Author Topic: The Asian Invasion  (Read 4115 times)

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Offline Todd

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Re: The Asian Invasion
« Reply #60 on: September 08, 2017, 04:49:08 AM »



When I picked up Dong-Min Lim's Chopin, I figured I might as well pick up his other major label release, some Beethoven.  Recorded in New York in 2008 and produced by no less a personage than Max Wilcox, the release includes both Korean and English notes, but it is a Korean market only issue.

The disc opens with Op 110.  Lim plays the Moderato with a nice blend of clarity and lyricism and deliberate control.  The deliberate playing is most obvious about three minutes in when the very controlled left hand playing dominates completely without being overbearing.  Such a balance is unusual, though not heard of.  As with his Chopin, the degree of tight control sounds more appealing as the playing continues.  One thing the playing is not is late-LvB deep/profound/transcendent; the playing is antiseptically clean, yet it's still effective.  The Allegro molto is fast and pointed and potent, with supreme dynamic control and ample digital dexterity.  There's never a sense of even trying very hard, let alone strain.  The final movement opens cold and perfectly paced, and as the first arioso unfolds, it sounds stylistically similar to a revved up Adagio in Op 106.  The repeated left hand chords are unusually insistent without sounding overbearing.  Given Lim's precision and control, the fugue is very clear and controlled, but a bit cold, which works quite well.  The second arioso sounds more resigned but just about as tense and the first one, the repeated chords increase in volume nicely and transition to the inverted fugue splendidly, with the fugue itself very clear and clean, and a bit more intense than the first one and leads to a potent coda.  This is a pristinely "classical", more middle period style recording, but it is among the very best of the type.

Next up is the Moonlight sonata.  Lim plays the Adagio sostenuto in a steady, cool manner, delivers a crisp but not rushed Allegretto, and a limber, somewhat dynamically constrained, but motoric Presto agitato.  Not a great version, but an above average one. 

The disc closes with Op 57, and here Lim starts the Allegro assai off tentatively but tensely, then displays superb dexterity and front-loaded chords, and rarely maxxed out volume, with dynamic contrasts adding controlled drama.  The Andante con moto stays light and brisk throughout the variations, almost like Lim is itching to get to the final movement, which he starts with biting chords, quickly ratchets back, and then moves to fast and tense playing, with superb clarity of voices throughout.  While not the fastest, or the loudest, or the most powerful, Lim does a formidable job generating pronounced forward momentum, and when he backs off, the mastery of every aspect is impressive for a pianist in his 20s at the time of the recording. 

With two discs down from both Lim brothers, I'd have to say that Dong-Min is slightly better overall, by which I mean his playing is more to my taste.  They can obviously both play at the highest level.  Alas, it looks like Dong-Min is not pursuing the international career of Dong-Hyek, though hopefully more recordings will come out from time to time.

Sound is very close and strikingly vivid, which is common to many Wilcox recordings.
« Last Edit: September 08, 2017, 05:37:29 AM by Todd »
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Offline Todd

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Re: The Asian Invasion
« Reply #61 on: September 11, 2017, 05:22:01 AM »



I decided against what I initially thought was my better judgment to try HJ Lim's Ravel and Scriabin disc.  I don't mind idiosyncratic pianists - I have a boatload of discs from such artists (Barto, Pogorelich, Heidsieck, etc) - but as evidenced by her LvB cycle, and now this disc, HJ Lim's pianism ain't my thing - overall.  Ravel's Valses nobles et sentimentales starts the disc, and it starts off aggressively, which is fine, and throughout Lim delivers passages here and there that sound attractive or exaggerated for effect, but they don't really cohere.  Too, the rhythmic component is kind of all over the map.  It sounds like a collection of momentary flights of fancy that don't amount to much.  The Scriabin Fourth and Fifth sonatas follow in order.  Impulsive, of-the-moment playing can work well with Scriabin, and Lim does that, and uses rubato generously, but again, the works don't really cohere.  There'll be a dazzling section followed by a nicely manic one followed by a more reserved one followed by a harmonically fulsome one, and each one is pretty good, but they don't add up to anything.  In the Fifth, some of her loud playing comes mightily close to banging, though, again, with Scriabin this can work, but it doesn't help matters here.  Ravel's Sonatine sounds almost manic-depressive, or rather manic-less manic but glum.  Again, some portions work well, others less so, and when taken as a whole, it doesn't work.  Lim is not a big-picture pianist.  The Scriabin Op 38 Waltz starts off promising, and more restrained, but soon Lim resorts to her standard approach.  The first of the two Op 32 Poems ends up the second best thing on the disc, sounding rhapsodic and nonchalant and lovely.  It's really good, no caveats.  The second one is hard and overdone.  The disc closes with a surprise: an exceptional performance.  In Ravel's La Valse, Lim starts off in menacing fashion, and her manic and impulsive style works here.  In her hands, the piece becomes an over the top musical grotesquery, shallow and stinging, with indifference to rhythmic propriety and constraints of good taste.  It's the best thing I've heard from her and warrants the price of the disc.  (Granted, I got it used and cheap.)

I never cared for Lim's Beethoven overall, though there were some individual works in the set that were good, with Op 57 coming to mind.  Given the two successes on this disc, I have to rate it either a failure with two highlights, or a very heavily qualified success.  I doubt it earns a lot of spins, but at least the La Valse will receive more airings.  It's a bit hard for me to think of other things I really want to hear Lim play, though she might be able to do something interesting with smaller scale works where manic, improvisatory playing can pay dividends - Scarlatti or CPE Bach, perhaps.  And though it could be a total trainwreck, Lim's style might also yield intriguing results in some Messiaen.  Yeah, I'd go for some Messiaen from her.
« Last Edit: September 11, 2017, 12:03:08 PM by Todd »
The universe is change; life is opinion.   Marcus Aurelius, Meditations

Offline Todd

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Re: The Asian Invasion
« Reply #62 on: September 15, 2017, 05:52:52 AM »



Japanese pianist Motoi Kawashima's first appearance in my collection.  The liner notes list a variety of first, second, and third place finishes in various competitions, including, rather obviously, a first place finish at the International Schubert Competition Dortmund in 2005.  He studied at the Tokyo College of Music, the Weimar Music Academy, and the Berlin Music Academy.  In the course of his studies, he studied with Lazar Berman and Alexis Weissenberg.  Those two pianists may have left their marks.  He's recorded a handful of discs, and I ended up with this one because it was a bargain bin Amazon Add-on.

The disc opens with Schubert's D958.  Kawashima launches into the Allegro.  It's fast, hard-hitting, powerful, often aggressive, with steely forte playing.  While not devoid of lyricism, this is not about that.  Kawashima's playing is unrelentingly forward moving, and displays digital dexterity equal to almost any other Schubertian.  He blows right past Julius-Jeongwon Kim, Paul Lewis, and Stephen Kovacevich in his hard-hitting playing.  The closest analog in my listening experience is probably Michel Dalberto.  But Kawashima is not all hard-hitting pianistic aggression; he slows down and lightens up in the Adagio's first theme.  The second theme, though, reverts to a more aggressive, agitated sound, though Kawashima maintains a proper slow tempo.  The Menuetto stays taut but more subdued, while the same cannot be said for the concluding Allegro, which is a musical jackhammer.  While not especially fast, the rhythmic drive and hardened steel of Kawashima's playing makes listening to the piece somewhat like an especially grueling workout, one that leaves the participant on the verge of collapse or vomiting, yet there's something sort of refreshing and even purifying about it. 

The disc then moves on to transcriptions, two Schubert/Liszt jobs, and Liszt's treatment of the Liebestod.  In Fruehlingsglaube, Kawashima backs off, but the playing never sounds gentle or nuanced or lyrical, with playing seeming to basically hover in the mezzo-forte to forte range.  Auf dem Wasser zu singen is pushed, rushed, and tense.  It's the musical equivalent of a trip down Class III rapids, and were it transcribed back to a song, it would be suitable for a young Vince Neil.  The Liebestod is also pushed a bit, like maybe Isolde OD'd on meth, or something, with the playing swelling to a pulsing fever pitch before withdrawing to a surprisingly gentle diminuendo ending.

Mikhail Pletnev's transcription of Tchaikovsky's The Nutcracker ends the disc.  Kawashima dispatches the music deftly, but his is not a recording focused on nuance and subtle tonal shadings.  It's about virtuosic playing, much of it loud and very controlled, with tonal coloring in shades of steel. 

I will definitely return to this disc, but I'll have to be in just the right mood, one where I think Michael Korstick is just not forceful enough and I want something more steely. 

Sound for the 2006 recording, made in the Thürmer-Saal in Bochum, is clean and clear.  It should be noted that the hard, steely sound is much more obvious through speakers as lower registers are reinforced with greater low frequency energy; through cans, it comes across more as bright and metallic and less imposing.
The universe is change; life is opinion.   Marcus Aurelius, Meditations

Offline Todd

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Re: The Asian Invasion
« Reply #63 on: September 18, 2017, 05:16:29 AM »



Quynh Nguyen is another pianist new to me.  Born in Vietnam, where she received her early training before being shipped off to Moscow for additional training, Nguyen ended up finishing up her studies in New York at Juilliard, the Mannes School, and finally City University of New York.  She now does the teaching and concertizing and recording for an indie label thing.  Of her several releases, this ditty with Schubert and Chopin caught my eye.

Originally, I was going to do a more detailed summary, but instead I'll just do a tl;dr summary: occasionally lyrical and well done, but also occasionally hard sounding and sloppy, it's not my cup of tea.
The universe is change; life is opinion.   Marcus Aurelius, Meditations

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