Author Topic: The Asian Invasion  (Read 6056 times)

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Offline Todd

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Re: The Asian Invasion
« Reply #40 on: July 19, 2017, 06:09:56 AM »



The Ninth.  Lim's rendition comes in at around fifty-six minutes, so again in the realm of conventional timings.  The opening movement is ever so slightly quick and tense, and though not as fierce as some other versions, there's more bite than in some prior symphonies in this cycle.  The playing also sounds more ethereal while also sounding a bit detached, which works well.  The Scherzo has plenty of drive and power and weight, and a sense of intensity approaching fearsomeness, in the outer sections, and the middle section is uncommonly light and dance-like, and the less than fully clear recording (by SOTA standards) combines with the playing to create a nice blurred effect.  The Adagio sounds both beautiful and just a bit intense.  Lim can choose to play with great beauty, as he showed in previous symphonies, but that clearly is not what he wanted here.  And once again, while the symphony is not as dominated by brass as other readings, Lim uses them well, and he creates some nice effects when he brings them more into the mix.  Lim brings the orchestra to a massive, nearly fearsome - heck, almost apocalyptic a la Furtwangler - climax at just after eighteen minutes and then allows for a lengthy pause to let the effect settle in.  The coda is lovely and just a bit tense to start, then it becomes gentler and more serene until fading away.  Lim himself seems to be even more engaged in this symphony than some preceding ones based on more frequent vocalizing, and this engagement shows in one of the best performances of the cycle.  Given the editions Lim uses for some symphonies, and the comparatively brass-light sound, and somewhat smaller apparent scale of the playing, I can't say that this is one if the great Bruckner cycles.  But, with that written, the excellent playing, the string-heavy sound, the sometimes detached approach, and the sometimes uncommon and almost unreal aural beauty on offer results in a unique cycle that more than ended up justifying the purchase for me.  I will definitely be revisiting the whole thing, probably starting with the Fifth.

Jochum's sixty minute version starts off more or less as expected: dark, mysterious, more brass heavy, large scaled.  While slightly swifter than Lim's in timing, the pacing nonetheless sounds more relaxed, the tension less pronounced in the early going, the music deeper.  And the low string pizzicati are pretty sweet.  As the movement progresses, Jochum generates apocalyptic music to rival Furtwangler, with the immense benefit of good sound.  The Scherzo, only a bit quicker than Lim, generates more intensity in the outer sections, and the trio very much meets it "schnell" designation.  The Adagio is simply marvelous.  Notably slower than Lim's, it sounds quicker and basically pulls off a Celi by making time irrelevant.  While lovely at times, this is no tender and gentle reading for the most part; it is simultaneously transcendent and despondent, and while Lim was no slouch when it comes to transitions, Jochum's sound perfect and seamless.  And he leads a blistering climax that I've not heard bettered.  The coda is gentler, lovelier, and radiant.  This is one of the great Bruckner Ninths.  Overall, Jochum's cycle is better than Lim's and would make for a good introduction to the works, though I think Wand's is still probably better for that type of role.  Jochum's cycle is more uneven than Lim's but that just means that it ranges from excellent to truly great.  I'm perfectly glad to have both.
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Offline Todd

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Re: The Asian Invasion
« Reply #41 on: July 24, 2017, 06:21:12 AM »



Kim's Fifth.  For this recording, A/B duties fell to Christoph Eschenbach and the Philadelphia Orchestra, who got first listen.  I've long enjoyed this recording for the beautiful strings and the superb sound.  Eschenbach's tempi are quite leisurely overall, but he knows how to make it sound very nice.  No longueurs here, with masterful pacing and transitions and satisfyingly powerful climaxes, and the Andante cantabile is seductively gorgeous.  Eschenbach's reading is very much of the romantic variety.

In contrast, Kim takes the work much faster.  In the outer movements, he's faster than Mravinsky.  As one might expect with such zippy tempi, the playing is more intense and more classically proportioned, like Mravinsky, though not quite at that level.  He and his Suwon band crank right through the opening movement and generate some heat and a sense of tragedy without overdoing it.  The Andante likewise conveys a tragic feel without overdoing it.  It's emotional playing, but not full heart-on-sleeve playing, and the climax is nicely weight and urgent.  The third movement is swift and at times bracing, as is the Finale, which scales up the drama in climaxes even more.  It offers a most entertaining contrast with Eschenbach.

Sound for the recording is like the prior discs in the cycle.
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Offline Todd

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Re: The Asian Invasion
« Reply #42 on: July 28, 2017, 05:38:48 AM »



Another entry for Dong Hyek Lim, and a first appearance for Ji Young Lim.  Ms Lim is a young at only twenty-two years of age, but she already has one big competition win under her belt: the 2015 Queen Elizabeth Competition.  Before Steve Harvey flubbed announcing the winner of the 2016 Miss Universe, something similar appears to have happened when the person announcing the winner's name at the QE did not state it clearly enough and violinist Lee Ji Yoon thought her name had been called.  This little factoid makes me want to sample Lee Ji Yoon's playing.  Another factoid, and one more relevant to the proceedings here, is that Lim pays a 1708 Strad.

This disc includes three Mozart Violin Sonatas (K301, K304, and K378) Beethoven's first Violin Sonata.  As expected, both players play very well.  Lim's playing in the Mozart is clean and unfussy, and quite attractive.  DH Lim's playing is much the same.  There's a nice degree of energy, especially in K378, but the playing is somewhat safe.  No big gestures, no grand flourishes.  The Beethoven sounds even more energetic, but it remains decidedly classical in style, and somewhat small in scale.  DH Lim's playing is quite ear-catching at times, and as far as safe and proper approaches go, this is very well done.

Overall, a good disc, but I was left wanting more.

Sound is very clear and clean, but also a bit bright.
« Last Edit: August 02, 2017, 05:58:58 AM by Todd »
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Offline Todd

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Re: The Asian Invasion
« Reply #43 on: July 31, 2017, 05:24:39 AM »




Kim's Sixth and Seventh.  Kim's take on the Sixth is largely clean and austere, almost severe.  The recorded sound is not as heavy and think as what came before, though it is not thin.  While Kim does not lead an especially fast version, it maintains tension throughout.  The second movement, while not particularly beautiful, is most effective in the middle as the winds come to the fore and the strings subside in importance while sounding very clean.  The Poco vivace moves relentlessly forward, again without being unduly swift, and sounds edgy and angular.  The final movement maintains tension without excess and never really sounds beautiful; here is the musical cold spring water the composer wrote about.  While I can't say it's my favorite version of the work, it's very nice, indeed.  The only beef I have is the use of slightly more extended than normal silences between movements.

The Seventh.  Kim starts off with an appropriately slow tempo, and the sound and style is clear and forward moving.  Kim unfolds the piece nicely, if perhaps some of the tempo shifts are not as perfectly executed as Karajan manages (his is my favorite version), but then this is a live recording and out-executing Fluffy and crew is a mighty tall order.  Kim does elicit mood shifts with the sectional changes and generates some satisfying intensity and hints of mystery, as well.  It's possible to find the end of the Presto section pressed just a bit too much, but that just ends up offering maximum contrast to the Adagio, which itself blends into the gorgeous and at times searing Largamente molto quite beautifully.  The timp thunder underpins a rather impressive coda.  The cycle ends on a strong note.

The cycle as a whole does not rate as the best I've heard, though Sibelius, more than some symphonic composers, doesn't really lend himself to ordinal rankings very well for me.  Playing is excellent throughout, Kim avoids interpretive eccentricity, and sound is excellent.  Sometimes I wanted more engagement and fire, and other times not.  I will gladly return to the cycle, and I wouldn't mind hearing more from the conductor, be it as conductor or pianist - or both.
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Offline Todd

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Re: The Asian Invasion
« Reply #44 on: August 04, 2017, 06:02:00 AM »



Some Liszt from 2005 International Franz Liszt Piano Competition winner Yingdi Sun.  Sun was born in 1980 in China, received most of his training in his home country, and then embarked on the international competition and touring circuit.  This disc, recorded in 2008, appears to be the only one available from him.  It includes the Sonata (which I desperately needed another version of), the three Petrarch Sonnets, and the St Francois Legend.  The Sonata opens the disc, and at just a tad over a half hour, it's on the leisurely side.  That's no problem as pianists like Pogorelich and Angelich deliver exceptional slow performances.  Sun isn't quite at that level.  The first one thing notices is that, as recorded, Sun's tone is rich, dark, and bass heavy.  And pedal stomp heavy.  Somewhat like Angelich, he seems to revel in the slower, more lyrical music, which he plays very well indeed.  Unlike Angelich, he doesn't play the fastest and most demanding passages with control and precision to match or surpass the best on record, and he never truly lets loose.  Sometimes when it sounds like he might, he pulls back.  That ends up being something of a limiting factor, but his somewhat micromanaged approach is not unattractive.  The three Petrarch Sonnets border on sounding languid, and are too bass rich at times, but sound quite attractive overall, and most attractive when Sun takes his time to gently coax lovely sounds from the keys and when he lets some chords just hang.  Sun saves his best for last in the Legend.  While the loud passages are effective, it is the endless beautiful right hand playing, gentle and fluid and shimmering that captivates and almost mesmerizes.  So, a mixed disc.  Sound is excellent overall.

If ever Sun records more Liszt, I certainly would consider listening to it, especially if it's the complete Annees or the Harmonies.  Some Debussy could be nice, too.
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Offline Todd

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Re: The Asian Invasion
« Reply #45 on: August 07, 2017, 05:44:53 AM »



Kim's Sixth.  Here the A/B was with Mravinsky's stereo recording on DG.  Mravinksy's Sixth is masterful, of course, blending beautiful and forlorn slower music and positively ferverish and superbly well played fast music possessed of an intensity not surpassed or even really matched by anyone.  Of course, that fevered intensity can be too much of a good thing if one is not in the mood to hear it, though I was when I relistened.  The only real drawback to the set has to do with aged, early stereo sonics, but that poses no barrier to enjoyment. 

Kim's overall timings are close in all movements, and in the Allegro con grazia and Finale, Kim leads swifter playing.  With his tempi, Kim keeps the playing moving along at all times.  While Kim and the Suwon band generate plenty of intensity in the opener, they don't sound as feverish as Mravinsky, which is not necessarily a bad thing, and the slower sections are searching but not too sentimental.  Kim's swift take on Allegro con grazia sounds very much like a caffeinated waltz, with the strings doing good things, and a generally light feeling.  Kim keeps things light to start the Allegro molto vivace, but he makes sure to inject weight in to the louder passages, and as the movement progresses it sounds like a triumphant, peppy processional, and here the energy and speed do rival Mravinsky, but in better sound and balance, and the coda makes for a heckuva false ending, complete with room reverberating bass drum.  The Finale does a complete one-eighty most effectively, and sounds sorrowful but not maudlin.  The fast overall tempo manifests briefly after four minutes in, and even more so a couple minutes later when Kim whips the band into a brief, intense fury before pulling back in the symphonic equivalent of exhausted resignation.  After that, the throbbing low strings underpin a tense acceptance of fate, somewhat Mahlerian in demeanor, until the final sound fades away at a swift 9'15".  The Sixth ends the cycle on a high note, and qualitatively it is surpassed only by the superb Fourth.  Maybe.

Kim's cycle taken as a whole is excellent, even if it doesn't supplant Temirkanov for me, and it probably would not supplant <insert favored interpreter here> for others, it does not need to.  I wouldn't mind hearing more from the Kim/Suwon team.
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Offline Todd

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Re: The Asian Invasion
« Reply #46 on: August 11, 2017, 05:50:13 AM »



Since I've listened to a couple discs from Dong-Hyek Lim, I figured I should hear how well his older brother plays.  The elder Lim, older by four years, studied in Russia, Germany, and the US, and he is now a professor in Korea.  In 2005, he tied for third with his brother at the Chopin competition, so at the very least he should be very good.  Dong-Min has not reached international star or something approaching star status like his brother, and this Korean language only release is obviously a local market release by Sony Korea.

Dong-Hyek's Chopin Preludes disc ends with the Barcarolle, and Dong-Min's starts with the same work, so a quick A/B was done with the first listen.  The overall timing is only seconds apart, with Dong-Min slightly faster overall, but one wouldn't know that listening to the opening, which is slightly gentler and darker hued and slower sounding.  As the piece progresses, Lim picks up the pace, but he never sounds rushed, and the left hand is insistent but not as clean, with the older Lim generating a more blended sound, at least as recorded.  The piece almost imperceptibly ratchets up tension and speed until the climax, and while not as lilting as some overall, it's superb.  Call it a draw between the two pianists. 

The disc moves on to a single Nocturne, Op 55, Number 2, and Lim displays very fine dynamic gradations at the lower end of the spectrum, with different voices played at different levels.  It's very deliberate yet very flowing, but it does not evoke any mystery or darkness, seeming like an abstract miniature fantasia, and somehow, despite the deliberate playing, it almost sounds improvised.  A full cycle from the pianist would surely be welcome.

Next up is the main work, the Third Sonata.  At over thirty-one minutes total, Lim is no speed demon, and indeed, he doesn't storm out of the gate in his over thirteen minute Allegro maestoso, preferring to present a more forensic take.  The independence of hands and varying volume levels are so good and distinct it almost sounds like a studio trick as his left hand playing will remain super clean and clear but noticeably quieter than the right hand melody, which nonetheless doesn't dominate.  Lim coaxes some beautiful sounds from his piano, and his playing remains captivatingly exact.  The Scherzo is a bit quicker, but again Lim is all about supreme clarity and exactitude.  The Largo opens with powerful, weighty playing, sounding almost organ-like, and then Lim quickly and effortlessly slows way down and plays with gentle beauty.  He opens the Presto nan tanto with controlled speed and power in the introduction, and the rest of the movement never really sounds unleashed, with Lim's control of everything most captivating.  Strangely, though the rhythm never sounds galloping or pronounced, the forward momentum is unyielding.  In general, I tend to like faster sounding versions of this sonata, like, say, Alexis Weissenberg's blockbuster RCA recording, but Lim makes as strong a case as I've heard for a slower sounding, more meticulous approach. 

The disc closes with the B-flat minor Scherzo.  Lim plays with more overt virtuosity, but he never sheds the sense of absolute control over every aspect of the playing.  Here, the playing can sound a bit studied at times, but it still works very well, and it has the same unyielding forward momentum as the closing movement of the sonata.   

There's some subtle vocalizing evident throughout the recording, and sonics are SOTA but a bit closer and softer edged when compared to his brother's recording. 

It sounds like the Lim family has two superb pianists.
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Offline Todd

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Re: The Asian Invasion
« Reply #47 on: August 14, 2017, 05:38:27 AM »



I figured I might as well listen to what the Middle Kingdom is up to in terms of orchestral playing.  Based on slim internet info, Yu Long is a, or even the, preeminent conductor in mainland China, and has been instrumental in building both the China Philharmonic Orchstra and the Shanghai Symphony Orchestra, and has also worked extensively with other bands.  (Of course, since I read neither Mandarin nor Cantonese, and English language information is scarce, I could easily be mistaken.)  It looks like Universal Music China decided to work with him and released recordings on both the DG and Decca labels.  This particular concert recording also includes cellist Jian Wang, who has made multiple recordings for DG as both soloist and chamber musician, and violist Anxiang Zhang.  The performances, as the cover indicates, are from 2007 and 2008.  As this was only available as a download and no digital booklet was provided, no further specifics are available without scouring the web.

The Tchaikovsky starts off the disc, and its clear that the China Philharmonic plays at a very high level.  Both the Suwon and Korean orchestras mentioned previously in this thread may have a slight edge in execution, but I've heard better played recordings, and recordings not as well played, from eastern and western orchestras alike, so for all intents and purposes, that's not an issue.  Interpretively, Long tends toward a fast, potent sound, with powerful timps and lots of excitement.  He appears to have no time for exaggerated shifts in tempi or adding additional romanticism to the proceedings.  This is hardly my favorite Tchaikovsky work, and while I can't say this is the best I've heard, I would be more than happy to hear something like this in concert.

The main work for me is the Strauss, which is possibly my favorite of the tone poems.  Long makes sure to bring out detail, but the balances prevent ideal realization of all details.  Long again favors a relatively fast overall tempo, which when combined with a somewhat direct approach, means the piece doesn't flow as well as better performances.  It's somewhat generic.  Wang plays the solo part expertly, which is no surprise, and Zhang does fine work, as well.  There is less spotlighting of the soloists here than in some other recordings.  Again, this is a performance I would not mind hearing in concert, but on disc it faces some serious rivals, and when I say that old man Fluffy with young man Meneses remains my favorite, and by a pretty wide margin, that's not surprising.

As mentioned before, the recording was available only as a download, and I got an MP3.  (It may be available lossless, but I didn't look as I was content to drop only nine bucks.)  Sound is excellent overall, if somewhat lacking in ultimate clarity and dynamics, and the perspective is not ideal - it seems to almost be the conductor's perspective - but I can't say how much of that is due to encoding and how much to more traditional matters of recording technique.  I'm thinking the latter is more important.  This more or less matches many live recordings from the 90s, and it is clear enough to allow one to hear all manner of score page turning and feet shuffling and other non-musical sounds.

I may very well have to sample more from this conductor.
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Offline Brian

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Re: The Asian Invasion
« Reply #48 on: August 15, 2017, 04:53:12 AM »
I've seen the name Long Yu on Naxos - checking now, for them he's recorded such overtly red propaganda as the Long March Symphony, and also somehow Korngold's violin concerto.

Offline Todd

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Re: The Asian Invasion
« Reply #49 on: August 15, 2017, 04:59:10 AM »
I've seen the name Long Yu on Naxos - checking now, for them he's recorded such overtly red propaganda as the Long March Symphony, and also somehow Korngold's violin concerto.


He's also recorded Ode to the Red Flag for DG.  Maybe his choices are influenced by a deep love of Communism, maybe they are made out a sense of national pride and wanting to perform and record the work of Chinese composers, or maybe they are influenced by A&R folks.  If he runs a full time orchestra devoted to western style classical music, I have to think core rep is more important to him.
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Offline Brian

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Re: The Asian Invasion
« Reply #50 on: August 15, 2017, 05:10:33 AM »
I think Marco Polo and Naxos in particular, being based in Hong Kong, knew that recording Chinese classical music with cheap-to-rent Chinese orchestras was easy money. They recorded the "Butterfly Lovers" like five times.

Offline Todd

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Re: The Asian Invasion
« Reply #51 on: August 15, 2017, 05:18:41 AM »
I think Marco Polo and Naxos in particular, being based in Hong Kong, knew that recording Chinese classical music with cheap-to-rent Chinese orchestras was easy money. They recorded the "Butterfly Lovers" like five times.


I believe two HNH recordings have Klaus Heymann's wife as the soloist.  Gil Shaham has also recorded that work.  I've not yet decided if I want to try that work.
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Offline Brian

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Re: The Asian Invasion
« Reply #52 on: August 15, 2017, 06:17:32 AM »
Just checked Naxos Music Library and the truth is even insaner than either of us thought.

FIVE recordings by Nishizaki - that's more than Barenboim will record a Bruckner symphony:



Two different recordings by Si-Qing Lu on Marco Polo:



Plus three more Marco Polo recordings of the piece with other instruments instead of the violin:



(erhu)



Anyway...it's not that bad a piece, but it's not a knockout. It's kinda like if Korngold's Violin Concerto was written for an "exotic" movie, and also had a couple tablespoons of extra sugar. Youtube it before you buy.

Offline Todd

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Re: The Asian Invasion
« Reply #53 on: August 15, 2017, 06:32:26 AM »
FIVE recordings by Nishizaki - that's more than Barenboim will record a Bruckner symphony


Don't count Barenboim out yet!  He's still got time to crank out a couple more of a favorite symphony.

I have to assume that the concerto sells well in China, and perhaps other markets.  That does indeed look like a streaming work.
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Offline Todd

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Re: The Asian Invasion
« Reply #54 on: August 17, 2017, 06:31:44 AM »



Kun-Woo Paik's Rachmaninoff Sonatas reissue, recorded for Dante in 1992.  The recorded sound has some of the same problems the Scriabin disc does, though to a lesser extent.  Paik's playing is bold, to say the least, and volcanic, to say the most, in the loud passages of the original version of Rachmaninoff's Second Sonata that opens the disc.  Paik comes close to dreaded banging, and he may well get there, but no one could accuse him of not giving it his all.  He maintains his composure very well, but sometimes Paik seems to be pushing up to the limit of his abilities in a way that, say, Weissenberg does not, though Paik plays more feverishly.  Unlike Weissenberg, Paik plays the gentler music with actual gentleness.  Unfortunately, because of recorded sound and the battering the perhaps not ideally maintained piano takes, some of the upper registers sound questionable, but because of Paik's ability, it still sounds appealing.  He can play Rachmaninoff with more subtlety and color as evidenced by his slightly later recording of the concertos for RCA.  That's not to say that the sonata is poor, because Paik gets the spirit right. 

In between the two sonatas are the Lilacs, Op 21/5, a 'Fragment', the posthumous Prelude, and Tchaikovsky's Lullaby.  All four demonstrate the same traits as Paik's quiet playing in the opening work, and had Paik had a proper piano and recording team at his disposal, the result would be wonderful.  As it is, the result is very nice. 

The disc closes with the First Sonata, and both the recording and piano are generally in good enough shape to allow the listener to appreciate Paik's way with the work.  (About 13' into the first movement, something goes wrong with the piano, though.)  The vast breadth of the work and the length can make it a chore to listen to sometimes, but other times, its grandeur and romantic sweep are just the ticket.  Paik does very well here, and though the piano does not cooperate ideally, one gets a much better sense for his tonal variety and sensitivity in the Lento.  In the Allegro moderato, Paik comes close to playing with the same intensity as in the Second Sonata, but doesn't quite get there, which actually seems to help in the (perhaps?) overlong movement.  Given the sub-par sound and piano, I can't say that this is of Weissenberg or Silverman or Romanovsky quality for both sonatas on one disc, but it's worth having, if for nothing else than for some inevitable shoot-outs down the road.

Hopefully Universal Music Group Korea can buy the rights to Paik's Mussorgsky recordings. 
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Offline Todd

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Re: The Asian Invasion
« Reply #55 on: August 22, 2017, 04:55:44 AM »



Alright, so Myung-Whun Chung might be cheating a bit in this thread.  He's rather well-known and has made many major label recordings and conducted the most prestigious orchestras around, but I'll go ahead and include this disc, his second recording of these works, just because.  (Well, that, and it was available used for a pittance.)  I'm no stranger to Chung's Dvorak, having owned his recording of the Sixth and Eighth symphonies for a while.  (What a bummer the cycle was never completed.)  I wanted to hear how he and the Vienna Philharmonic might handle a couple serenades.  The String Serenade seems like a natural fit for the band, and so it proves.  The music is unfailingly beautiful and lyrical first note to last, and the recorded sound is a bit billowy and plummy in the bass, which just adds to the beauty.  The Wind Serenade likewise sounds very beautiful, and very smoothed over.  I know there are oboes in the mix, but it doesn't always sound like it.  And while the sound is almost blended to a fault, sometimes the horns dominate a bit.  But the playing is so solid, the sound so luscious, and the overall feel so much fun, that it is impossible not to enjoy the performance. 

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Offline Todd

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Re: The Asian Invasion
« Reply #56 on: August 25, 2017, 05:52:49 AM »





A few years back, I spotted a complete set of Beethoven's Cello Sonatas on Universal Music China from cellist Li-Wei Qin and Albert Tiu, but I didn't jump on it.  I found it again recently when looking for new artists to hear, and this time I decided to buy.  Since the good folks at Momox Germany had a used set for next to nothing, it was a pain-free purchase.  It was so pain-free that I decided to go ahead and finally pull the trigger on the Xavier Phillips and François-Frédéric Guy set on Evidence Classics so I could do an A/B. 

Li-Wei Qin is a Chinese born cellist who spent some of his youth in Australia before going on to compete in various competitions and perform with various orchestras and chamber collaborators and taking some teaching positions, currently at Yong Siew Toh Conservatory of Music in Singapore.  He's recorded some core rep for ABC Classics and some of the same stuff again for Decca China, along with other rep.  His partner here is Albert Tiu, a Filipino pianist who studied at, among other places, Juilliard under Jerome Lowenthal.  He's likewise done the competition and touring circuits, and like Qin, he ended up at YST Conservatory, which, not at all coincidentally, served as the recording venue for this first recorded collaboration of the two artists.

This A/B is the first one where both sets were ripped before performing any comparisons, and as such I was able to do a sonata to sonata matchup without ever having to get out of my easy chair.  (If one must get up to change discs, that makes such a chair not as easy as it could be.)  I started in on sonata number one and chose to listen to Qin and Tiu first.  Qin's cello dominates, but it is not domineering.  Rich and somewhat dark down low, and warm and lyrical up top, it offers both a nice contrast and compliment to Tiu's somewhat light and playful pianism.  Really, Tiu's upper register playing at times verges on sounding too sweet, but the tradeoff is that when combined with Qin's never too heavy cello, the overall sound is decidedly classical in nature.  Peppy and light, almost to a fault, the sonata brings a subdued grin to the listener's face.  Phillips and FFG, recorded with more immediacy, play with more individuality and spontaneity.  Obviously well versed in the music, the duo play off each other well and employ rubato, dramatic pauses, exiciting accelerandos, and myriad other little touches to create an almost concert feel to the recording.  One gets the impression it would sound different on a different day.  The playing retains a classical sensibility, but it is more boisterous, more exhuberant, and pushes right up against boundaries of the era.  In Op 5, No 2, Qin and Tiu generate a touch more energy and more than a touch more grooviness, making for a most enjoyable second sonata.  Phillips and Guy add a bit more drama to the proceedings, and their already impressive dynamic range becomes more so.  While not at all saggy rhythmically, they do not quite sound as groovy as Qin/Tiu, though they sound more vibrant, and the Rondo-Allegro movement is just plain fun. 

Qin opens Op 69 in a most lovely fashion, but when Tiu joins him, his playing ends up capturing more attention, but then the fun starts as the duo belt out the playing with more oomph than the two earlier sonatas, and Qin fairly makes his cello sing like a baritone delighted to be able to sing a lovely Ludwig van tune, and Tiu's right hand playing at the end of the first movement is just enthralling.  As they move through the Scherzo and Adagio, they play well off each other, seamlessly transitioning back and forth, and sometimes blending flawlessly.  Too, there are some occasions where Tiu, briefly and somehow discreetly, dominates things, but never to the detriment of the music.  Then in the Allegro vivace, they play with great energy and drive.  This would be most enjoyable to hear in person.  Phillips/FFG offer more of everything: more energy, more dynamic and tempo contrasts, more emphatic accents, more more.  From time to time, FFG belts out his part with heavy duty power, and Phillips' tone can take on a sharper edge than Qin's.  They never overdo things, though they come close.  It is entirely likely some might think they do.  Qin and Tiu sound more poised (which is not to say staid!) whereas Phillips and FFG go for broke more often.  It's nice to hear both approaches (and more).

In 102/1, Qin plays most lyrically and Tiu offers gentle lovely support in the opening Andante section, and then they play the Allegro vivace with poised martial potency.  The Adagio contrasts Qin's deep, dark cello tone with Tiu's lighter pianism most effectively, and the Allegro vivace exhibits nice energy and forward drive, though its classical restraint might be a tad too restrained at times.  It would be difficult to say that anything in the Phillips/Guy recording is too restrained.  That's not to say that anything is over the top, but again, this duo offers more vibrance and tension in the faster and louder passages, and a touch more drama even in slower passages.  It again sounds more spontaneous, more "live".  Qin/Tiu do a slightly better job of evoking late Beethoven, but Phillips/Guy thrill more.  It is not mere recreation, it is creation.  In 102/2, Tiu starts off playfully and Qin veritably explodes into the soundstage, and the two vary dynamics and tempo most effectively, making for a most enjoyable opening movement.  The Adagio sounds quite attractive, with Qin not afraid to use generous vibrato.  I'm not sure it meets the molto sentimento d'affetto designation, but it might just be better that way.  The duo shows that it is possible to make a fugue fun and playful in the final movement, too.  In the Phillips/FFG, it's more FFG who explodes into the musical picture, setting the tone for a super-vibrant reading of the first movement, albeit one with even more pronounced dynamic and tempo flucuations.  More of that more more thing.  One can hear sentimentality in the slow movement, and the concluding fugue is more vibrant but perhaps less formally clear than Qin/Tiu.  Again, the spontaneity of the Frenchmen win the day.

The Qin/Tiu set includes only the sonatas, whereas the Phillips/FFG set includes the variations, which I saved until after the A/Bs were done.  Not surprisingly, the traits the duo display throughout the sonatas are also on display in the variations, and all the works make for a most enjoyable listen. 

Both sets are most enjoyable, but the Phillips/FFG pairing is the more adventurous, more exicting, and more compelling of the two, and easily ranks alongside Perenyi/Schiff and Fournier/Kempff for me.*  It's yet another triumph for FFG.  I eagerly await his Beethoven Violin Sonatas and Piano Trios.  I may have to try his earlier recording of these works with Gastinel now.

Not surprisingly, all of the artists in this shootout are quite talented.  FFG is one of my favorite living piansts, and I already know to reflexively buy any new recording going forward.  I may not buy new recordings by Phillips reflexively, but I will keep him in mind in other repertoire (his EMI Debut disc looks enticing), and when he records the LvB piano trios with FFG and Tedi Papavrami, I will buy without hesitation.  Qin falls into this category, and his few recordings do hold some interest, particularly the Decca Dvorak.  FFG obviously excluded, it is Albert Tiu that I'd like to hear more from most out of this group.  He's got a few solo albums out, and the Scriabin/Chopin one looks tempting, but I really want to hear him in Mozart and Haydn, and probably Ravel.  He's made it out Oregon way before, playing down in Eugene.  The Oregon Bach Festival aside, that town is boring as hell if one doesn't like college sports, but I'll make the jaunt down there if he visits again.

Sound for both sets is at or near SOTA.



* I can't help but notice that three of the six musicians in my favorite sets are French, which is almost as gallocentric as my preferred sets of Violin Sonatas.  Hmmm. 
The universe is change; life is opinion.   Marcus Aurelius, Meditations

Offline Todd

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Re: The Asian Invasion
« Reply #57 on: August 28, 2017, 05:52:55 AM »



[This will be cross-posted in "New" Music Log]


This disc is the first I've imported from mainland China.  I spotted this disc of Chinese compositions whilst hunting for new and exotic things to listen to, albeit only on a very expensive JVC disc at first.  Fortunately, I found the disc for a very reasonable $7 on eBay, as opposed to $37+ on Amazon.  While I would not be surprised if I bought a gray market disc, especially given the price, I don't know for sure, and I don't care.  The seller from Shunde got it to me in just over a week, for about $10 all-in.  The copy I received advertises the XRCD2 pedigree as opposed to the K2 mastering on the front of its cardboard cover, though the inner cover shows the full (advertising) flow chart of the remastering process, which includes the K2 Rubidium Master Clock, so you just know it's some heavy-duty, ultra-serious stuff.  This is the same flow chart as found in the JVC reissue of the Paul Badura-Skoda Beethoven piano sonata cycle previously on Astrée.  This leads me to believe it is a Japanese market release.  Did I mention the remastering process uses Rubidium in the master clock?  The recording was made in China in the year 2000, with some DG A-list producers and engineers. 

The disc includes eight short works by ten composers - two of the works are collaborations or reworkings.  The works all rely on Western instrumentation - no pipas, erhus, or liuqins here - though from time to time, the percussion section sounds like it could be augmented by a non-standard instrument.  Most of the music is also generally Western in conception in that it usually sounds conventionally tonal, but some more "exotic" approaches (eg, pentatonic scales) are used as folk music is an influence.  There is certainly nothing that comes across as especially alien to Western ears nowadays to people who listen to classical music, pop music, or soundtracks.  Much of the music has very rough Western analogs, and those will be included in the descriptions as a sort of shorthand.  This is not meant to imply that the music is all derivative, but to communicate a sense of what is on the disc.

The disc opens with He Luting's under three minute Senjidema, from 1945.  Based on Mongolian folk tunes, it starts slowly and then picks up the pace.  It's generically "Eastern", and one can imagine Aaron Copland having written something similar. 

Next up is Bao Yuankai's Five Orchestral Pieces. The first piece, Zouxikou, based on a popular provincial ballad is mostly Western sounding, but has an identifiably Chinese sound in part, especially in the violins.  Green Willow, the second piece, sounds more or less like a missing Tchaikovsky piece reliant on pizzicato throughout.  Lady Lan Huahua follows, and it is based on an ancient ballad as well, and sounds lush and romantic and what one might wish Puccini could have worked into his Eastern themed works, and given it's tragic theme, it seems like a prelude or interlude from an opera. The Murmuring Brook follows, and it sounds something like a leisurely, gorgeous mash-up of Debussy, Vaughn Williams, and something vaguely Eastern.  Duihua ends the suite, inspired by a folk song.  Alternating between boisterous, rhythmically alert tuttis and gentler, Griegian music, it ends the work beautifully.

Next up is Wang Ming's Haixia Suite, where the composer includes three movements called Childhood, Weaving Fishnets, and Harvest, and she blends her own experience and idealized experiences.  One can hear whiffs of Debussy and Sibelius and Dvorak, and other Western influences, along with more obvious Eastern influences, with traditional Western orchestration used to evoke a more concrete Eastern sound.  The different elements blend together to make something new and beautiful, and if perhaps a bit too sentimental, that's quite alright.

Li Huanhzi's Spring Festival Overture, from 1955-56 follows, and once again, folk music serves as a foundation, and the music is robust yet light and festive (duh).  It sounds like Chinese Dvorak, which I definitely mean as a compliment.

Beijing Tidings by Zheng Lu and Ma Hongye, is up next, is folk music based, and here one can hear Borodin in Polovtsian Dances mode, or perhaps Enescu at his most rhapsodic, with dashes of Copland and DSCH (the Ninth), in a brief, colorful, vibrant, buoyant, and maybe slightly garish piece.  This would make for a good surprise concert opener.

Liu Tieshan and Mao Yuan's Yao Dance from the 1950s follows.  Formalized folk music - a dance, as it happens - starts slowly and unfolds somewhat episodically, with wonderful rhythmic flair and expert orchestration.  This almost sounds like what Bartok himself might have written had he ventured farther East in his exploration of folk music.  It is expertly done, and is possibly the best work on the disc. 

Next is Liu Tingyu's Susan Suite.  (Should it be Su-San?)  At just shy of thirteen minutes, it's the second longest work, though it is contained in a single track since it unfolds more or less continuously.  The suite is drawn from the composer's ballet Escorted Lady Convict, which itself is based on the Peking opera The Escorted Susan.  The tale is suitably operatic, to be sure, and the music brings five names to mind: Mahler, Tchaikovsky, Strauss, Janacek, and Bright Sheng.  The use of percussion falls outside the norm for Western compositions at times (and happily so), but it blends in with the music well, and the composer demonstrates an ability to transition between some starkly different music basically seamlessly, with the orchestra executing it superbly.  Liu really seems to have a grasp of theatrical material on the basis of this piece, and he might be worth more exploration in the future.

The disc closes with Lu Qiming's Ode to the Red Flag, from 1965.  An ode to revolutionary success, with fanfares and bombast and a generally too much feeling, it might just be enough to make a dyed in the wool commie tear up.  The DSCH-like march married to music that foreshadows John Williams' Superman soundtrack elicited something of a chuckle.  (Yes, I know this was composed before the film soundtrack was written, but the aural connection is there.)  I've yet to hear Erwin Schulhoff's musical setting of The Communist Manifesto (I'm not sure it has been recorded), and I think this not quite brief enough piece - it's over nine minutes long - will have to do.

Most of the music is really quite lovely and entertaining, and I can easily see enjoying one or two of the pieces in a well-mixed concert.  That written, it is hard to see these specific works becoming either core rep in the West, or oft listened to by me.  YMMV.  One thing strikes me as certain: composers in the East are creating some fine music, and they are blending different traditions in new ways, and the probability of great works existing now is quite high, and will only grow with time.

Playing is excellent throughout.  Sound is likewise excellent, but it sounds a bit bright some of the time.  How much of that is the recording itself, and how much the remastering and potential re-EQing, I can't say.  I can say that the sonics are not worth any premium price.
The universe is change; life is opinion.   Marcus Aurelius, Meditations

Offline Todd

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Re: The Asian Invasion
« Reply #58 on: August 31, 2017, 05:23:07 AM »




Seoul-born, now American-domiciled, Juilliard-trained, thirty-one year old Joyce Yang took the Silver Medal at the 2005 Van Cliburn Competition, and she has been doing the touring and recording things for years now.  Her discs, mostly solo or chamber collaborations, are mixed repertoire affairs, and for my first exposure to her playing I opted for Wild Dreams.  (She also has an all-Tchaikovsky disc, but I didn't really want to start there.)

The disc takes its name from a combination of night and dream themed works and the two Earl Wild transcriptions of Rachmaninoff pieces that open the disc.  Those transcriptions are of Dreams, Op 36/5 and Vocalise, Op 34/14.  Right off the bat, it's clear that Yang can play with a beautiful, sensitive touch.  It does not take too long to hear that she also has the equipment to play loud, powerful passages without sounding hard, seeming to have ample reserves, and dexterity aplenty.  The pieces are pretty much all about beauty, and Yang delivers.  The first of five excerpts of Hindemith's In einer Nacht is also all about beauty and nuance, and Yang delivers here, too.  With the Sehr langsam second movement, Yang's nimbleness and keyboard command becomes more evident, and she manages to make the remaining brief pieces by the composer sound most delightful.

Then come the big works.  The first is Bartok's Out of Doors, played with nice power and a rounded sound, which makes for a rambunctious rather than barbaric With Drums and Pipes opener.  As she proceeds, Yang's playing is always excellent, but the music doesn't really pop like it can in the more robust music like The Chase.  (I'm thinking Kocsis here.)  Still, it's nice to hear a younger artist take up what is now old music.  Schumann's Fantasiestücke Op 12 follows.  Yang has the chops to play the music, and she plays beautifully, but also almost dutifully.  Her forward pulse is never hindered, and while she mixes up dynamics nicely, it's almost too straight forward at times, and the Eusebius and Florestan elements are not distinguished as much as I like; one is louder and quicker and one is quieter and slower, and that's almost the extent of it.  The disc closes with the 1931 edition of Rachmaninoff's Second Sonata.  Here, in the faster passages Yang acquits herself expertly.  Often, it seems like she wants to get back to the more delicate music because she almost seems to dote on it.  That's not to say that her more virtuosic playing lacks scale or weight or power, because she delivers plenty, which the coda makes abundantly clear.  It's just that as robust as the fast playing is, it lacks a certain spark more evident in the slow music.

This disc is a mixed bag.  There's no questioning Yang's chops, but I was rarely really drawn into the music making.  That written, if she records some more virtuosic Liszt, I do think I'll give it a listen.  I'd like to hear how she might handle the Transcendental Etudes.   
The universe is change; life is opinion.   Marcus Aurelius, Meditations

Offline Todd

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Re: The Asian Invasion
« Reply #59 on: September 05, 2017, 07:41:39 AM »



This disc clinches it.  Sung-Won Yang is a great cellist, no ifs, ands, or buts about it.  This EMI disc opens with Kodaly's over half-hour Op 8 Sonata for Solo Cello.  Yangs writes in his brief liner notes that this piece is as great as Bach's Cello Suites.  With him playing, this is a perfectly reasonable proposition.  The piece opens with heavy, resonant low frequency notes that favors judicious volume selection, but the piece appears to not challenge the soloist.  Kodaly exploits the frequency extremes, and Yang exploits those, demonstrating masterful playing, playing with intense expressiveness, eliciting a "Hungarian" sound, and showing what he can do.  You want tightly controlled pizzicato or sul pulticello playing to make your stereocilia flutter with excitement?  You got it.  And that's just in the first few minutes.  The second movement contains not a little profound music, clearly inspired by folk music, but refined by a keen compositional mind, and delivered via the hands of an interpretive genius.  The final movements takes the folk element that little bit further, with Yang delivering even more as needed. 

The second half of the disc contains works for cello and piano, with Ick-Choo Moon joining Yang.  The duo work together swimmingly.  The brief Adagio is beautiful and touching, with Kodaly's piano writing betraying some similarity with Liszt in a few passages, which poses no challenges for either artist.  The Sonatina is a lighter, happier piece, with the cello often soaring over lovely piano accompaniment that can sound like a most attractive blend of Rachmaninoff and Debussy.  The Op 4 Sonata is more folk music infused, more virtuosic, denser, and generally just nifty.  It occupies a soundworld close to Bartok's, and as such is all but guaranteed to succeed.  When that is paired with playing as fine as that provided by these two artists, it's a slam dunk.

At the time of writing, I have not purchased either of Sung-Won Yang's two recordings of Bach's Cello Suites.  That must change.  And though it would result in a duplication of this very disc, I'm contemplating dropping some serious coin, in today's big box pricing terms, on the box of Yang's complete EMI recordings, which includes some Tony Faulkner engineered recordings, and both his first set of the Bach Suites and the Beethoven Cello Sonatas, also with Ick-Choo Moon.

SOTA sound.
The universe is change; life is opinion.   Marcus Aurelius, Meditations

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