamy, almost too beautiful fantasy that goes on for nearly a quarter-hour.  I didn't want it to end.  The final movement starts with a potentially too lovely Rondo and moves to a nearly as lovely Allegretto section.  If a pianist endeavors to make a Mozart sonata assume heavenly lengths, this is how to do it.

Disc four opens with K281.  Youn opens with a playful, clean Allegro.  He imbues perhaps a bit too much refinement into the Andante amoroso - it is from a youthful Mozart - but it's so incredibly well done, with such fine levels of control and beauty, that it's hard not to just revel in the playing.  The Rondeau has a sort of effortless and refined playfulness to it, making for a perfect end to an uncommonly strong rendition of the work.  Youn then proceeds to play the opening Allegro of K283 a bit heavier than expected, though it still qualifies as light.  He ornaments just so, too.  Everything sounds just right, with a gently bouncy rhythm when and where appropriate.  The Andante retains the highly refined, at times delicate, at times playful sound evident in the early sonatas.  He plays with a touch more oomph in the Presto, though nothing can deter Youn from sounding lovely.  Very nice.  K333 sounds slightly more refined yet, and includes more ornamentation in the repeat laden Allegro.  With both it and the even more beautiful Andante cantabile coming in at over ten minutes, the playing and music takes on Mozartian heavenly length again.  In the Allegretto grazioso, Youn takes the grazioso designation seriously, and plays with a light touch sure to delight.  It just flows.  The disc closes with D576.  Youn holds back a bit, luxuriating in the music, sometimes playing with extraordinary clarity, sometimes playing with a more blended sound.  The right hand playing sounds especially fine.  The Adagio adds a bit more drama, though not too much.  In the Allegretto, Youn adds a bit more heft to his left hand playing, and perhaps hints of drama, though of the unfailingly refined sort.  It's just dandy, as is the sonata as a whole, and the disc.

The final disc opens with K284, which, with Youn's penchant for observing repeats, comes in at a over twenty-six minutes, most coming from the theme and variations ending, of course.  The Allegro is generally fleet, sometimes assuming a sense of urgency.  It generates real forward momentum, making its seven minutes fly by.  Youn plays the Andante at a slightly swift speed, and keeps it flowing along.  The main show for this sonata is the final movement, and here, Youn plays the opening theme with a delicateness bordering on the precious.  The variations find the pianist playing with immense clarity of voices.  At other times, he plays with a blended, harmonically rich sound.  He also accents just swell.  He maintains a generally very peppy demeanor, too.  This work can seem too long in some cases, but not here.  Indeed, the last movement almost felt short.  K309 follows.  The Allegro con spirito has plenty of energy, but at least appealing as that is the left hand playing, which is both steady and gently undulating in volume at times.  Youn plays the Andante here with a slightly quick tempo.  It's just lovely and once again, Youn manages to make it seem to end too soon.  The concluding Rondo is peppy, offering nice but not overdone dynamic contrasts.  The cycle closes with the K475/K457 pairing.  Youn being more classical in demeanor, he doesn't go for the more outsize, overtly dramatic gestures and dynamics that Anderszewski does in his blockbuster recording from last year, which is not to say that Youn doesn't infuse some real punch and weight on the D475 quasi-opener.  Indeed, his playing offers a well-nigh perfect example of a more classical approach.  The sonata proper starts off with a Molto allegro that's stylistically identical to the Fantasy, which of course works well.  The Adagio is more delicate and beautiful, spiced up with some nice left hand playing.  Youn closes out the sonata with an Allegro assai that is occasionally punchy, occasionally rich, and pretty much always spunky.  An excellent way to end things.

Youn's the real deal.  I'll just call this a great cycle and get it out of the way.  I can't imagine anyone not finding the set at least enjoyable overall, if not a great.  But it's great.  It just is.

Sound quality is superb, though not as good as Prosseda's ongoing cycle on Decca.  This gives little Oehms Classics two of the best Mozart cycles out there.  Maybe they can release a third in the next decade.
The universe is change; life is opinion.   Marcus Aurelius, Meditations

Offline betterthanfine

  • Full Member
  • *
  • Posts: 262
  • Location: The Netherlands
Re: The Asian Invasion
« Reply #129 on: May 28, 2018, 01:19:39 PM »
^Listening to his recording of K310 on Spotify right now. Impressive indeed! Many thanks for the review, Todd.

Offline amw

  • Veteran member
  • *
  • Posts: 3686
Re: The Asian Invasion
« Reply #130 on: June 01, 2018, 04:55:19 AM »
You should check out Youn's Davidsbündlertänze on Ars Produktion as well; I just re-listened to it by chance and it seems like it could be your kind of thing.

Offline Todd

  • Veteran member
  • *
  • Posts: 15507
Re: The Asian Invasion
« Reply #131 on: June 02, 2018, 05:00:59 AM »
You should check out Youn's Davidsbündlertänze on Ars Produktion as well; I just re-listened to it by chance and it seems like it could be your kind of thing.


Noted.  I suspect I will be listening to more from Mr Youn in the future.
The universe is change; life is opinion.   Marcus Aurelius, Meditations

Offline Todd

  • Veteran member
  • *
  • Posts: 15507
Re: The Asian Invasion
« Reply #132 on: June 03, 2018, 04:01:10 AM »



As I was able to snag this disc as an Amazon Add-on, I decided to try some more HIP Chopin, including a first attempt at a HIP sonata, with the pianist Ka-ling Colleen Lee.   Ms Lee was born in, and currently resides in, Hong Kong, where she undertook her early studies before heading to Germany for more advanced studies.  She placed sixth in the 15th International Frederic Chopin Piano Competition in 2005, and in the same year she recorded this disc for The Fryderyk Chopin Institute in the Witold Lutoslawski Polish Radio Concert Studio, when she was 25 years of age.  An 1848 Pleyel was used for the occasion.

The mixed program opens with the Op 49 Fantasie.  The mechanism noise and quicker than modern grand decays aside, Ms Lee's performance is just dandy.  (The quicker decays may even help things.)  The close microphones help create a near modern-grand dynamic range, and Ms Lee executes everything very well.  Nothing sounds less than highly polished, but the pianist sounds more at home and more compelling in the more animated music.  The Op 33 Mazurkas follow, and Lee manages to play with a broader than expected tonal palette, and here she sounds more at home in slower music, with the faster music a bit more rushed and lacking a bit in rhythmic nuance.  The final Mazurka is the best of the lot.  The Polonaise-Fantaisie Op 61 follows, and here Lee again sounds relatively better in the faster music, and the piece almost becomes an exercise in tone production.  Lee extracts a wide palette of colors, especially in the higher registers, but it doesn't really add anything to the music.  It is hard to not just appreciate the sound for its own sake, though.  Make that impossible.  Next up is the third fourth of the Op 28 Preludes.  Lee again produces beautiful sounds, never more than in the Raindrop Prelude, but the playing just doesn't engage the listener beyond a superficial level.  The third sonata ends the disc.  Lee starts with a repeatless Allegro maestoso of no little energy, speed, and clarity, and some wide ranging dynamics, traits which carry over to the Scherzo.  The style is more classical than romantic, which itself is evident in the somewhat expressively flat Largo.  Again, execution and tonal beauty are just fine.  The Finale is swift, superbly articulated, filled with energy, and offers evidence that ancient instruments can create a satisfying level of bass, at least at impolitely high SPLs.

The disc is something of a mixed bag overall.  There's no question at all that Ms Lee can play, but she generally sounds better in faster music and sometimes sounds more concerned with producing a lovely sound than really delivering the goods musically.  Part of that may be attributable to the instrument.  She may be more at home on a modern grand. 

As mentioned, the recorded sound is close, but it does an estimable job of creating a "they are here" effect, and it makes me wonder what some other artists might be able to do with this piano or one that sounds like it.  Andrea Lucceshini has been concentrating more on period instruments the last few years.  Hearing him play Chopin, or anything, on such an instrument would likely be a treat. 
The universe is change; life is opinion.   Marcus Aurelius, Meditations

Offline Todd

  • Veteran member
  • *
  • Posts: 15507
Re: The Asian Invasion
« Reply #133 on: June 10, 2018, 05:42:38 AM »



Norichika Iimori is a name new to me, but since I found his Brahms symphony cycle available to stream, I figured I might as well hear what he can do.  Iimori was born and raised in Japan, took a degree from Toho Gakuen School of Music, and received additional training in Germany.  He's done lots of guest conducting and acts as Principal Conductor of the Japan Century Symphony Orchestra and Principal Guest Conductor of the Württemberg Philharmonic Orchestra.  In addition to this set, he has recorded a lot of core rep, including complete Beethoven and Mozart symphony cycles. 

The set starts with a First that starts with a broad Un poco sostenuto-Allegro that comes in at 16'34".  It's not as broad as the even slower Kubelik, but it doesn't generate quite the same weight and forward drive that Kubelik does.  That written, it sounds just fine overall.  The remaining movements are all pretty standard in terms of timing, and they are fairly safe interpretations.  The Second starts off with an Allegro non troppo of a not quite allegro twenty-one minutes and change.  That's slower even than Kubelik.  Like Kubelik, Iimori makes it work, if not quite as well.  It's generally lovely, lyrical, and warm.  The Adagio non troppo, coming in at a somewhat taut 9'35", maintains nice tension while sounding quite lovely, too, and the last two movements, both fairly standard in timing and conception, sound very fine.  The Third opens with a somewhat broad Allegro con brio at 12'47", but it is well within normal parameters, and the playing of all of the movements sounds attractive, if a bit reserved, which works well enough in the Andante.  Iimori does ramp things up in the Allegro, but while well done, the overall performance doesn't match preferred recordings.  The Fourth is conventional in terms of overall tempos and generally attractive.  The Andante moderato is quite lovely, and the rest of the movements are fine, but overall the performance lacks the drama, power, or whatever else one may want.  It's certainly not bad, but it's not great, either.  That's more or less the case for the cycle.  The Second stands out, but increasingly for me that's what I'm drawn to.  I doubt I end up buying this mid-priced cycle.

The Japan Century Symphony Orchestra plays at a very high level, and Exton's sound is very fine via streaming, so I expect it would be superb on disc.
The universe is change; life is opinion.   Marcus Aurelius, Meditations

Offline Todd

  • Veteran member
  • *
  • Posts: 15507
Re: The Asian Invasion
« Reply #134 on: June 16, 2018, 04:51:06 AM »



Sang Mi Chung is new to my collection.  Her scant bio info indicates that she was born in South Korea, studied at Juilliard, is part of the Arista Trio, teaches at Hunter College, and records for Centaur.  She's recorded several discs.  Her Szymanowski caught my eye. 

The disc starts off with fourteen of the twenty Op 50 Mazurkas.  The Mazurkas come from later in the composer's career, and the lack some of the sumptuousness of some earlier works.  Too, with the composer aware of the history of Mazurkas for piano and the outsize influence of Chopin, he apparently spent a good amount of time refining these.  As played by Ms Chung, they often sound like an updated and modernized Chopin, with even trickier rhythmic components, and a sleek, modernist sound.  Chung's tone is attractive, but also often streamlined, so the modernist elements often sound more pronounced, though never in anything but a good way.  In overall style, Chung's approach is similar to Szymanowski specialist (both musically and academically) Sinae Lee, though Lee's even leaner style makes the music even more modernist and works better.  Anna Kijanowska's recording, more nuanced in every regard, and more romantic but restrained, remains my favorite take on these works. 

Chung's take on the early Piano Sonata No 1 is more romantic in overall demeanor, though it's somewhat restrained.  To be sure, sometimes Chung displays mighty fine fingerwork, and she even creates a dreamy soundworld at the opening of the final movement, but most the of the fugue is played thick and opaque and sluggish in places, though part of that is due to the music.  That written, Rafal Blechacz shows what can be done with this sonata in his masterful recording. 

Overall, Chung's disc is nice, but better versions of all works are available.  I may have to try her Clementi next.
The universe is change; life is opinion.   Marcus Aurelius, Meditations

Offline Todd

  • Veteran member
  • *
  • Posts: 15507
Re: The Asian Invasion
« Reply #135 on: October 06, 2018, 12:32:17 PM »



Jung-Ja Kim is a Korean born pianist with deep roots in the US.  She earned degrees from Juilliard, appeared with Leonard Bernstein in a televised Young People's Concert back in the 60s, and she has been at the Boston Conservatory since 1972.  She's got some experience. 

The disc opens with K570.  Kim displays a most enticing combination of beautiful tone, nuanced touch, unobtrusive yet noticeable personal touches, nice clarity, and a generally fluid delivery.  Sometimes, though, she plays in such a way as to extract a bit of tension or even momentary dissonant, less beautiful-but-still-beautiful sounds.  Kim plays the Adagio slowly and deliberately, sometimes notably so, yet never abandons the traits evident in the first movement, though she adds in a bit of subdued drama.  And while melody seems to be the focus of the playing, her accompaniment not only doesn't fade away, it sort of adopts the main focus, too.  The Allegro starts off more briskly, but slows up a bit, uses some rubato and accenting to good effect, and wraps up a most satisfying rendition of the sonata.

An assortment of individual pieces and a fragment of Suite K399 follow.  The K485 Rondo is a joyful delight with superb fingerwork.  The K540 Adagio, with all repeats intact and tipping the scales at 13'20", emerges as a lengthy, occasionally dramatic, more occasionally held back Fantasy, like a resigned relative of K475.  Kim holds the listener's interest throughout.  Next is the could've been substantial K399 fragment, a collection that would have been a Partita had Mozart finished it.  The Overture, Allemande, and Courante survive as updated baroque forms here, with drama, proportion, and refinement of just the right type, all delivered splendidly.  The 355 Menuett has nice a nice rhythm to it, and Kim again plays up some dissonance in a most tasteful fashion, and the K574 Gigue sounds a bit jagged, though purposely and in a fun way.

K282 ends the disc.  Kim starts with a slow but mostly flowing Adagio, and when it doesn't flow ideally, it's because the pianists wants to draw the listener's attention to a phrase, to an accent, to a pause of no little significance and beauty.  Kim goes for a nice mix of snappy rhythm and flexibility in the two minuets.  In the Allegro, Kim displays more clean fingerwork and lovely tone, but she also introduces some big ol' honkin' pauses for effect.  They manage to both interrupt the flow for effect yet not affect the overall trajectory of the playing.  Very nice.  Had I had this version on hand during my earlier survey of this work, it would join the Others of no little distinction category.  I guess it does now.

This here's one of them discs and artists I was hoping to find.  Superb in every regard.
The universe is change; life is opinion.   Marcus Aurelius, Meditations

Offline Todd

  • Veteran member
  • *
  • Posts: 15507
Re: The Asian Invasion
« Reply #136 on: October 13, 2018, 06:22:25 AM »



Okay, the crappy cover, which looks like a pixelated screengrab from Footloose, is enough to put off some potential buyers, but one must be resilient to move beyond D-quality work from aspiring marketing students.  (I certainly hope a seasoned pro didn't put the cover together.)  Jung-Ja Kim's Ravel disc starts off with the Sonatine.  Old-pro Henk Kooistra is the engineer, and he and his production team go for a soft-grained, soft-edged, resonant, billowy sound.  To be sure, Kim pedals generously, but it's almost like the sustain is held down throughout and she applies the una corda generously.  Less than ideal sonics, or perhaps just right sonics, aside, Kim's playing is a blend of the dreamy and the literal.  There are no garish displays or tweaks, and Kim's playing is generally fleet and cool.  It works quite well. 

Small scale fare out of the way, it's time for the mighty Miroirs.  The sonics stay the same, and this leads to a blended sound more than a detailed one, and the haze is not unattractive.  Kim's fingers flit nicely when needed, gliding along, and the sound does allow some notes to fade slowly into oblivion to nice effect, but the playing is perhaps too cool overall.  Oiseaux tristes retains a sort of too cool demeanor, as well.  Une barque sur l'océan has nicely undulating and steady accompaniment, but it's a bit formal in presentation at the outset.  That written, the sonics work the music's advantage here, with the loudest passages sounding like an aural equivalent of an impressionist painting of a storm, and Kim's penchant for playing some music very quietly and sometimes very quickly at the same time makes some of the music swell into earshot before fading away.  Very nice.  As is her clean right hand fingerwork.  Alborada del gracioso starts off slow and clunky, though steady, making me think this is exactly what the pianist was shooting for.  Kim introduces some individual rubato later on, and some unusual accents.  She never really shakes off a studied demeanor.  La vallée des cloches, though it maintains a coolness, works well.  Kim's steadiness actually helps accentuate some of the harmonic invention.  Overall, not a favorite version of this greatest Ravel work, but one worth hearing. 

Valses nobles et sentimentales closes the disc, and it opens with slower, stiffer playing than normal, but it seems quite literally Modéré – très franc.  The second waltz is more nuanced and noticeably pedaled, while the third is wistful but restrained.  In the Moins vif waltz, Kim nearly lets loose, playing with more energy and scale, to excellent effect, and Kim ends with a well judged final waltz that ends up both noble and sentimental, with some really nice, very delicate pianissimo. 

Overall, this disc is not as good as her Mozart disc, but it is well worth hearing.
The universe is change; life is opinion.   Marcus Aurelius, Meditations

Offline Alek Hidell

  • Full Member
  • *
  • Posts: 322
  • Location: Oklahoma
  • Currently Listening to:
    Jazz and classical
Re: The Asian Invasion
« Reply #137 on: October 13, 2018, 07:59:35 AM »
^ Wow. It's hard to believe those two covers were produced by the same label.

Have wishlisted the Mozart disc. I see that it's an Amazon add-on item.
"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

Offline Todd

  • Veteran member
  • *
  • Posts: 15507
Re: The Asian Invasion
« Reply #138 on: October 20, 2018, 05:45:40 AM »



I figured I might as well just go ahead and give Jung-Ja Kim's Rach a shot.  I'm sort of on a slow-motion hunt for a reference set of the complete Preludes.  I've got a smattering of versions of varying quality, but none that stand out as The Best.  The set starts off promisingly, with a lovely and restrained 23/1, and moves to a thundering opening for 23/2.  There's ample harmonic richness and weight.  But there's also a slightly studied mien to the playing.  It's not romantic abandon so much as a calculated rendition thereof.  There's nothing at all wrong with that approach.  Indeed, it is eminently satisfying, and it pervades Op 23.  Maybe it's too stifling in 23/5, or maybe not; it's certainly doesn't hamper 23/8, which glides by.  Much of Op 32 seems slightly freer, but also a touch cooler.  Starting with 32/1 laden with oomph, it often just clicks better.  32/4 is titanic in scale and scope, if perhaps displaying more of the calculation of the earlier pieces.  32/5 sounds delightfully light, and 32/10 serves as the relative qualitative highlight in its quasi-dazzling-but-still-measured-and-meant-to-sound-rhapsodic approach. 

This set is not The Best, but it is very good, and nearly as good as Kim's Mozart. 

Sound is excellent, inviting one to turn up the wick a bit.
The universe is change; life is opinion.   Marcus Aurelius, Meditations