Author Topic: The Asian Invasion  (Read 25104 times)

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Offline Todd

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Re: The Asian Invasion
« Reply #180 on: April 20, 2019, 04:32:47 AM »



Ever since I stumbled across Sheila Arnold, I've rather fancied her playing.  This 2018 release is another of those releases from last year where I dilly-dallied a bit before buying, but buy it I did.  This grab-bag disc contains some Debussy, Cage, and Takemitsu presented in jumbled fashion.

The disc starts, however, with the first book of Debussy's Images.  The first two pieces are characterized by a few things.  First is a slow overall tempo.  This allows Arnold to present some of Debussy's writing in a languid way, with subtle and minute shifts in tempo and dynamics and note values everywhere, with even some chords having some unique accenting tossed in.  Second, she plays the loudest passages loud, with the fine control and lovely tone giving way to something a bit harsher.  In Mouvement, Arnold plays at a more conventional speed, with a nicely blurred effect.  She does ramp up the speed in the middle, and some of her momentary effects sound unique in my listening experience.  So, the disc starts off in unique and arresting fashion.

Then the disc moves into mixed rep territory, starting with Takemitsu's Piano Distance.  In Arnold's hands, the piece is largely about brief musical passages, often quiet, with lots of silences and fades, and some loud and clangy and uber-modern style.  Not bad, not great.  Debussy's Les fées sont d'exquises danseuses follows, and there's some steel, some flitting playing, some personalized rubato that might make Russell Sherman raise an eyebrow, and yet the whole thing works quite nicely, thank you.  Then comes a slug of John Cage's sonatas for prepared piano.  While I've listened to a fairly limited number of recordings of any of these pieces, most recently from David Greilsammer, Arnold succeeds in a couple ways where others have not.  First, she makes the music sound exceptionally "Eastern", replicating bells, creating meditative silences punctuated by outbursts of sound, and extra gamelan-y, too, more so than normal.  Second, Arnold demonstrates that a prepared piano can display wide dynamic range, depending on how it is prepared and recorded.  The clarity of individual notes and sounds is most captivating, and at times makes for a more bracing than expected listening experience.  Takemitsu's Quietly and with a cruel reverberation follows, and Arnold more or less plays as the title describes.  I'm not sure it makes for the most compelling music.  Then come the first three of Debussy's Preludes, in order.  Arnold again injects her personality, and her style and the composer's music jell nicely, with nothing over- or underdone, and Arnold's idiosyncrasies well within the bounds of what has been recorded before.  (Considering what's been recorded before, that gives her a lot of interpretive leeway.)  The rest of the disc alternates between pieces from the three composers, all delivered with the same style as described, before ending with a quick and at times potent Feux d'artifice.  As far as jumbled rep discs go, this is an exceptionally nice one.

One of the main outcomes of the disc is that I now want to hear what Ms Arnold can do in Debussy's full Preludes, and the other works.  I'd also very much like to hear what she could do with all of Cage's Prepared Piano works.  I'll probably just have to wait for her next single disc, whenever it may appear. 
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Offline amw

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Re: The Asian Invasion
« Reply #181 on: April 21, 2019, 04:44:03 AM »
I should note that of the specific names you mentioned, I've heard Hamelin (and may again next season) and Moog in person, and both were simply remarkable.  Hamelin was ill and still delivered a technically remarkable Gaspard, and Moog was unnervingly poised, playing with an imposing efficiency and a volume where his mezzo-forte was forte and his forte was fortissimo, all without a hint of edge, and all under perfect control at all times.  On a Steinway B.  His recital was the only one where the loudness became uncomfortable.  Only Behzod Abduraimov has compared in that regard, and then only fleetingly.  (Not coincidentally, both pianists played a lot of Liszt in their recitals.)

Hearing Volodos in person is a bucket list thing.  I can actually see travelling great distances to hear him in person. 
I think when I talk about an artist having perfect technique what I generally mean is the artist's ability to exert effortless (or apparently effortless) control over every aspect of the performance—there is no unevenness in dynamics, rhythm, texture etc except where the artist intends for unevenness to be present. There are very few pianists who meet this criterion. Hamelin I know from many recordings and youtube samplings of live bits and he generally has the added advantage of not being interpretively self-centred. Moog I'm not actually a huge fan of, but I picked up his Rachmaninov 3/Rubinstein 4 and he definitely has perfect technique even if his interpretations tend to be on the showy & flamboyant side. (Yuja Wang is another similar artist—notwithstanding the very occasional slip in live bootlegs, but I expect even Hamelin makes those sometimes—although I've found some of her more recent albums more rewarding.) Volodos my dad actually managed to hear in Hamburg recently and commented that the playing was beautiful but boring, due to his choice of programme. I obviously disagree with my dad on the relative merit of Scriabin and Schubert but his studio recordings do show a tendency to prize beauty of tone above all else, which could be detrimental in some repertoire. (His Brahms stays afloat on tone quality alone, & therefore for some people won't stay afloat at all.)

I do think Son's playing is on the same level in that respect. Also obviously the available evidence suggests that no-longer-living pianists such as Josef Lhevinne and Josef Hofmann had perfect technique, as did György Cziffra, though he often used it to produce results listeners might find ugly (the anti-Volodos), and Michelangeli, though he often used it to produce results listeners might find cold and impersonal (the anti-Moog). But there are plenty of pianists who didn't have perfect technique and still turned out recordings I value more than those who did: Maria Tipo's Beethoven and Chopin, Annie Fischer's Schumann, Sviatoslav Richter and Artur Schnabel's Schubert, Martha Argerich's discography in general (though she did come extremely close to perfect control a few times), Pi-Hsien Chen's Beethoven/Stockhausen and Boulez, Peter Serkin's Schoenberg, etc.

Offline Todd

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Re: The Asian Invasion
« Reply #182 on: April 21, 2019, 04:50:11 AM »
But there are plenty of pianists who didn't have perfect technique and still turned out recordings I value more than those who did


Sure, I would agree with that.  For instance, I almost never listen to Hamelin recordings.  His playing is immaculate, but I often find his interpretations bland or unengaging.   His Iberia is a perfect example.  I'll take flawed and engaging over flawless but boring any day.

By the way, YES has her own website where you can buy her recordings: http://store.yesm-art.co.kr/product/list.html?cate_no=42

It includes some items that are Korean market only, and some items from Svetlin Roussev, her partner on her newest release.
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Offline Todd

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Re: The Asian Invasion
« Reply #183 on: April 27, 2019, 03:44:34 AM »



It's been a while since I picked up Sayaka Shoji's LvB Violin Sonata cycle with Gianluca Cascioli, and the Prokofiev Violin Concertos with Yuri Temirkanov and his Leningrad band.  All discs were most successful.  What would happen, I wondered, if I mixed Beethoven and Temirkanov, with some Sibelius on the side? 

The long orchestral introduction to the Beethoven is about as well done as one would expect from Temirkanov and his band - which means impeccably - and then Shoji's arrival is one of those happy "Aww, crap" moments.  She doesn't bother with silly virtuosic flash.  She doesn't go all big 'n' bold.  Nope.  She plays with a fluid, somewhat casual style, with pure tone and beguiling beauty.  Her violin is balanced forward in the mix, and she does not seem to generate a massive sound, but it is a sweet one.  For many moons, the Ferras/Fluffy ditty has been my standard-bearer, but here Shoji essentially manages to create such a compelling sound and approach, and Temirkanov lays down such perfectly sympathetic support, that it becomes difficult, or impossible, for the listener to not just bask in the sound and not even bother thinking about other versions.  That Shoji uses her own cadenza and pulls it off only helps matters.  Then comes the Larghetto, and things get even better.  The playing is just lovely, perfectly paced, with just right levels of vibrato and just as right tempo selections.  Then comes the Rondo, and it's just ridiculous.  Shoji's smallish sound sounds so good that I was left just kind of wondering why I took so long to try this recording.  Ferras/Fluffy still sets the standard for me - and I can't entirely explain why - but Shoji/Termirkanov play in the big leagues.  Superb.

I expected Shoji's style to work more or less as well for Sibelius.  It almost does.  To be sure, everything is well done, but she just doesn't seem to groove quite as well.  Her tone and style still fit well, and there are moments of exquisite beauty and moments of more tension than expected, but it's not to the same level.  World class is its limit.  Comparatively more noteworthy is Temirkanov and crew, who dig in and play both taut and broad, tender and hard (or harder), with a pleasing darkness and weight in some spots.  The tuttis are informed with a colorful Russianness - Sibelius meets Tchaikovsky, if you will - which work quite well.  The Adagio comes off less syrupy than some other versions, which can run the gamut from great to disastrous depending on taste, but Shoji and (especially) Temirkanov keep on delivering the goods.  In the Finale, Shoji plays with a bigger, richer sounding tone that fully satisfying.  While never just letting loose, or anything close to it, she plays with more verve and drive, and the band follows.  Overall, a most satisfying version, and a most satisfying release.
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Offline Todd

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Re: The Asian Invasion
« Reply #184 on: May 04, 2019, 06:03:01 AM »



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

It has been way too long since I last listened to something new from Bright Sheng.  His Pipa Concerto (I'll call it) Nanking! Nanking! has been a favorite East-West hybrid piece since I first heard it many moons ago, and now just seemed like a good time to try something else.  This Naxos title includes three works, all basically programmatic concertos, for different instruments, and all boldly mix East and West again. 

The disc opens with The Song and Dance of Tears, a sort of double (or more) concerto, with Pipa again employed, and also a Sheng, a mouth organ, or bagless bagpipe type contraption with ancient roots, getting some spotlight time.  But then, so do other individual instruments, and whole sections, so it's more than a double concerto  The music is nearly cinematic and sweeping and grand at times, and at others it scales back, speeds up, and rushes through passages.  About nine minutes in, there is some music very reminiscent of the last movement of Bartok's Concerto for Orchestra, and immediately after there's some Revueltas sounding stuff, and one can hear some Mahler later on, as well as some other Western composers, but then all around it, weaving in and out, is music that very clearly sounds informed by Chinese folk music of various sorts.  How much is lifted directly from original sources, or abstracted in a manner like Bartok, I cannot say, but I can say the mixes of sounds and the textural variety is novel, and the piece never outstays it brief twenty-two-ish minute length.  The eighteen-ish minute Percussion Concerto Colors of Crimson follows, and after its opening very reminiscent of Berg's Violin Concerto, it morphs into a more standard if approachable contemporary concerto.  There's some lovely, melodic writing for the strings and winds, and while informed by Chinese music, it sounds more vague, less concrete, less obvious much of the time.  That's neither praise nor criticism, but just observation.  The piece would make for a fine opener for a mixed rep concert.  The disc closes with The Blazing Mirage, which is basically a Cello Concerto.  Trey Lee positively digs into his solo part at the opening, producing a big, fat tone and displaying superb control.  Again infused with some folk or folk-inspired music, and also with some neo-romantic sensibility, and some soaring string writing, it offers a crowd pleasing sound, but also real musical heft.  It's the broadest, largest scale work on the disc, even though it comes in under nineteen minutes.  It's the best thing on the disc - and everything is very good - and I would not mind one little bit if Carlos Kalmar decided to program it one season around these parts.

The composer himself leads the Hong Kong Philharmonic.  All players acquit themselves more than handsomely.  I shan't wait such a long time to listen to more Sheng. 
The universe is change; life is opinion. - Marcus Aurelius, Meditations

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Offline Todd

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Re: The Asian Invasion
« Reply #185 on: May 11, 2019, 02:57:21 AM »



I don't recall seeing the name Moye Chen before this DG debut recording popped up as a new release.  Mr Chen is in his mid-30s, and started off with training in China, eventually taking degrees at the Shanghai Conservatory, before moving on to Oberlin and the University of Illinois.  He has competed in a variety of lesser known competitions, capping things off with a win at the Cincinnati World Piano Competition.  (Fun fact, he had to withdraw from the Alaska International Piano-E-Competition in Fairbanks a couple years back.  Who knew there were international anythings in Fairbanks?)  So he's got a more or less standard type of background.

This disc is devoted to a baker's dozen of encores written by or transcribed by various pianist-composers, with Percy Grainger looming larger than one typically sees in mixed rep discs, and then the Horowitz mashup of Rachmaninoff's Second Sonata to close things out.  Not too surprisingly, the best encores on the disc are small pieces by Rachmaninoff.  A bit surprising is the relative quality of the Grainger pieces - Grainger is a composer I am fine listening to every four to six years - and the remaining pieces are meh.  Chen has certainly got chops aplenty, and he generates a big sound.  He sounds somewhat like Jorge Luis Prats, but with a brighter tone and more bravura approach.  His treatment of the encores may be considered heavy-handed, or indulgent, or just right - or all three.  (Really, should a piano treatment of music from Der Rosenkavalier be something other than indulgent?)  The Rach pieces have been bettered by other artists, but there's promising playing to be heard.  That leaves the main attraction.  Chen shows that he can use that big sound and technique to play the Rach/Horowitz piece very well, thank you.  There's huge scale, super-clean fingerwork, admirable control, the whole bit.  I prefer my Rach unsullied, but Chen makes a pretty darned good non-Horowitz case for the Horowitz version.  Really, though, this disc makes me want to hear what Chen can do in a more standard type of disc, maybe even devoted to just one composer.  Perhaps some Prokofiev or Scriabin, or maybe some Brahms variations or some Liszt.  Yeah, some Liszt, that'd be good.
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Offline Todd

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Re: The Asian Invasion
« Reply #186 on: May 18, 2019, 04:33:28 AM »



I've seen Wen-Sinn Yang pop up from time to time when looking for various cello pieces, but until I found this disc of live recordings as an Amazon Add-on (man, I love those), I never bought one of his recordings.  Mr Yang himself is Swiss, but conductor Shao-Chia Lü is Taiwanese, and the Taiwan Philharmonic most certainly is Taiwanese, so this disc acts as something of a test of the quality of Taiwanese orchestral music making. 

The disc opens with the Elgar.  Yang starts with a biggish, rich sound, but he lacks the boldness of other soloists, and the orchestra follows his lead to start off.  A certain reserve and solemnity is apparent, but then something rather nifty happens.  Soloist and band slowly ratchet up intensity to a satisfying level, culminating in a hefty fortissimo tutti, after which the piece moves between moods a bit, with Yang proving quite adept at generating an at times sweet sound, if only fleetingly.  Not fleeting is the beauty of his tone.  Even his pizzicati sound plush and lovely.  Yang plays with a nice fleetness in the faster passages, and the support is rather tuneful and almost playful.  In the Adagio, Yang has a hard time not generating a beautiful, lyrical sound.  Perhaps the interpretation could be heavier, but then, why?  The finale, while never too loose, retains a certain lighter overall air than some other versions.  Overall, it's most satisfying, if not the best I've heard.

Next comes the Schumann, a piece I rarely listen to.  Yang comes pretty close to making me reconsider that behavior.  He really digs into the piece while simultaneously never going overboard.  He plays with a perfect blend of drama and lightness, and he, and the orchestra, create a lovely and impassioned sound, within tasteful bounds.  Lü keeps tight control over his band, which plays with admirably control and flexibility.  This flexibility comes in handy as the work unfolds seamlessly, and Yang, partly through the aid of a bit of spotlighting, emphasizes Schumann's mercurial soundworld.  The concluding Sher lebhaft really sounds quite energetic, punchy, and rhythmically vital and plays to the crowd, in a good way.

The disc closes with the Korngold.  Typical of Korngold's orchestral scores, it's as lush as lush can be.  It also screams "film music", which make sense since it is based on his score for the movie Deception.  A massive, percussion-rich orchestra provides a puffed up background for the soloist to go over the top, which Yang does with ease.  The single movement work contains all it needs to - fast music, slow music, cadenza, etc - in a brief twelve or so minutes.  If the preceding description reads somewhat dismissive, it is not meant to: no one does over the top late, late romantic music quite like Korngold.  Scoring is Richard Strauss quality.  Tunes are (near) Dvorak quality.  Structure is just right.  It's really quite excellent and makes for a most enjoyable listen.  A challenger to the Dvorak it is not, but fun to listen to, it most certainly is.

So, Wen-Sinn Yang can play.  The Taiwan Philharmonic can play.  Shao-Chia Lü can conduct.  I kind of want to hear what all of the artists can do in other repertoire.

Oehms delivers high grade sound. 
The universe is change; life is opinion. - Marcus Aurelius, Meditations

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Offline Todd

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Re: The Asian Invasion
« Reply #187 on: May 25, 2019, 04:38:06 AM »



I figured I ought not to wait to try more YES.  This time around, I opted for her Korean market disc of five works by five composers on the New World Music label, from 2012.  Here that means some Tchaikovsky (by way of Feinberg), Schumann, Liszt, Kapustin, and Shchedrin.  Quite the varied program. 

The disc opens with the Samuel Feinberg arrangement of the Scherzo from Tchaikovsky's Sixth.  Listening to this disc prompted me to pull out the only other version I know, from Arcadi Volodos.  The two pianists offer different visions.  YES more or less rushes through the piece in what could be called a headlong manner, but the control is so absolute that that would not be strictly true.  Of course YES attends to niceties of dynamic gradations with the utmost refinement, and she keeps her fingerwork super-duper clean, and her rhythmic stylings are pretty nifty, with a potent and pointed march-like feel in places.  (And one can also hear hints of Stravinsky emerge in the ten finger transcription.)  It is marvelously played.  Revisiting Volodos offers something a bit more.  His timing is just about ten seconds slower overall, but that masks much more variety of tempo and rubato.  Volodos makes some of the early music sound very ballet-like, to the point that it sounds like the best ever répétiteur is playing.  But then he starts pushing and pulling the tempi ever so slightly, and then ever so significantly, and even as a young man he seemed rather unchallenged by the piece so he plays some of the music so fast, yet so clean, and so powerfully at times, that other pianists, even YES, seem a bit less inspired.  Too, though this was Volodos' first disc, one can hear the sumptuous tone that has reached an almost impossible zenith in his Mompou and Brahms discs.  Volodos prevails, but given the showy nature of the piece, it is quite remarkable that I now have two obviously world class versions in my collection, both of which manage to satisfy musically.

Next is the biggest work on the disc, Schumann's Humoreske.  Unsurprisingly, YES plays the opening Einfach with a perfectly realized touch, with dynamic gradations that have sub-gradations.  The playing, beautiful as it is, sounds just a bit cool, like the pianist wants to present an idealized version.  YES reinforces this impression in one of the most ridiculously well played versions of Hastig I've heard.  The insanely well controlled dynamics are joined by rubato that manages to be subtle but almost unsubtle at the same time, and perfectly so.  With the masterful version of the piece from William Youn still fresh in my mind, it becomes hard not to notice that YES's playing remains more detached throughout.  Yes, she offers significantly different approaches between the Eusebius and Florestan sections, and in the Eusebius music, YES's ultrasuperfine dynamic control yields big dividends, but the playing is less engaged and engaging than Youn's.  This should not be taken to mean that YES merely plays with supreme technical aplomb and nothing else, because that's not the case.  Rather, the degree of prep work and refined talent is so obviously extraordinary, that one gets to listen to a piece where every note, every use of pedals, every accent, every everything has been perfectly calibrated.  And those chops, when displayed in a piece like Innig, are impossible not to hold in awe, or something close to it.  So, here's a version of no little merit, by which I mean this is a sweet, world-class take that gets to be compared to the heavy hitters.  Must be compared to the heavy hitters.

The follow-up is a potentially garish Liszt showpiece, the Rhapsodie espagnole.  I've got a good number of versions of the work, but in the event I want a fully satisfying version, I reach for either Igor Kamenz or Giuseppe Albanese, the former for a more serious attempt at the music, and the latter for a showier take.  YES offers something a bit different.  Basically, her take is garish, romantic Liszt delivered as more modern music, with the playing taking on a cool, Prokofiev and Ravel inspired sound.  YES dazzles in the opening cadenza, with crazy fast and clean playing, followed by some serious, left hand leading playing that sounds like an industrial baroque-modern hybrid.  She then moves into some more vaguely Spanish sounding playing, including a nice enough approximation of a guitar.  YES then holds a section concluding chord with sustain so long it sounds potentially augmented.  (Some of the playing thereafter has some upper register playing that sounds like the piano may have needed some TLC before proceeding.)  YES shows that she can do fast, precise trills with the best of them (eg, Yokoyama), and then the playing moves into the unabashedly hypervirtuosic sort.  Here, YES more than holds her own with both Kamenz and Albanese.  Seriously, some of the playing is almost absurdly fast and too perfect to be real.  But real it is, and YES joins what is now a trifecta of preferred versions of this piece.  (That I have three preferred versions of this work may indicate a problem.)

The last two pieces are shorter, making the disc seem a bit lopsided programmatically, though that's fine.  YES plays Kapustin's Op 41 Variations very nicely indeed, and while she has no difficulty navigating the piece's demands, the jazzier portions of the jazz infused piece lack the rhythmic fluidity that it really ought to have.  So, YES probably isn't the world's best jazz pianist.  That's OK.  (It could be also that I just don't care for the piece.)  The Shchedrin Tchaikovsky Etude ends the disc, and again YES displays super chops, and the short, fast, almost staccato only piece displays an impish sense of humor and ends up working very well as an encore of sorts. 

So, another winner of a disc.  Only the Kapustin falls flat, and that has nothing to do with the pianist.  Everything is played at the highest possible level, and per usual, YES requires comparisons to the best of the best only.

Sound for the 2012 recording is superb, but it's not modern Decca SOTA.
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Offline Todd

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Re: The Asian Invasion
« Reply #188 on: June 01, 2019, 04:48:10 AM »



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


Most of my listening for The Asian Invasion has been geared toward CKJ artists.  But there's more to the continent than those three countries.  Thanks to the seeming randomness of Amazon Add-on discounts, something from a Iranian composer caught my eye.  For a few measly bucks, why not try something from another extra-ancient civilization, I thought.  I mean, some of Karol Szymanowski's best work is inspired by Persian poetry, so there must be something else out there to inspire.  Amir Mahyar Tafreshipour is a name new to me.  He identifies with the land of his birth and early childhood, but he is also steeped in the ways of the West, so he is uniquely positioned to offer a hybrid approach.  He also penned the liner notes, so the lucky reader is not beholden to possible misinterpretations by an another author of the composer's intent.  Another Iranian, Alexander Rahbari, conducts the ECO in the main work.  It has been many, many moons since I heard it, but Mr Rahbari has conducted some Debussy for Naxos in the past, so he, too, knows east and west.  As it happens, Rahbari also composes, and Naxos will be releasing a disc of his music in the very near future.

The disc opens with the title piece.  I set the volume knob about where I typically do, and that ended up a problem at the start as the harp is miked way too close and bursts forth with a boldness I don't typically associate with the instrument.  As the three movement concerto moves along, it ends up being basically a modernist concerto in three movements, with a conventional fast-slow-fast approach.  The solo part could have been a violin or piano or whatever.  That's not to say that the music isn't good, because it is; rather, I don't really hear the special value of the harp, specifically.  Tafreshipour clearly knows both Iranian music and Western music, because both are obvious, and Western music dominates.  The Eastern components sound attractive and lend what I'll describe as quasi-exotic feel to the music.  The remaining structure, textures, instrumentation, and so forth, evoke music I've heard before.  The names Bartok and Mahler came to mind more than thrice, especially in the dissonant string writing. The harp ends up working most effectively in the Tranquillo second movement, and in the third movement, soloist Gabriella Dall'Olio demonstrates what I have to gather are impressive chops as she strums away at widely divergent dynamic levels, including almost ridiculously quiet and sweet pianissimo arpeggios.  There's a lot to enjoy here, and if I know this will not receives many spins, it was certainly good to hear.

The next work is the quintet Alas.  It almost immediately brought to mind Berg's Chamber Concerto and Messiaen's Quartet for the End of Time, though it does sound different than either and decidedly contemporary.  Unabashedly so.  The piano part serves a sort of anchor, and there's precious little in the way of light or charming melodies, something reinforced by the other instruments.  That's not meant as criticism, because there's something more immediately gripping, something more vital in the music.  It's sophisticated and appealing, but not simply beautiful for the sake of beauty. 

The last two pieces are briefer works.  The trio Lucid Dreams for harp, cello, and violin is as unabashedly modern as Alas.  The basically rhapsodic piece unfolds in a sort of organized chaos way, sometimes sounding attractive, especially with the strings, and sometimes astringent.  And here the harp generates a sort of crazy guitar sound here and there.  Cool.  The disc closes with Yearning in C.  Influenced by childhood memories of Scandinavia and largely improvisational (which I hope means it could sound different in person), it is a continuously unfolding work that sounds close enough to older forms of music while being much more modern.  This is precisely the type of work I would love to hear in a chamber recital of some sort as an opener. 

So, overall, this is a successful disc.  The headline work is the most "conservative" of the bunch and the least compelling.  When Tafreshipour goes for something more abstract, his music is even better.  I don't know if I'll actively hunt down more works by him, but if I stumble across something else, I know his style and I will buy with confidence.

Sound quality is excellent, and all performing artists do excellent work.
« Last Edit: June 01, 2019, 05:43:30 AM by Todd »
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Offline Todd

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Re: The Asian Invasion
« Reply #189 on: June 08, 2019, 04:59:26 AM »



Now forty year old Xiaotang Tan is a pianist I stumbled upon because his disc ended up an Amazon Add-on.  Mr Tan was born in Beijing and did most of his early studying in China, where he now lives and performs.  He's done the competition thing, as one expects, and he studied in France and Germany as well.  The famous name in his pedagogical line is Gerhard Oppitz.  Now to the playing.

The disc starts off an hour of Chopin with the first Ballade.  Tan starts off slow 'n' somber, with a somewhat austere tone, moves to much harder hitting playing with hints of steel in the first theme, then backs off to suitably poetic playing in the second theme.  Tan displays clean fingerwork and his playing ends up sounding a bit like Yukio Yokoyama's pressed but controlled style.  Tan plays the Second Scherzo with nimble fingerwork of almost industrial strength, rendering almost every other version I've heard sound flimsy and dainty by comparison.  To be sure, overt poetry or tonal allure go AWOL, and the piece sounds aggressively Prokofiev-infused.  Tan very much emphasizes the fortissimo over the non-existent pianissimo, generating oodles of surface excitement and aggression.  It's the musical equivalent of being splashed with cold water while having a brisk mountain wind blow in your face during late fall.  And that's subtle compared to the Op 44 Polonaise, which Tan hammers out with an at times merciless forward drive.  To be sure, some of his right hand playing emphasizes some details in a unique manner, but the playing can be too unrelenting.  Tan displays some good rhythmic sense in the Op 30 Mazurkas, but the playing remains too hard-hitting.  Finally, in the Op 18 Waltz, things lighten up a bit, but even here some of the playing sounds too hard.  The two Op 48 Nocturnes end the Chopin portion, and here Tan starts off quite promising, with subdued, dark, and heavy but clean playing where melody gets its due.  Tan creates tension by maintaining a steady pulse and playing the middle section a bit louder, without overdoing anything.  The second Nocturne of the set boasts some quite lovely right hand playing in the early going, though with hints of tension laced throughout.  Tan ratchets up the tension a bit more, and plays with more strength, but he keeps things under wraps for the most part.

The last two works on the disc are brief contemporary works by Chinese composers, both of whom, according to the liner notes, were influenced by Debussy and Messiaen.  Qigang Chen was, in fact, a pupil of Messiaen, while Xiaogang Ye studied with one of Messiaen's other pupils.  Ye's Namucuo is named after a Tibetan lake north of Lhasa.  One can hear the once removed influence of Messiaen in the piece, with its even more abstracted birdsong, and its evocation of wind over the water.  It does a good enough job of evoking the austere but lovely landscape and sounding unabashedly modern.  Tan's hard-hitting style works well here, and his right hand playing is both bright and varied.  Chen's Moments of a Beijing Opera closes the disc.  Here it is Debussy who looms large.  One can hear some of the Preludes and even the Etudes, but one can also hear a more pronounced Chinese character.  The music breaks away from the confines of Western impressionism and has something different in its place.  The more animated music benefits from Tan's style.  Indeed, this is the kind of piece that could benefit from multiple recordings, and I think it may make sense to try something else from the composer.

Sound is very clear, clean, and bright.  It may contribute some to the hard-hitting sound Tan generates.
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Offline Todd

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Re: The Asian Invasion
« Reply #190 on: June 15, 2019, 04:44:42 AM »



Jiyeong Mun, going by the name Chloe Mun for her DG debut, is a young Korean pianist who has done the rounds: competitions, conservatories, C-, B- and some A-list collaborations, and so forth.  It is worth noting that at the time the disc was released in 2017, she was studying with Daejin Kim.  Of somewhat special note is the fact that Ms Mun does not come from a privileged background, which makes her something of a rarity in the overwhelmingly upper class world of classical music.  Poor or rich, I just want some good music making after spending my money.  As such:

The disc opens with the Op 11 Sonata.  Dark and sonorous, and closely miked to add some heft, Mun opens the Introduzione with enough oomph and no rough edges.  It lacks the last word in vitality, but it sounds lovely.  This overall impression is reinforced in the second section, which while not enervated, lacks the drive and intensity of many versions.  In place of that intensity is something of a sustained musical dream state, especially in the very Eusebius-rich slow playing.  Mun delivers gorgeous sound after gorgeous sound.  To be sure, the pianist generates some energy in parts, but those sections sound relatively less compelling.  The Aria benefits mightily from Mun's beautiful tone and gentle overall sound.  Just when you think that's it, things ramp up in the Scherzo, which displays more pep and drive, and a continued lack of rough edges.  It's quite satisfying.  The Finale then brings it all home with the various styles mixed about, with Mun again playing some music in a nicely dreamy fashion.  Overall, good, if not best ever.

Next comes the Fantasie.  With the right pianist, the work is magnificent.  With the wrong pianist, it can be a too long drag.  Fortunately, Mun seems well suited for the piece, if one is prepared for a dreamy fantasy.  In the first movement, Mun proves adept at emphasizing melody over a somewhat pulsating accompaniment played at a discreetly lower volume.  She mixes and matches dynamics niftily, and she revels in the quieter passages, eking out a gentle, tender sound.  It might almost be considered too beautiful at times.  (Nah.)  Every time the music shifts in this direction, Mun really delivers.  If one misses thundering playing displaying absolute command, the tradeoff is more than worth it.  In the second movement, one misses the command and energy of other versions, and the close sound makes it more obvious that Mun does not generate a truly massive sound.  That's ultimately no barrier to enjoying what's on offer, especially with more of that fine soft playing.  In the third movement, taken at a very slow tempo in some places, Mun's dreamy playing, married to extremely deliberate left hand playing generates a nice suspended time effect.  Again, this is not the best version I've heard, but there is more than a little to recommend the recording.

The disc closes out with Blumenstück, and under Mun's fingers, it is a gentle, sweet piece of great beauty and occasional animation.  The lack of rough edges adds to the appeal here.

As always, I ponder what I'd like to hear a pianist play.  With this pianist, Chopin certainly.  Probably Debussy and Mompou, too. 

Superb, up to date sound, if it is perhaps a bit too close.
The universe is change; life is opinion. - Marcus Aurelius, Meditations

Everything dies - Alien Bounty Hunter, The X-Files

Everyone dies - William Barr, United States Attorney General