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The Music Room => Great Recordings and Reviews => Topic started by: Todd on April 26, 2017, 09:12:45 AM

Title: The Asian Invasion
Post by: Todd on April 26, 2017, 09:12:45 AM
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With the ever-increasing numbers of superb CKJ ivory-ticklers doing well in international competitions and producing high quality recordings, and after having discovered www.yesasia.com and it's large trove of Korean market releases to augment the ongoing flood of Japanese market releases available from HMV Japan, Amazon Japan, and CD Japan, I figured I'd devote a thread to such artists. Mostly, posts will focus on younger artists and/or artists new to me, though some more established artists may make an appearance from time to time.

I'll start with Hisako Kawamura's 2011 release of Schumann's Humoreske, Chopin's Third Sonata, and Liszt's Widmung as an encore.  (In this case, I picked it up for under five bucks as an Amazon Add-On item.)  Born in Japan, but mostly raised, educated, and now domiciled in Germany, Ms Kawamura counts Vladimir Krainev among her teachers (this album is dedicated to him), and she plays a wide array of core rep, as on this disc.  Kawamura starts off with the Schumann.  She opens with a measured tempo, allowing each note and chord its due, but she quickly plays with more gusto.  The Florestan side of the music is a bit more pronounced, as the quieter playing, which delicate and gentle, sounds a bit cool rather than dreamy.  This does dampen the contrasts a bit, and her dynamic nuance does not match my preferred Schumann pianists, but there is much to enjoy here.  The Chopin starts off with more intensity, but of the controlled variety.  This is not an unabashedly virtuosic recording like Weissenberg or Argerich, but one where Kawamura allows herself a bit more relaxed approach to dynamics and tempo, both of which are judged very well and her playing is quite fluid throughout the opening movement.  The Scherzo starts off energetic and articulate, but Kawamura backs way off in the middle section, then gently eases back into the opening material, before thundering out the coda.  Pretty nifty.  The Largo starts where the Scherzo ended, just slower, then transitions to some slower and much softer playing.  Kawamura seems at home here, playing with beauty and expressiveness without tipping over into schmaltz.  Kawamura plays with more force and drive in the Finale.  While dynamics and overall forward momentum are excellent, the playing lacks real rhythmic snap.  That's more observation than criticism. 

I can't say that Kawamura matches the best in either work, but her playing is compelling enough so that I will not pass up opportunities to hear her in other repertoire.

Sonics for the RCA Japan release, recorded in the almost always superb sounding Jesus Christus Kirche in Berlin, are up there with the best Japanese recordings - that is, state of the art.
Title: Re: The Asian Invasion
Post by: Todd on May 05, 2017, 06:16:14 AM
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[This will be cross-posted in the Schubertiade! thread.]


Ran Jia's major label debut.  Who is Ran Jia, you ask?  She's a twenty-seven year old pupil of Gary Graffman, and daughter of composer Jia Daqun.  She appears to have a thing for the music of Schubert.  Her first, non-major label recording was of the D664 and D960 sonatas, and just a couple months back (March 2017 as of the time of writing), she presented a Schubert cycle for her Berlin debut.  Somewhat like with Hideyo Harada's disc, I sort of judged a book by its cover, and foolishly assumed from the glamour shot on the cover, and the other glamour shots in the booklet, that Ms Jia would play soft and tender.  Nope.  Fortunately, I enjoy her playing more than Harada's. 

The disc opens with D958.  It's evident that slow, deeply contemplative Schubert is not Jia's style.  She plays with more speed and grit.  Her Schubert is harder, though her playing can be quite beautiful at times.  It's close to a steel fist in a velvet glove approach.  Let's say anodized aluminum in comfy suede for Jia.  And as Jia demonstrates in the Adagio, she can belt out forte chords rather well.  The bass registers don't dominate or anything, but sometimes they really rumble.  The tense, almost jittery speed is most evident in the outer movements, and she seems to be in something of a hurry to finish the Allegro - to excellent effect.  She takes the time througout the work to pay some attention to details, as with the wonderful, extended right hand run in the opening, but this is a hard, cool, modern-classical hybrid approach.  Good stuff. 

So, too, is D845.  And unsurprisingly, it is of the quick, tense, almost angry variety.  It doesn't have the power of Lupu or the intensity of Gulda, but the opening movement moves forward at all times.  Jia does slow down as appropriate, but these passages seem like respites before revving back up.  The Andante poco mosso is plucky - and tense.  The way she dashes off right hand figurations throughout is most captivating, and the slower music is dark, 'late' Schubert.  The tense feel permeates the Scherzo, too, with Jia rushing through some transitions - again, to excellent effect.  The propulsive Rondo wraps up some fine Schubert.  Here's a D845 that offers a pretty strong contrast to the equally compelling but very different take from Michail Lifits, to stick with other young(-ish) pianists offering some fine, modern Schubert. 

The disc concludes with three Preludes for Piano by the pianist's father.  The brief pieces are decidedly post-war modern works.  Some knotty, chord-heavy writing interspersed with some attractive melodic content, not least in the Homage to Schubert, which derives from D845, and some brief, sparse passages make me rather wish more than three short pieces were included.  If Jia were to devote an entire disc to her father's output, I'd give it a shot.

Sound is very good, but somewhat problematic.  It's not ideally clear by contemporary standards, and it's as though the engineers couldn't capture Jia's dynamic range properly, so the slightly distant recording checks most but not all sonic boxes.  The disc sounds slightly better through headphones, but the same issues persist no matter the transducer type used.

I will keep an eye on this pianist, and when she records D894, I will buy with alacrity.  Maybe she can record some Schoenberg or Prokofiev or Ligeti or Schnittke while she's at it.

Title: Re: The Asian Invasion
Post by: Todd on May 11, 2017, 04:38:14 AM
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[Originally, I was going to focus on CKJ artists, but as India is part of Asia, I thought it proper to include Ms Arnold.]


I'm not really a fortepiano kind of guy.  Paul Badura-Skoda and Penelope Crawford both manage to make Beethoven work exceedingly on ancient instruments, Andras Schiff has much to say in Schubert in his ECM recording and in Mozart, and Ragna Schirmer's "Liebe in Variationen" disc has it formidable strengths, but the other recordings I've heard vary in quality quite a bit, with a tendency to not be favorites.  Sheila Arnold, she of the fantastic recent (for me) Schubert recital, really delivers in Chopin and joins this small cadre of artists.  Using an 1839 Erard, obviously lovingly maintained, she delivers a knock-out recording.  First, though HIP, the piano sounds big and full as recorded.  Second, Arnold's playing is nimble and clear, and she takes maximum musical advantage of the quicker decay.  As an example, the final tolling bass notes of the last Prelude take on something of a new meaning.  Third, she knows how to deliver dynamic gradations at a world-class level on her chosen instrument.  Some of the playing is nearly modern concert grand pulverizing, and she fluidly and expertly plays at varying volume levels.  Her approach is definitely not of the effete, drawing room variety; the playing is at times aggressive, though Arnold knows when to back off (eg, the Raindrop).  Too, she plays some Preludes rather differently.  For instance, the second Prelude is much slower than normal, and is treated as a "death knell" (the pianist's description).  The disc opens with the First and ends with the Fourth Ballade, and both are just wonderful, and played with drive and assertiveness and intellectualized romanticism.  Arnold's playing may not be the most emotive and romantic playing out there, but it is committed and serious and communicative.  This is one of the best fortepiano recordings I've heard.

Perfect sound.
Title: Re: The Asian Invasion
Post by: Todd on May 17, 2017, 04:46:44 AM
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Some Schumann from twenty-something Da Sol Kim, winner of contests and collaborator of A-listers, recorded in 2015.  The disc opens with the Arabeske.  Kim plays with a lovely tone, and alternates between slightly gentle and nicely robust playing, in a style that can best be described as straight-ahead and highly polished.  The combination works slightly better in the slower playing.  The Humoreske follows, and the same traits are on display.  The opening is just lovely, and as Kim proceeds he plays with impressive nimbleness and control, and his dynamic range is excellent.  He never produces an ugly tone or anything that sounds edgy; everything maintains a slightly rounded sound.  As the playing proceeds, as accomplished as it is, it sometimes lacks the nuance and individuality that other pianists may bring; it is mostly about the surface, sounding beautifully superficial.  In some ways, it is the opposite style of approach from Kawamura, who seeks something more in her playing, though Kim's technique seems more assured.  The disc ends with Kreisleriana.  Here, Kim plays with a bit more bite in the opening, even generating some metallic playing, but it always stays controlled and precise.  The second movement opens with great beauty and gentleness, but it sounds a bit reserved and almost too flawless, to the point where it's a museum piece.  It's very Steven Osborne-esque in that manner, but perhaps a bit more polite.  The Florestan passages, too, though fast, dynamic, sometimes quite powerful, and always admirably well controlled, sound perhaps too polite and superficial; the playing displays contained and prescribed passion.  The entire disc is more or less like that.

Da Sol Kim can definitely play, there's no doubt of that, and he doesn't really indulge himself too much.  Given his strengths, I would rather fancy hearing him in some Rachmaninoff or Ravel. 

The release gets the deluxe DG treatment, with multi-lingual notes and an essay by Jeremy Siepmann, but this looks to be a strictly Korean market issue.

Sound is basically SOTA, complete with audible damper mechanism noise throughout.
Title: Re: The Asian Invasion
Post by: Toccata&Fugue on May 20, 2017, 05:31:43 PM
In the current US political climate, this might sound risky, but I would prefer a Russian invasion! I like their passion and power.
Title: Re: The Asian Invasion
Post by: Todd on May 20, 2017, 05:48:51 PM
In the current US political climate, this might sound risky, but I would prefer a Russian invasion! I like their passion and power.


You can start a thread on the topic.
Title: Re: The Asian Invasion
Post by: Todd on May 22, 2017, 04:39:35 AM
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Sehee Kim's Faure.  While issued by Warner Korea, Kim served as producer for this recording.  In some ways, this disc is like a less posh Vanessa Benelli Mosell release.  The thin booklet contains only a handful of glamour shots, all taken in a bare-bones studio, and the sound is not up to snuff.  Dry, boxy, and small in scale, it does the playing no favors.  Ms Kim studied at Juilliard and the Glenn Gould School, so she has the training, and sure enough, her playing is efficient and professional.  But it also sounds colorless, flat, and almost metronomic.  It's not really bad - truly bad recordings are rare - but there are much better Faure discs out there (eg, Thyssens-Valentin, Sanchez, Paik, Collard), so this just doesn't offer a whole lot.  Hell, I'd take Stott over this.  A whiff.
Title: Re: The Asian Invasion
Post by: Todd on May 24, 2017, 04:38:19 AM
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Another Bruckner cycle.  As if I needed another one.  This is my sixth new one this year.  As luck would have it, I hadn't had a chance to start in on Eugen Jochum's Dresden cycle yet (I've lived with his DG cycle for almost two decades and only now decided that it was time to hear the second cycle), so I decided with Hun-Joung Lim's cycle I would do A/Bs with an established master of the music.  This may seem, and probably is, a bit unfair, but it gives me the opportunity to hear how a newcomer fares.

Not that Hun-Joung Lim is a newcomer.  The composer-conductor has been in the spotlight at least regionally since winning a composition award in 1974.  He has studied Seoul National University, the Mannes School and Juilliard.  He has held music director positions in Korea since 1989, sparked "Mahler Syndrome" in Korea at the turn of the century, and in 2014 he took over the Korean Symphony Orchestra.  This cycle, taken from concerts recorded between late 2014 and December 2016, appears to be sort of a musical statement.  All of the liner notes for this set are in Korean, except for the conductor and orchestra bios, indicating home market release only.

I decided to go in symphony number order and I started with the First, starting with Lim and then moving on to Jochum.  I should note that I did not do, and will not do, proper A/Bs in that I did not listen to the symphonies back-to-back; I like me some Bruckner, but that would be too much.  Also, I may change conductor order on a whim.

Using the Hynais Edition of the score, Lim's conception of the First is swift, but not too much so, as is evident in the Allegro.  Also obvious is Lim's fondness for making sure winds get their due, and his attention to the violas, which are uncommonly clear.  There's a sort of less severe Boulezian exactitude to be heard in the conducting.  There's also a sort of Boulezian coolness.  The taut Adagio, which sounds quite attractive, is nevertheless a bit antiseptic.  Lim also keeps the sound contained.  This is no incredibly grand Bruckner, but that's fine here.  The Scherzo sounds taut and detached, and it was here that I noticed something else: with a good number of other conductors, one can hear some obvious influences on Bruckner - Wagner, Schumann, Mendelssohn - but here the music seems more abstract and almost (almost) sui generis.  The Finale has plenty of drive and heft and controlled drama.  Sound is good, but the bass is a bit undefined and plummy and the perspective is a bit more distant than some recordings, though that is not rare with Bruckner recordings.  Lim starts off well.

Jochum's EMI recording sounds exactly as expected based on memories of his DG recording: near perfect or actually perfect - and variable - pacing, large-scaled, influences made obvious but not overdone, great string playing, great blending of winds and brass, and unerring flow, with perfect transitions throughout.  This is grand but not bloated Bruckner.  Of the "new" Firsts I have listened to this year, this cedes only to Barenboim's latest, and then that may be a mood thing.  I prefer it to Lim, but that written, some of the fine details that Lim brings out, and his cooler approach, are not to be sneezed at.  I get the feeling this will be a standard type of outcome, but perhaps (hopefully) I will be surprised. 
Title: Re: The Asian Invasion
Post by: Todd on May 26, 2017, 05:17:16 AM
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Three hits in a row.  I guess it's safe to say that Sheila Arnold is on my wavelength, or rather, I am on hers.  Her Schubert disc is phenomenally good.  Her Chopin disc, too.  So's her Brahms.  Here is a large-scale, quasi-symphonic recording of the Third Sonata to nearly rival François-Frédéric Guy's, whose new recording from last year bested all comers.  (That was quite a feat given that the historical superheavys pretty much all recorded the work.)  Everything just clicks for me.  Dynamics, pacing, articulation, power, gentleness (how beautiful is that second movement?), flow, rhythm: all sound just right.  It immediately established itself as a comfort recording of sorts.  Arnold's conception just perfectly suits my taste.  Not everyone will agree, of course.

The disc also has Clara Schumann's Romance in B Minor and the Brahms Op 119 works.  The Schumann is a nice enough piece nicely played.  The late Brahms pieces start off being played in a disarmingly simple way, resulting in austerely beautiful miniatures.  Arnold doesn't aim for an especially ethereal or autumnal feel, rather steering the music into a style of playing that evokes Mompou, albeit in an abstract, more severe form in the first two pieces.  The halting rhythm she uses in the first and third pieces is intriguing, and in the second Intermezzo she ramps up the volume and tension a bit as a sort of prelude to the intense, biting, and thundering Rhapsodie, which, though fuller sounding, evokes Kovacevich in the more forceful passages.  A most thought-provoking end to a most enjoyable disc.

Sound is superb, basically SOTA. 

I also dig the fact that Ms Arnold appears to own the copyright for all her recordings. 
Title: Re: The Asian Invasion
Post by: Todd on May 29, 2017, 06:06:42 AM
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[This will be cross-posted in the Schubertiade! thread]


A half-dozen Schubert sonatas from Julius-Jeongwon Kim.  Mr Kim is a former child prodigy turned professor and performing musician who, in 2012, gave the second performance of Rachmaninoff's Fifth Piano Concerto before making the first recording for Deutsche Grammophon.  The Fifth?  It's a reworking of the Second Symphony by Alexander Warenberg done at the request of the composer's grandson.  Earnest effort or something of a gimmick, Kim has one unique achievement under his belt.  He also made some other core rep recordings for EMI in prior years, so he's been around the block, as most forty-somethings have.

On to the recordings at hand.  The first disc of the trio contains D157 and D894, meaning that my first exposure to Kim matches up in terms of repertoire, sans a small encore, to one of my favorite Schubert discs of the century so far, Arcadi Volodos' Schubert disc.  While I really didn't expect Kim to match Volodos, and if ultimately he doesn't, there is much to enjoy in the first disc.  D157 starts off somewhat haltingly, with clipped chords and phrase endings, but once the Allegro ma non troppo moves into the more flowing music, Kim plays with nice drive, lyricism, and scale, and his melody is both lovely and almost eerily precise.  The Andante displays some of the same style of playing, and comes off as decidedly and purposely unsentimental, and nearly cold, and Kim plays this way until about five minutes in, and then, bam, biting forte chords assault the listener's ear to surprising and convincing effect.  Kim then plays the concluding Menuetto briskly and unsentimentally.  It's certainly possible to play with a bit more lyricism, but the overall conception works.  The great D894 follows.  Here, Kim faced not only long-standing memories of Volodos, but also fresher memories of Sheila Arnold.  Kim's starts off with an eighteen minute Molto moderato e cantabile, yet given the length, the tension of his playing makes it seem quicker than that, and again it sounds unsentimental.  His tone is attractive, but it is possible to say the playing is not the most lyrical or endearing, though Kim's style has it's own appeal.  He also keeps dynamics somewhat under wraps, never really thundering out forte passages like Arnold, let alone Michail Lifits.  Again, it's another way to play, and I hasten to add that Kim does not sound at all small-scaled; it seems more about control.  The Andante sounds both tonally pleasing and musically severe, with Kim playing with a controlled tempo, and here he ratchets up the volume of the loudest playing more so than in the opening movement.  He sort of shifts the center of the work to the second movement, something I've heard many times in D960, but rarely in this work.  The Menuetto remains contained and controlled, and dynamic contrasts are nicely pronounced, with Kim playing aggressively at times.  Kim finally lightens up a bit in the Allegretto.  While not slight or wispy, it seems a smidge sunnier and definitely more lyrical than the preceding movements.  Overall, if the playing lacks Volodos' even more marked command, and Arnold's balanced magic, Kim's take is excellent in a very serious sort of way.

The second disc contains D568 and D664, opening with the former.  The sound seems a bit brighter, more metallic, and slightly more distant.  Kim's playing in the opening Allegro moderato is all about nearly relentless forward drive and energy, and while not especially lyrical, Kim does keep the playing attractive before moving onto a tense Andante molto characterized more by insistent left hand playing than beautiful melody.  The Menuetto, especially in the trio, sounds a bit more lyrical, but never strays far from the tenser overall conception.  Same with the concluding Allegro moderato.  Generally, I prefer D664 to be very lyrical, though there are exceptions.  Kim does indeed play the piece more lyrically than D568, but he maintains a nice degree of tension and plays with some heft as appropriate in the opening Allegro moderato.  He goes one better and plays the Andante in unabashedly beautiful and lyrical fashion, with hints of gentle urgency and an approximation of melancholy.  The concluding Allegro starts off similarly, but quickly finds Kim playing with significant scale and power, though he keeps the tempo steady and just about right overall. 

The final disc contains D557 and D958.  Sonics are more like the second disc, leading me to think the final two discs were recorded at the same sessions, though I could obviously be wrong.  Anyway, D557 sounds brisk, crisp, and clear, with incisive staccato playing and light pedaling.  The playing displays hints of lyricism, but is more about drive and bite, at least in the first two movement.  Kim does lighten up just a bit in overall mood, if not entirely in delivery, in the Allegro, though even here the middle section is fiery and intense, almost an early test-run for D784.  D958 ends the set.  Kim's set arrived shortly after Ran Jia's superb Schubert single disc, and I decided to give her take a listen a couple hours before my first listen to Kim's take.  Kim's tempi are slightly slower than Jia's in all movements but the Menuetto, but that doesn't stop Kim from launching the first movement with an at times intense, loud opener.  Kim builds to satisfyingly loud, sharp forte playing with more apparent overall power than Jia, though the lower registers are comparatively light.  His rhythmic drive is superb, too, and when he backs off, there's a bit more of a contrast than with Jia, who sounds more tense throughout.  Kim's approach stays the same in the hard-hitting Andante poco mosso.  Indeed, more than in D557, the playing here makes me want to hear what he might do with D784.  Kim keeps up the almost aggressive, at times stingingly metallic approach right on through to the end, with the Rondo almost enough to grind down listeners more accustomed to more lyrical Schubert.  In some ways, Kim's take is more involved and involving than Jia's, but on the flip-side, Jia adds more unique touches.  Advantage Jia, but Kim ends on a strong note.

Overall, Kim's Schubert comes across as intellectual, serious, maybe a bit grim, though when he arrives at one of the 'late' sonatas, he adds real intensity and drive to the mix.  In this regard, he reminds me of Paul Lewis.  Hopefully, he records more Schubert, because I wouldn't mind at all hearing how he handles D845, D850, and, of course, D960, but if this threefer ends up being it, it's a good set to have.  (Here I refer to studio recordings, of course, because D845 is on YouTube, along with other works.)  I wouldn't mind hearing more from Kim outside of Schubert, either.  I think he could deliver some fine Brahms, and more serious fare from the 20th Century might also sound quite good.  Oh, and I wouldn't mind if he recorded some Beethoven.

Sonics for this strictly Korean market release are a bit resonant but superb, though I found I had to listen slightly louder than normal to get the piano to sound as natural as possible.  In an unusual step for me, I listened to this set first in my main rig which is situated in a small, but dedicated and quasi-treated stereo room and then in my 2.1 channel home theater situated in a much larger room.  I cranked the volume in the large space, and the sound seemed more natural and, as recorded, Kim plays with a big sonority. 
Title: Re: The Asian Invasion
Post by: XB-70 Valkyrie on May 29, 2017, 12:50:39 PM
This thread is sorely lacking in photos of Yuja Wang!
Title: Re: The Asian Invasion
Post by: Mandryka on May 29, 2017, 09:58:33 PM
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[Originally, I was going to focus on CKJ artists, but as India is part of Asia, I thought it proper to include Ms Arnold.]


I'm not really a fortepiano kind of guy.  Paul Badura-Skoda and Penelope Crawford both manage to make Beethoven work exceedingly on ancient instruments, Andras Schiff has much to say in Schubert in his ECM recording and in Mozart, and Ragna Schirmer's "Liebe in Variationen" disc has it formidable strengths, but the other recordings I've heard vary in quality quite a bit, with a tendency to not be favorites.  Sheila Arnold, she of the fantastic recent (for me) Schubert recital, really delivers in Chopin and joins this small cadre of artists.  Using an 1839 Erard, obviously lovingly maintained, she delivers a knock-out recording.  First, though HIP, the piano sounds big and full as recorded.  Second, Arnold's playing is nimble and clear, and she takes maximum musical advantage of the quicker decay.  As an example, the final tolling bass notes of the last Prelude take on something of a new meaning.  Third, she knows how to deliver dynamic gradations at a world-class level on her chosen instrument.  Some of the playing is nearly modern concert grand pulverizing, and she fluidly and expertly plays at varying volume levels.  Her approach is definitely not of the effete, drawing room variety; the playing is at times aggressive, though Arnold knows when to back off (eg, the Raindrop).  Too, she plays some Preludes rather differently.  For instance, the second Prelude is much slower than normal, and is treated as a "death knell" (the pianist's description).  The disc opens with the First and ends with the Fourth Ballade, and both are just wonderful, and played with drive and assertiveness and intellectualized romanticism.  Arnold's playing may not be the most emotive and romantic playing out there, but it is committed and serious and communicative.  This is one of the best fortepiano recordings I've heard.

Perfect sound.



I didn't like the op 28 at all, I thought that the slower preludes were maudlin and lugubrious. Full of expressive gestures, like kiss curls plastered onto the music. The fast ones were sometimes aggressive as you say. The result is a disorderly and confused rag bag of short piano pieces.
Title: Re: The Asian Invasion
Post by: Todd on May 31, 2017, 04:25:14 AM
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The Second.  Lim uses the Hynais 1892 edition of the score.  A bit cool and detached, the playing is less intense than some other versions and the Andante is sort of an ethereal, abstract haze, where Wagner can be heard in the violin section, and where Lim makes sure to not let the pace lag, even if he doesn't generate a great deal of intensity.  The Scherzo is well executed and played, and the outer sections are nicely done, but the trio shines by hinting at later symphonies.  Lim then ratchets up intensity in the opening pages of the Finale, before pulling everything back to a light and lyrical approach.  Lim (or Bruckner through Lim) seems to evoke some late Beethoven of the string quartet variety starting around five minutes in, then he hesitatingly moves toward the coda, which is a nice gallop.  Sound is a bit cloudy but weighty.

Jochum's recording is a bit quicker across the board, but in some passages it feels a bit longer while listening.  To be sure, Jochum's coda to the first movement and the entire finale are more vital and intense than Lim's, but the inner movements sound slightly less compelling.  This is solid performance, and I'd probably give the nod to Jochum, it's just not a favorite. 
Title: Re: The Asian Invasion
Post by: Todd on June 02, 2017, 04:35:00 AM
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For my first exposure to Daejin Kim's music-making, I opted to go for some solo piano music.  His Sibelius and Tchaikovsky symphony cycles are in the listening queue.  Mr Kim is a Juilliard grad, Robert Casadesus International Piano Competition prize winner, and currently teaches and directs the Suwon Philharmonic Orchestra. 

The disc opens with D664.  Kim's playing is cleanly articulated, and on the gentle, soft, and lyrical side, interpretively speaking.  Kim never really introduces much in the way of bite or intensity in the Allegro moderato, which always works well with this sonata.  His playing is very controlled and steady, as he moves forward with little in the way of personal rubato or idiosyncratic accenting.  The Andante maintains the same traits, in slightly more laid back style.  The concluding Allegro has a nice dance rhythm without overdoing it, and the playing retains an overall lyrical feel while becoming more animated and pointed.  Playing throughout the sonata is a bit plain.  But something happened as I listened.  There's a story about how Artur Rubinstein said that the first time he hear Sviatoslav Richter, he initially found the playing to be nothing special, but soon tears were rolling down his cheeks.  I didn't shed a tear, but as I listened, the simple, direct, unaffected playing really delivered.  No, Kim is not Richter, but he doesn't need to be.

D784 follows.  Kim adds more tension to his playing, but as the Allegro giusto unfolds, he never really plays the fortissimos very loud, or at least the recording doesn't capture it if he does.  What he offers, instead, is more rhythmic steadiness that makes the music sound funereal and perhaps bitter and sad in places, and forlornly heroic and celebratory in others.  The Andante is paced just right but the bass playing growls a bit and the feeling is quite tense, and then in the Allegro vivace, Kim speeds things up a bit to deliver a fine closer.  The sonata is very well done in a restrained and constrained sort of way, but it's not as relatively good as D664.

The disc closes with the 12 German Dances, D790.  Kim plays with a solid rhythmic sense and fine lyricism, and though dynamics sound a bit compressed, the occasionally growling bass is a nice touch.  Overall, the disc starts off very strong, then drops off qualitatively, but the whole thing is characterized by thoughtful, unhistrionic playing.

Superb, clean sound, with some breathing and mechanism noise audible.

I wouldn't mind hearing his Chopin Nocturnes, but some of his conducting work is up next.

The disc is available as an on-demand CD-R from Amazon for ten bucks.
Title: Re: The Asian Invasion
Post by: Todd on June 05, 2017, 04:37:30 AM
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For my second exposure to Daejin Kim's musicianship, I decided to go with his Sibelius symphony cycle, taken from concerts with the Suwon Philharmonic Orchestra performed in 2015.  I decided to start with the Second Symphony.  Like a symphonic version of his piano playing, Kim is not generally given to excess in performance.  He leads a reasonably taut performance of the work.  He makes sure to bring out some nice details, like some of the horn playing in the second movement or wind playing in the third movement, and the finale is generally quite vibrant, though I could have used more bite from the trumpets - but that's not uncommon.  The Suwon band plays very nicely, indeed, and the live sound is weighty but not ideally clear by modern standards. 
Title: Re: The Asian Invasion
Post by: Todd on June 07, 2017, 04:48:33 AM
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The Third.  Lim uses the 1890 Raettig score.  For this disc, I cranked the volume a bit more than for the preceding two symphonies, just because.  Lim keeps it (comparatively) light and tight.  The first movement is less mysterious and dark than athletic and almost 'classical' in demeanor.  Wagnerian scale and brass bite are not as pronounced as in many other recordings, though the brass is not absent.  The Adagio sounds more mysterious than the opener, and somewhat rarified, like a mightily scaled up intimate slow movement from a string quartet.  The Scherzo, like the opener, is somewhat light and tightly controlled and energetic.  Lim concludes with a somewhat light Finale, with some almost scaled up dance-like playing.  I can't say that this is my favorite recording of the piece, but it most definitely has its attractions.

Jochum is more conventional and mostly predictable.  And weighty.  The first movement is grand and mysterious and moves along at a nice clip, ending in an intense coda.  The Adagio is similarly weighty and grand.  The Scherzo, though, is a bit lumbering and sort of puts the brakes on the forward momentum of the first two movements.  The Finale is driven, taut, and hefty, a Brucknerian delight.  Still, I can't say that this rates as my favorite of new recordings for this year or overall. 

Sort of a draw.
Title: Re: The Asian Invasion
Post by: Todd on June 09, 2017, 04:57:49 AM
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This complete set of Beethoven's piano trios is included in The Asian Invasion thread because cellist Sung-Won Yang is Korean and an exclusive Universal Music Korea artist.  Also, the ensemble takes its name after the Joseon Dynasty painter Jang Seung-eop, better known as Owon.  Really, though, this set could be better described as part of a French Invasion since all members of the ensemble attended the Paris Conservatory.  Prior to reading this little tidbit of information, I had no idea what to expect.  So I listened. 

My experience with French chamber music players led me to think the playing might tend toward the light, often quick, and elegant.  That's something of a stereotype, I know, but starting with opus one, number one, this proved true - to the benefit of the music and the listener.  For a good long time, I've relied on the BAT for complete cycles here, and a variety of one-sy, two-sy discs, and while I dearly love the BAT's playing, I kind of wanted something new and fresh.  I got it.  Imagine playing basically as elegant as the BAT's, but with more energy and drive and panache, and that's what you get with the Owon.  Plus they throw in some rambunctiousness and fieriness (I hesitate to write gruffness, 'cause ain't no gruffness to be heard).  This is young Beethoven, and there's no mistaking that here.  Next up is the third trio, and it's probably even better.  The disc ends with the Gassenhauer Trio, and it continues on the trend.  As I listened, I found myself tapping my toes, so groovy is the playing.  A most successful first disc.  The second disc is just as successful.  Opus one, number two opens a bit slow and contemplative, but not too heavy, and then is light, sparkly fun in the faster movements, with a light and nearly schmaltzy slow movement.  The violin playing here is especially good.  The Ghost sonata blasts out of the gate, slows a bit, then moves into bold, rich, weighty but not heavy, and energized playing in the outer movements, and suitably slower, more expressive playing in the slow movement.  The third disc opens with the Archduke Trio, and here the Owon deliver a bit more scale and perfectly judged tempi throughout.  The Allegro Moderato sounds just right; there's no better way to write it.  As each player comes into focus, they deliver, with corporate execution at the highest level.  Op 70/2 ends the disc, and once again, the Owon deliver energy and panache in perfect proportion.  The Allegretto sounds especially vibrant at times.  The fourth disc opens with the Kakadu Variations, and as before the ensemble play with vibrant energy, and a few times they allow themselves virtuosic displays, as with Yang near the end.  The set closes out with the Op 38 transcription of the Septet.  (That means Opp 44 and 63, as well as the early WoO works are excluded, so it's not a truly complete set.)  Once again they deliver.  This work, and the original, is too long, and even the Owon can't entirely help that, but they can and do play with admirable energy and bounce, and the Menuetto, one of the most delightful things Beethoven wrote, sounds more delightful than normal, with the pianist, especially, adding some sparkle.  That's four hits out of four discs. 

All three of the artists are top-notch, with no one the star; the music is the star.  As it should be.  That written, Emmanuel Strosser's pianism is very much in the French tradition, and most enjoyable, and I just may have to hunt down some recordings by him, maybe starting with his Schubert.

I'm not sure I really want or need a go-to complete set of the trios, but if I have one, this is probably now it.  I sure hope I don't come down with an urge to start listening to more LvB piano trios.  Or maybe I do.  I mean, Sonig Tchakerian plays violin for Trio Italiano in their cycle, so, you know, there's that to consider.

Sound for the set, recorded in 2013 and 2014, is fully modern and fully satisfying, but varies slightly depending on venue and recording date.  At times, one might wish the piano were a little cleaner and more forward, and at other times not. 

As an added bonus for some, the set comes with a two-DVD documentary with performance clips.
Title: Re: The Asian Invasion
Post by: Toccata&Fugue on June 10, 2017, 12:38:10 PM
After attending some of the Van Cliburn semi-final rounds last week and hearing some stunning Asian pianists, I may have to adjust my preference for Russians! Although he didn't make it to the finals, Han Chen was extraordinary.  Dasol Kim's recital was superb, too.

Today I received this new Linn recording--wow! It is full of hair-raising virtuosity. Wong makes a number of changes to the printed text--embellishments, cadenzas, etc., and the results are stunning. Great sound, too.

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Title: Re: The Asian Invasion
Post by: Todd on June 12, 2017, 04:02:36 AM
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Next up from Daejin Kim, Tchaikovsky.  I decided to start in on his cycle with the rarely listened to (for me) Third Symphony.  Much as with his Sibelius Second, Kim leads a direct performance with little to nothing in the way of interpretive excess.  He keeps tempi taut, rhythm bouncy in the faster movements, dynamics well calibrated - nothing is dramatically hushed or excitedly loud - and the band plays excellently, with a high degree of executive precision.  The somewhat restrained Andante elegiaco is the heart of the piece here.  The performance is quite satisfying.  It doesn't have that something extra that Yuri Temirkanov's take does, that flexibility and uniqueness, but, depending on taste, that may be a good thing or a bad thing, or maybe just a thing. 

The 2013 live recording is in fully modern sound.  I also know that the Thursday evening show started at 8:00 PM since day of week and time info is included in the recording detail.  I think that's a first in my collection. 
Title: Re: The Asian Invasion
Post by: Todd on June 14, 2017, 04:31:36 AM
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The Fourth.  Lim uses the Haas edition.  Right out of the gate, Lim's reading is larger-scaled and more conventionally Brucknerian that the preceding three works, though it retains a certain coolness.  The brass do good things, as do the low strings, and Lim keeps the playing taut through the opener, with fully satisfying dynamic range.  The Andante maintains all the same traits as the opener, but slows things down.  There's no real sense of awe or profundity, but the detachment works.  The Scherzo sounds both peppy and beefy, and as in earlier works, Lim makes sure the winds get some love, with the flutes, in particular sounding uncommonly clear and sweet, while the trio sounds very pastoral in its relaxed presentation.  The Finale returns to the large scale of the opening movement.  It does sound a bit episodic, but overall, it's very well done.

Jochum's reading of the opening movement is both smaller in scale but more impactful, helped by the clearer sonics.  But it also has a bit less forward momentum until the end of the movement, where Jochum generates some heat.  The Scherzo works better than under Lim, with more depth, and the outer sections are more energetic and peppy, though the trio is not as appealing.  Jochum handles the Finale better than Lim by delivering more smoothly executed transitions, and, at appropriate times, generating some fleet yet potent excitement.  It's not my favorite Fourth, but it gets the nod over the still good Lim.
Title: Re: The Asian Invasion
Post by: Todd on June 16, 2017, 03:55:03 AM
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More Brahms from Sheila Arnold, with more Schumann sandwiched in between two works, though this time it's from Bob.  The disc opens with Brahms Op 9 Variations on a theme of Robert Schumann, a work I've fancied since I heard Walter Klien's fantastic playing, however horribly presented in the ill-fated Vox set, and Arnold delivers.  She can and does play the softer and gentler music, and a fair amount of some other music, with a rounded, attractive touch, but she also unleashes on the piano, playing more severely than Stephen Kovacevich at times.  It works very well.  Arnold follows with Kinderszenen, and hers is a slightly nervous, agitated view of childhood.  The playing generally sounds attractive and usually light-ish, don't get me wrong, but even Traumerei has hints of tension, and then something like Important Event is more than boisterous, sounding perhaps a mite heavier than normal for this piece.  That is not a criticism, just a comment.  The disc closes with the Handel Variations.  Right in the opening movement, Arnold declares digitally that she wants to add her stamp to the piece as she embellishes in a style more befitting baroque compositions.  As she progresses, she relies on embellishment, rubato, dynamic shading and other individual to the point of idiosyncratic touches.  She also isn't at all shy about belting out some passages.  It's serious, but not quite strait-laced; heavy, but not dour.  It's peachy.  I think I'll do a Ragna Schirmer-Sheila Arnold shootout at some point.  That's my idea of fun. 

SOTA sound.

It's been a couple months or so for Brahms piano music disc, what, with Ms Arnold's two offerings, Alessio Bax's masterful set, and Arcadi Volodos' Volodosian disc floating in the ether above lesser pianists.  And Nelson Freire's new disc is soon to drop.  Awesome.
Title: Re: The Asian Invasion
Post by: Todd on June 19, 2017, 04:27:48 AM
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Sung-Won Yang is part of the Trio Owon Beethoven set that I so enjoy, so I decided to not wait long to try his duo pairing with the already known quantity Enrico Pace in their Brahms and Schumann collaboration.  Not letting The Man dictate to me, I went first for disc two, containing the Schumann, in my listening sessions.  Am I glad I did.  Unlike in the Trio Owon recordings, Yang is the star here, up front and center.  Pace gets his due and lends excellent support, but he means it to be support.  I'd say Yang tears into the Op 73 Fantasiestück, but that's not true.  Sure, he plays with ample energy and force, but it is refined.  His tone is not especially fat, but it is rich.  There's an elegance there.  Man, he's good.  And though Yang is the star, he's still part of a team, and Pace is never relegated to distantly recorded wallflower.  The music is played romantically, but it's not over the top.  It's touching, it's beautiful, and it feels right.  While it's not exactly like I have tons of exposure to this music, I don't recall liking even the Fournier/Fonda recordings this much, let alone the Argerich/Maisky.  I may have to line up another A/B/C in the future.  (That may be all I do after my non-opera collection is ripped.)

I'll be damned if the Brahms isn't just as good.  It offers a nice contrast with the more extroverted recording by Italian Invasion vets Maurizio Baglini and Sylvia Chiesa.  Pace's piano playing sounds more conventional since he plays a Steinway, and his playing, while not subdued, is slightly more nuanced than Baglini's.  Yang's cello playing is more introspective and has a touch of longing to it in Op 38.  But there's more than that.  The second movement of Op 38 has a light-hearted confessional feel to it, as if Yang wants to impart a fun but intimate anecdote to the listener, and Pace adds some color to the reminiscence.  The Allegro ends things on a vibrant note.  While it's not uncommon to hear later Brahms played in an autumnal manner, here Yang and Pace start off Op 99 by playing in a more extroverted and vibrant fashion.  They save the more autumnal stuff for the lovely Adagio, when Yang makes his cello sing.  People who dislike vibrato may dislike it, though.  Both the Allegro passionato and Allegro molto display suitable levels of energy married to sublime execution and nuance. 

While I didn't think the quality of the Trio Owon recording a fluke, I secretly hoped Yang didn't cut the mustard in more exposed music.  That is not the case.  Now I have to pretend that I will mull over whether or not to buy his recording of the Bach Cello Suites.

Superb sound.

With this recording, I decided to watch some of the accompanying DVD.  My four takeaways: Both musicians are very talented; they enjoy working together; there is a reason there are so few Enrico Pace recordings - he doesn't like to record; and Mr Pace's choice of footwear in the studio is most admirable - he uses comfy slippers.
Title: Re: The Asian Invasion
Post by: Dancing Divertimentian on June 19, 2017, 03:13:47 PM
...and Mr Pace's choice of footwear in the studio is most admirable - he uses comfy slippers.

Ha! That had me scrolling back up to look at the cover photo!
Title: Re: The Asian Invasion
Post by: Todd on June 21, 2017, 04:52:38 AM
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The Fifth.  Lim uses the Schalk edition.  That's right, the Schalk edition.  The very slow opening moments almost sounds like Elgar for a second (this was probably somewhat influenced by the fact that I had listened to Elgar's First the night before listening to this for the first time), but then it becomes obvious that it is indeed Bruckner, as Lim generates an even grander-scaled sound than in the Fourth.  Also apparent, this is a swift reading, clocking in at under 64' in total.  The Schalk edition cuts to the finale make up a good chunk of the difference when compared to other readings (this finale takes only eighteen minutes and change), but a good portion of the rest of the relative brevity is due to the tempo choices employed by Lim.  To his credit, nothing ever sounds rushed.  At the same time, it's hard to say anything sounds especially deep.  The Adagio, at 15'36", sounds appealing, occasionally weighty, and more than occasionally lithe, but it also sounds, perhaps, superficial, but in a good way.  And there are pre-echoes of Elgar again, dammit.  There's nary of hint of Elgar in the Scherzo, with its grinding and intense outer sections, all musical fire and brimstone.  The Finale is brisk and weighty, and while one can hear Wagnerian influences, one can also hear Dvorak's Fourth, at least as realized by Thomas Hengelbrock.  (I assume it's my imagination more than anything.)  While the fugue writing gets short shrift here, Schalk did a good job weaving together what he didn't cut.  Lim leads the Korean band in some tightly played, well-drilled music-making in the faster passages.  I dare say hearing the playing in person would have been at least occasionally exhilarating.  The brass are more prominent here than in the preceding symphonies, but much less than in standard performances of this symphony, and there's one transition from brass to strings around eight minutes in that is breathtakingly beautiful, and the quasi-Parsifalesque music that follows sounds hardly less attractive.  Later, just after 13' in, Lim leads his orchestra in almost frenzied playing, before letting up just a bit before the revised coda, with its sparkling triangles adding some unneeded zest.  Really, drop the triangles and I have nothing major to kvetch about.  This symphony has always been the one I've had the hardest time getting in to, but this edition seems to address some of my reservations.  Is it wrong to actually like the Schalk edition this much?  To some Bruckner purists, the answer is undoubtedly yes.  I am happily impure, so I confess that I kind of like it.  More than kind of, actually.  I may just have to try another recording of the Schalk edition, with Kna the obvious choice I would think.  While not ideally clear by modern standards, the recorded sound is excellent, and when cranked up appropriately, the sheer weight of the orchestra is imposing, and the timpani thwacks drive into the ground and then propagate out in all directions causing a not unpleasant physical sensation.

Jochum's penultimate recording of the work strikes me as the very apogee of conducting a mainstream edition of the work.  For over seventy-seven minutes, Jochum delivers vastly scaled, brass heavy, imposing Bruckner.  The opening movement sounds massive as all get out, with Jochum making this the grandest of all the symphonies.  It thrills and chills in equal measure, and the Dresden band sounds superb.  Extreme depth and/or nosebleed heights are achieved in the Adagio.  The Scherzo pulverizes.  The Finale is grand and powerful, and Jochum makes sense of the contrapuntally dense writing at least as well as anyone, and probably better, and when it comes time to play Bruckner in a frenzied state, no one outdoes Jochum.  Throughout, Jochum manages to bring out ample detail while simultaneously delivering musical and musically satisfying symphonic gigantism, and the conductor makes the not inconsiderable length of the work almost zip by.  Of the versions I've heard this year of a conventional edition of the score, this strikes me as the best, and if I ever do a full-scale shootout, Jochum would probably be the one to beat.  He shows that it truly is a great work.  That written, I find Lim's conducting of the Schalk edition more fun.  Now, I know Bruckner ought not to be fun, and Schalk sliced and diced the score and re-orchestrated like nuts to play to the gallery, but in some ways, in many ways, he succeeded.  Jochum's is the greater recording, but I won't be surprised if I listen to Lim's more often.
Title: Re: The Asian Invasion
Post by: SurprisedByBeauty on June 21, 2017, 10:47:10 PM


Jochum's final recording of the work ...  It thrills and chills in equal measure, and the Dresden band sounds superb. 

Thanks for the interesting recap of these Bruckner recordings. Re: Jochum, is "Dresden band" a typo and you meant RCO ... or is there a post-1986 recording of the Fifth with the Staatskapelle with Jochum, too???

(Also I rather disagree/agree with you: Bruckner should be fun! He was hardly as solemn and grave as posterity has made him out to be and has, if anything, become a caricature of his own image. Much like Nietzsche poems in English, which miss much of the coy silly little humor.)
Title: Re: The Asian Invasion
Post by: Todd on June 22, 2017, 04:06:13 AM
Thanks for the interesting recap of these Bruckner recordings. Re: Jochum, is "Dresden band" a typo and you meant RCO ... or is there a post-1986 recording of the Fifth with the Staatskapelle with Jochum, too???


Updated the key word.
Title: Re: The Asian Invasion
Post by: SurprisedByBeauty on June 22, 2017, 12:33:37 PM

Updated the key word.

Oh, ok - that makes sense: The 5th from the EMI set. (Which I could have figured, had I read the earlier posts at the time.)
Title: Re: The Asian Invasion
Post by: Todd on June 23, 2017, 04:55:07 AM
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Next up, a well known artist for me.  I am a big fan of Kun Woo Paik's pianisim, and I own all of his readily available recordings and snap up any new one that comes along, however infrequently that occurs.  This Scriabin recording from 1991 offers an aural glimpse of mid-career Paik, just before he signed with Virgin, when he recorded for Dante.  Universal Music Korea appears to have bought the recording, and reissued it in the pianist's home market.

It opens with the Second Sonata.  The first movement alternates between well articulated passages, and crashing, hard, near ear-splittingly loud passages.  Paik eschews gooey legato and avoids any hints of dreaminess.  In overall style, it's sort of like a blend of Zhukov and Ponti, with the hardness rendering it more like the latter.  In the second movement, Paik opens by scampering along the keyboard, keeping the playing small and light, before erupting into ear-splitting playing again.

Next up are the 24 Preludes, Op 11, and the metallic tinge remains as Paik plays the first prelude loud and fast, and while he dials back in the second prelude, and as appropriate thereafter, this is not on the soft-end of the spectrum interpretively most of the time.  There are exceptions, as with the gorgeous and delicate 15th Prelude, so at least part of the hardness is an interpretive choice.  The Poeme satanique starts off sounding dark and mysterious, but quickly segues to more delicate and attractive playing - the better to seduce and beguile, I suppose - only to then again erupt into ear-splitting playing, with the crescendo at the coda especially loud.  Both this work and the following Op 65 Etudes are like miniature encapsulations of Paik's approach throughout the program. 

The disc closes with the Tenth Sonata, which Scriabin apparently described by stating that 'Insects are the Sun's Kisses', and as Paik has done from time to time on various recordings, he extends the sonata, taking just shy of fourteen minutes to play it.  That places him on the slow end of the spectrum in my collection, about even with Lettberg, with only the always idiosyncratic Ugorski taking even longer.  He opens gently and mysteriously and slowly, but when the trills arrive, Paik dispatches them with musical haste bordering on the frenetic, and the he moves back and forth between languid and frenetic, or manic and depressive, in uniquely episodic fashion.  As the work progresses, the faster playing sounds almost hallucinogenic.  Had the sonata been recorded in SOTA sound for the day, it would easily be in contention for best ever version.  It probably still is.  This individual work is one of the best things I've heard from the pianist.

The 1991 recording, using a 1926 Steinway D, is very clear, close, dry, and dynamic, but the piano sounds metallic and almost monochromatic and loses its tuning from time to time.  Also, whatever venue was used was not ideally sound-proofed as heavy vehicle traffic can be heard on occasion. 

While the disc has some definite highlights, most importantly the great rendition of the Tenth Sonata, it is not one of Paik's best recordings overall. 
Title: Re: The Asian Invasion
Post by: Todd on June 26, 2017, 04:17:25 AM
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Next up in Kim's Sibelius cycle, I opted for disc one, which has the First and Fourth Symphonies.  The First starts off hushed but moves to satisfyingly loud and fast passages.  Kim keeps things taut, and he generates real excitement in the climaxes.  Kim never really lets up in the Andante, which maintains a nice degree of tension, and then he and his band knock out a sprightly Scherzo before moving to a Finale that opens in searing fashion, before backing off a bit, and then moving into some near fierce playing.  Kim and the Suwon Orchestra generate some real excitement here.  The Fourth retains some of the intensity of the first, but it sounds altogether starker and colder, more brooding and bracing.  Kim brings out some details uniquely, and the orchestra plays well (I rather enjoyed the pizzicati in the final movement).  Kim's penchant for avoiding excess works well here, even if one can think of better recordings. 
Title: Re: The Asian Invasion
Post by: SurprisedByBeauty on June 26, 2017, 12:17:11 PM
Next up in Kim's Sibelius cycle, I opted for disc one, which has the First and Fourth Symphonies.  The First starts off hushed but moves to satisfyingly loud and fast passages.  Kim keeps things taut, and he generates real excitement in the climaxes.  Kim never really lets up in the Andante, which maintains a nice degree of tension, and then he and his band knock out a sprightly Scherzo before moving to a Finale that opens in searing fashion, before backing off a bit, and then moving into some near fierce playing.  Kim and the Suwon Orchestra generate some real excitement here.  The Fourth retains some of the intensity of the first, but it sounds altogether starker and colder, more brooding and bracing.  Kim brings out some details uniquely, and the orchestra plays well (I rather enjoyed the pizzicati in the final movement).  Kim's penchant for avoiding excess works well here, even if one can think of better recordings.

I think I'll join you in the Sibelius part of your journey. Listened to this set only once, so far, and perhaps too casually to take much away from it.
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 (http://amzn.to/2kBE01J)
#morninglistening to #Sibelius w/Suwon Philharmonic:http://amzn.to/2kBE01J

#classicalmusi… http://ift.tt/2m1dlIv
Title: Re: The Asian Invasion
Post by: Toccata&Fugue on June 26, 2017, 01:01:27 PM
Tengyue Zhang, from China, just won the 2017 Guitar Foundation of America Competition. I heard two of his three rounds--very impressive technique and interpretations.

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Title: Re: The Asian Invasion
Post by: Todd on June 28, 2017, 03:46:13 AM
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The Sixth.  Given Lim's willingness to conduct the Schalk edition of the Fifth, it's a pity the Mahler edition of the Sixth isn't available, because if anyone would conduct it today, it might just be Lim.  Anyway, Lim leads a weighty, slightly swift opener complete with ample power and drive, if not the intensity and drive of others.  The Adagio ends up sounding a bit cool, but conductor and band keep it moving along and it sounds beautiful at times, more so than Bruckner often sounds, even if it lacks some of the grandeur of other readings.  Both the Scherzo and Finale seem to meld together with the opening movements to create a more uniform whole than some readings, and in the Finale there are some passages with truly satisfying levels of intensity.  While the KSO plays well throughout the cycle to this point (and I'll go out on a limb and predict that they continue to do so for the rest of the cycle), some of the violin playing here sounds especially well done.  I can't say that this displaces or matches Klemperer, but then no one else does either. 

Jochum takes the opening two movements just a bit slower than Lim, and he makes sure the brass are prominent and does a masterful job of generating intensity and scale in the opening movement, and he also does better at making the Adagio sound deep in the standard manner, and in his slightly swifter final two movements he generates more intensity and weight and excitement, delivering a grand and romantic symphony.  Jochum gets the nod here in one of the better Sixths I've heard.
Title: Re: The Asian Invasion
Post by: Todd on June 30, 2017, 04:50:43 AM
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Some Chopin from Dong-Hyek Lim.  He's released a few discs on EMI and Warner, and was "introduced" by Martha Argerich, but I've not heard anything from him until now.  Mr Lim is one of those young pianists with seemingly limitless technical ability, and he has won various awards, refused his third place finish at the Queen Elisabeth Music Competition in 2003, and tied with his brother Dong-Min Lim for third place at the Chopin Competition in 2005.  The disc is given over to the Variations brillantes, another reading (for this thread) of the Preludes, the Berceuse, and the Barcarolle.

The opening Variations brillantes is brilliant, indeed.  Light, bright, colorful, and dispatched with ease and a glittering panache, Lim delivers a superb opener.  The main work ends up being decidedly different from Sheila Arnold's take, but it also has its own very attractive approach.  Lim paces things more conventionally, coming in at just under forty minutes, and his approach is more restrained and poetic than Arnold's slow yet aggressive approach.  Lim coaxes lovely sounds from his modern grand using fingers alone, as well as fingers and deft pedalling, and he dispatches the fastest passages with seeming effortlessness.  His style is somewhat small of scale much of the time, but that's obviously an interpretive choice as he can belt out loud passages with effortlessness, too.  The performance/recording is high-grade.  If one were to do blind A/Bs with even the biggest, non-idiosyncratic names (eg, no Pogorelich allowed), one may very well come away with a favorable impression of this recording.  The Berceuse is gorgeous in its nuanced and largely languid performance, as is the Barcarolle.  Perhaps a few times in this last work, one might start to think that a bit more weight would be nice, and then, well, there it is.  A superb disc start to finish.

Lim's upcoming recording of Mozart and Beethoven Violin Sonatas with Ji Young Lim has already been pre-ordered, and perusing his other recordings, I'm leaning toward his Schubert duo disc with Su Yoen Kim.  But I'm even more interested in what he might do going forward.  I would love it if he recorded some Liszt, especially of the less showy variety.  If ever he comes to town, I will make it a point to not miss him.

SOTA sound with no mechanism noise to speak of, but a fair amount of breathing to be heard.
Title: Re: The Asian Invasion
Post by: Todd on July 03, 2017, 04:46:00 AM
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More Tchaikovsky from Daejin Kim, here the First and Second.  For the First, I decided to do an A/B with Michael Tilson Thomas' BSO recording.  In overall timings, Kim takes a bit longer in the first two movements, and a bit less time in the last two movements.  As before, he doesn't really go for interpretive excess, and his conducting is not as graceful as MTT's in some spots in the opener.  The Adagio is just lovely, though, and it almost evokes old-style cartoon accompaniment, but without the old, old-school mannerisms (eg, no gooey portamento).  Maybe it's better to say that it sounds like a movement from a ballet, because that works, too.  It's really quite good.  Even though Kim leads a slightly quicker Scherzo than MTT, it feels a bit slower and weightier.  The Finale starts off slower than MTT's, but segues into suitably energetic playing, with plenty of dynamic range, and the newer recording offers a lot more in the way of bass energy during drum thwacks.  An excellent performance.  The Second lightens up just a bit in overall demeanor, but is similarly energetic and devoid of histrionics.  The Andantino Marziale displays more of that old-timey, cartoon accompaniment sound, and the Scherzo is both weighty and fleet of foot.  The Finale is even fleeter of foot and hefty, if perhaps not ideally clear.   Another excellent performance.
Title: Re: The Asian Invasion
Post by: Todd on July 05, 2017, 05:17:17 AM
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The Seventh.  Lim uses the Nowak edition, so here both conductors use the same version.  Lim's take is shorter in the first three movements - almost five minutes shorter in the Adagio - and longer in the Finale.  The Allegro moderato is grand lite, because while the playing sounds serious enough, it never becomes overwrought.  In the taut Adagio, I think I can hear why Lim was credited with causing 'Mahler Fever' in Korea.  Just a bit swift and still a bit cool, it seems to move into more of a Mahlerian world, especially with the string playing.  The playing sounds meltingly beautiful at times, and while lyrical, there is a sadness to the playing, and though hardly dainty, he keeps the scale less towering than normal.  Somewhat as a result, the weighty and smooth Scherzo sounds less dwarfed by what came before, and the trio is gorgeous.  The Finale, with its prominent winds and somewhat gemutlich demeanor at times sounds a bit Straussian, and not until about three minutes in does Brucknerianism creep in, and when it does, it's slow motion excitement.  The scale and intensity of the movement helps balance out the last two movements with the first two a bit better than in some cases.  This is fine performance, though I can't say it matches established favorites.

It takes one or perhaps two bars before it becomes obvious that Jochum's reading is the more devout, serious, and probably profound reading.  And though Jochum's timings are generally longer, it doesn't sound like it.  Jochum's pacing comes as close to perfect as any version I've heard, and combined with masterly transitions and an ability to lead his orchestra in perfectly timed and scaled climaxes, the overall effect is captivating.  The Adagio is the heart of the work and properly Brucknerian, and while it is certainly the better of the two versions, it does not sound as beautiful as Lim's.  One minor drawback, if it's that, of Jochum's echt-Bruckner approach is that the symphony is a bit lopsided; even though the extended length doesn't register much while listening to the music, it does when the last two movements come around.  Jochum leads them about as well as anyone, but the imbalance is unavoidable.  Overall, Jochum's recording is a masterpiece, not significantly bettered by anyone.
Title: Re: The Asian Invasion
Post by: Todd on July 07, 2017, 04:51:46 AM
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I remember when new and new-ish major label releases featuring the biggest artists of the day commanded premium prices.  This Yuja Wang-Leonidas Kavakos recording of the Brahms Violin Sonatas went for under seven bucks new from Amazon when I bought it.  That's what I used to pay for Naxos titles.  Now, new Naxos titles are around twice that.  Go figure.

Bizzaro-world pricing aside, what is eminently clear from the opening bars of this disc is that the two artists have no problem playing the music exactly the way they want.  Kavakos generates a rich, colorful, at times tenderly beautiful, at times powerful sound.  Same with Wang, who seems undertaxed here.  Everything is in the right place and everything sounds just lovely, but it lacks a certain spark for me that others bring.  And there are so many others here.  Pick your favorite set, new or old, and it may be better - but then, it may not.  This is hardly a bad disc, but it enters an immensely crowded field filled with great discs and more good discs than mediocre ones.  Still, if the duo shows up in these parts, I would happily attend.

Sound is immediate and strikingly clear, not surprising given that Andreas Neubronner acts as producer (and has his name misspelled in the credits).  Kavakos is miked too closely, with nearly every breath audible, sometimes to the point of distraction, never more so than in the lullaby that closes the disc.
Title: Re: The Asian Invasion
Post by: Todd on July 10, 2017, 04:48:10 AM
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Kim's Tchaikovsky Fourth.  For this recording, I decided to do an A/B with Daniele Gatti.  Gatti's take is lighter on its feet and more classical in approach.  It lacks the drive and intensity of other readings, but I still dig it.  Kim's take is heftier and more tragic in the opening movement.  Kim plays up the dark fate theme from the outset.  The movement unfolds in a sometimes stately but never slow pace, which allows Kim to build up tension and intensity within the movement for greater contrasts, and the low strings, in particular, sometimes sound like they are playing some ballet music more than a waltz.  As the coda approaches, Kim prods the Suwon to play for all they're worth, then drops off volume sharply, just to bring it right back up.  It's especially effective as played here.  The Andantino is both potent and poignant, the Scherzo is bouncy, with winds that evoke Mussorgsky as much as Tchaikovsky at times, and then the Finale erupts, underpinned by tight and weighty bass that, if the volume is set too high, can nearly pin the listener back in his or her chair.  Kim generates notably more intensity and energy than the energetic Gatti here, and when he backs off for the secondary theme, the playing is rich and lovely.  Kim wraps things up with a blistering coda that led to an obvious and well-deserved standing ovation.  An outstanding performance.

Sound for the live recording is not ideally clear, but the dynamic range is outstanding, as is the weight of the orchestra.  That's a trade off worth making at least some of the time. 
Title: Re: The Asian Invasion
Post by: Todd on July 12, 2017, 04:31:09 AM
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The Eighth.  Lim uses the Haas edition.  Lim's tempi fall within mainstream interpretations, clocking in at about eighty minutes, which makes the decision to split the symphony between two discs seem a bit unusual for the here and now.  Lim starts off the opening Allegro moderato with satisfying heft and scale, and as the coda approaches, the timps create a rumbling underpinnning for the brass that works well.  The somewhat broad Scherzo does not sound as elevated, and it is a bit soft-edged, yet it still works well in its lighter (for late Bruckner) sound, with some gossamer string playing.  The string dominated Adagio sounds just lovely, radiating an almost celestial aura, with the harp pluckings uncommonly effective.  While Lim and the Koreans do not achieve the same heights as, say, Karajan in Vienna, the sound and effect is almost hypnotic at times.  In the Finale, Lim manages to deliver some beefy pasages, with the timps again leading the way, and he alternates that with a lighter than normal style.  Lim concludes the work by patiently building the coda, weaving the themes with perfect timing, and here he achieves a massive sense of scale and Brucknerian sound even with less brass than normal.  It's not one of the very greatest readings of the work, but it's a highlight of the cycle.  (On a side-note, the metadata for the second disc showed the artist and disc as Salvador Dali, Etre dieu.)

Jochum brings his Eighth in at a trim seventy-six minutes and change.  Part of this is accomplished by bringing the Allegro moderato in at under fourteen minutes.  It's just too zippy and scaled back, and the obvious spotlighting of winds is perhaps a bit much.  Jochum maintains dramatic tension expertly, and the orchestra plays portions with searing intensity, but I prefer more grandeur.  The Scherzo ends up being a few seconds longer, and Jochum generates enough intensity in the outer sections, and late Bruckner depth in the middle, to fully satisfy.  Not at all surprisingly, the lengthy Adagio is masterfully done, exuding grandeur and weight and depth, with nerve-rattling brass, and a sublime ending.  Truth be told, Lim gets more beautiful playing from his band, but there's more to this music than beauty.  Jochum does the nearly frenzied thing to start the Finale, with a galloping rhythm, a big brass blast, and both sharp and thundering timps.  While Jochum lets up a bit, overall, this is one of the most intense and vigorous final movements to this symphony I've heard, and if the back-end lopsidedness ends up more obvious as a result, Jochum makes the symphony genuinely exciting.  While a fun Bruckner symphony can be considered bad form, it's hard to envision this type of excitement not being appreciated.  Throw in a masterful coda, and it's hard not to like this.  That written, I like a grander, maybe even grandiose, style here - Karajan in Vienna, Giulini, Celi in Munich, Gielen - though Jochum probably represents the apogee of a more tightly conceived interpretation. 

So, Jochum takes it, but in a split decision.
Title: Re: The Asian Invasion
Post by: Todd on July 14, 2017, 03:55:32 AM
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For the next post in the Asian Invasion, I decided to do a quasi-A/B with another new addition to my collection.  Here, the A/B is with Beethoven's Op 106, comparing the heretofore superb Alessio Bax (superb in Brahms, Mussorgsky, Scriabin, and Mozart) and newcomer Sunwook Kim. 

I started with Bax.  Bax opens with a broad 'n' big Allegro in 106, coming in at just under eleven minutes.  Bax manages to evoke both a quasi-orchestral sound in the forte passages and more intimate sound in the quieter music, which he plays relatively slowly.  Most important and successful here, he makes his specific tempo choices make sense and transitions flawlessly within the context of his overall approach.  Generally speaking, the Scherzo more than occasionally sounds like an extension of the first movement, usually quicker and played in bursts, but Bax does more with it than most.  The passages are fully differentiated, and Bax very much makes it sound like a musical joke more akin to something out of 31/3, stylistically speaking.  Very nice.  The Adagio is on the slow side at near nineteen minutes, and Bax keeps it mostly subdued with melody generally prominent.  His often subdued left hand playing allows him to create a nice effect near the end as he gently increases left hand volume to overtake the right.  Bax plays the Largo somewhat like the Scherzo, with slightly exaggerated accents and contrasts, but to superb effect, and then moves to a limber, quick, and clear fugue.  Perhaps this Op 106 does not display a lot of the late LvB soundworld I tend to prefer, but Bax's approach and execution are sufficiently well done so that it doesn't matter.  The Mondschein follows, and here Bax plays the opening Adagio sostenuto briskly, with nervous but gentle forward momentum, moves to a lovely, gently rocking Allegretto, and then plays the Presto agitato with satisfying heft and speed, with his left hand playing mostly held back a bit, rumbling and bubbling just beneath the musical surface.  An excellent performance, if not necessarily a top twenty choice.  Bax then closes the disc with two of his own transcriptions of music from The Ruins of Athens, including a new one for the Turkish March, and both would make for nice enough encores.  Superb sound with more than a few instances of damper noise.

Kim opens his disc with the Waldstein.  The opening Allegro con brio is taken at a more or less standard tempo, not too fast and not too slow, and Kim's digital dexterity is obvious.  All is clear.  But all is also sort of plain.  There's not much expressiveness for all the neatness, and one minor item is his terraced dynamics.  When the paying should build up to the loudest passages, there's not a lot of variegation at the loud end of the spectrum.  The loud playing is perfectly controlled and never ugly, but it's kind of one-note, as it were.  The very clean and clear and measured Introduzione is definitely on the unexpressive side, and transitions to a Rondo that only occasionally generates excitement, and often finds Kim playing deliberately.  The sonata is undeniably well executed.  It's also dull.  Like Bax, Kim starts his Hammerklavier with an eleven minute Allegro.  Kim's playing is more direct and displays less in the way of dynamic or tempo flexibility or attention to detail.  It sounds a tad aggressive and quasi-orchestral, all to he good, augmented by the loud but limited dynamic range playing.  The Allegretto sounds more compressed and forceful than the opener, to the good.  Kim then plays one of the swiftest Adagios out there at a taut 14'32".  It starts off tense, and then for about two minutes after about 6'30", it becomes almost jittery, and the clarity of voices is quite striking.  After that, when many or most versions become more desolate and searching, Kim keeps his playing tense and more intimate.  Around 11'30" or so, he begins to play in a more desolate style, which ends up being brief as he ratchets up tension nicely and then plays the climax potently.  This is evidence that the Adagio need not always be slow.  Kim ends the sonata by starting with a restrained Largo and a clear Fugue that somehow manages to be played a decent clip yet still sound a bit stodgy.  Sound is close and clear and a little hard, and dynamics seem to suffer a bit, which is a bit odd given that this was recorded at the Jesus Christus Kirche in Berlin in 2015.

I definitely, and by a wide margin, prefer the Bax disc in this shootout.  Now I have to consider whether or not to hear Kim in recital next season playing the Diabellis.  He's got the chops to do it, but I'm on the fence.  Maybe his newer LvB disc can help me decide.
Title: Re: The Asian Invasion
Post by: Todd on July 17, 2017, 04:37:27 AM
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Kim's Third and Fifth.  The Third opens with a bracing Allegro moderato where Kim adopts a, well, a moderate tempo and still generates quite a bit of heft.  The Andantino is well played, with winds getting their due, but something feels off.  It leaves me cold, though it's by no means bad.  The final movement starts off light, with just-right tempo choices, and, again, the winds get their due (I especially dig the flute here).  Kim keeps things relatively light until the chorale, where tension and scale build up, but he keeps things reined in.  Early impressions here may not end up being my long-term outlook.  There are some things I'm not wild about, at least usually, but more than with many recordings, this seems to be one to live with for a while.

The opening movement to the Fifth sounds both grand in scale and somewhat severe at times before the tutti arrives, where hints of heroism emerge.  (And am I the only one who hears hints of Debussy's Prélude à l'après-midi d'un faune early on in the movement?)  Kim then scales back appropriately, keeping things taut until the thundering coda.  The second movement is ever so slightly quick overall, with ample forward momentum married to lightness.  The Allegro opens very swiftly, but the horns sound like awfully scrawny swans at first.  Fortunately, the strings do their thing, and the return of the swan-call has more blat, and the coda, though somewhat abrupt, sounds excellent.
Title: Re: The Asian Invasion
Post by: Todd on July 19, 2017, 05:09:56 AM
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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.
Title: Re: The Asian Invasion
Post by: Todd on July 24, 2017, 05:21:12 AM
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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.
Title: Re: The Asian Invasion
Post by: Todd on July 28, 2017, 04:38:48 AM
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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.
Title: Re: The Asian Invasion
Post by: Todd on July 31, 2017, 04:24:39 AM
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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.
Title: Re: The Asian Invasion
Post by: Todd on August 04, 2017, 05:02:00 AM
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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.
Title: Re: The Asian Invasion
Post by: Todd on August 07, 2017, 04:44:53 AM
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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.
Title: Re: The Asian Invasion
Post by: Todd on August 11, 2017, 04:50:13 AM
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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.
Title: Re: The Asian Invasion
Post by: Todd on August 14, 2017, 04:38:27 AM
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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.
Title: Re: The Asian Invasion
Post by: Brian on August 15, 2017, 03:53:12 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 (https://www.naxos.com/catalogue/item.asp?item_code=8.223579), and also somehow Korngold's violin concerto.
Title: Re: The Asian Invasion
Post by: Todd on August 15, 2017, 03:59:10 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 (https://www.naxos.com/catalogue/item.asp?item_code=8.223579), 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.
Title: Re: The Asian Invasion
Post by: Brian on August 15, 2017, 04:10:33 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.
Title: Re: The Asian Invasion
Post by: Todd on August 15, 2017, 04:18:41 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.
Title: Re: The Asian Invasion
Post by: Brian on August 15, 2017, 05:17:32 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:

(https://cdn.naxosmusiclibrary.com/sharedfiles/images/cds/hires/8.557348.jpg) (https://cdn.naxosmusiclibrary.com/sharedfiles/images/cds/hires/8.554334.jpg) (https://cdn.naxosmusiclibrary.com/sharedfiles/images/cds/hires/8.225819.jpg) (https://cdn.naxosmusiclibrary.com/sharedfiles/images/cds/hires/8.225833.jpg) (https://cdn.naxosmusiclibrary.com/sharedfiles/images/cds/hires/8.223350.jpg)

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

(https://cdn.naxosmusiclibrary.com/sharedfiles/images/cds/hires/8.225940.jpg) (https://cdn.naxosmusiclibrary.com/sharedfiles/images/cds/hires/8.006.jpg)

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

(https://cdn.naxosmusiclibrary.com/sharedfiles/images/cds/hires/8.225952HDCD.jpg)

(erhu)

(https://cdn.naxosmusiclibrary.com/sharedfiles/images/cds/hires/8.225829.jpg) (https://cdn.naxosmusiclibrary.com/sharedfiles/images/cds/hires/8.570607.jpg)

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.
Title: Re: The Asian Invasion
Post by: Todd on August 15, 2017, 05:32:26 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.
Title: Re: The Asian Invasion
Post by: Todd on August 17, 2017, 05:31:44 AM
(http://thumbs.ebaystatic.com/images/g/AjAAAOSwiLdV~O9n/s-l225.jpg)


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. 
Title: Re: The Asian Invasion
Post by: Todd on August 22, 2017, 03:55:44 AM
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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. 

Title: Re: The Asian Invasion
Post by: Todd on August 25, 2017, 04:52:49 AM
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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. 
Title: Re: The Asian Invasion
Post by: Todd on August 28, 2017, 04:52:55 AM
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[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.
Title: Re: The Asian Invasion
Post by: Todd on August 31, 2017, 04:23:07 AM
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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.   
Title: Re: The Asian Invasion
Post by: Todd on September 05, 2017, 06:41:39 AM
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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.
Title: Re: The Asian Invasion
Post by: Todd on September 08, 2017, 03:49:08 AM
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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.
Title: Re: The Asian Invasion
Post by: Todd on September 11, 2017, 04:22:01 AM
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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.
Title: Re: The Asian Invasion
Post by: Todd on September 15, 2017, 04:52:52 AM
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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.
Title: Re: The Asian Invasion
Post by: Todd on September 18, 2017, 04:16:29 AM
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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.
Title: Re: The Asian Invasion
Post by: aukhawk on September 20, 2017, 01:41:08 AM
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. 

I downloaded just that one track from Amazon (I too can live without Scriabin played in a banging style) and it certainly makes a statement!  Wow!  La Valse is not a piece I'm familiar with, so could you suggest who to turn to for a 'different' version?
Title: Re: The Asian Invasion
Post by: Todd on September 20, 2017, 04:39:09 AM
I downloaded just that one track from Amazon (I too can live without Scriabin played in a banging style) and it certainly makes a statement!  Wow!  La Valse is not a piece I'm familiar with, so could you suggest who to turn to for a 'different' version?


Sergei Babayan for the solo piano version, Martha Argerich & Nelson Freire for the two piano version.
Title: Re: The Asian Invasion
Post by: Todd on September 22, 2017, 04:37:33 AM
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My first proper recording from Xiayin Wang; I've heretofore only sampled her artistry on YouTube.  Ms Wang was born in China and studied at the Shanghai Conservatory before heading to America to finish her studies at the Manhattan School of Music.  Her discography tilts toward Russian composers, so I opted for one of her Rachmaninoff discs.

The disc starts off with the Moments musicaux, and Wang dispatches the pieces with no difficulty whatsoever.  Her style is of the steel fingers in a velvet glove variety, with ample power when needed, impressive dexterity, fine dynamic shading, and rhythmic variation, but she doesn't generate as rich a tonal palette as some others.  Every piece is excellent, with an especially nice, vigorous, if not ideally flexible Presto.  (I would have like it more if she used more rubato, but that is obviously personal preference; it is quite possible to enjoy it completely for what's on the disc.)  Wang keeps the Op 33 Etudes-tableux generally light and spunky.  Her execution is excellent, her sound never too heavy.  I gotta admit, I've become enamored of Nicholas Angelich's more leisurely, darker approach in these works, though that doesn't mean Wang doesn't have oodles of good stuff to offer.  She does.  Of course, some people want more fire or steel than Wang offers, though she offers nice dollops of both in the Grave.  This is a nice middle ground style, which is not meant negatively.  Wang starts the Corelli Variations off with a lovely, intimate Andante theme (making me think she could play some of the Preludes very well indeed), and as the variations unfold, she again dispatches them without even the slightest hiccup, playing some in lovely, restrained fashion, and some in more overtly virtuosic fashion, and some with near-bruising power, though without ever banging.  This is a very fine version, but as with all lesser mortals, she must cede to Daniil Trifonov's awesomeness in this piece.

So, a very nice first disc from Ms Wang.  I will certainly listen to more from her in the future, I just have to figure out what tickles my fancy the most.  If she records some solo Schumann, that would settle it.
Title: Re: The Asian Invasion
Post by: Todd on September 25, 2017, 04:24:28 AM
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Buying this disc was a mistake.  Not because of the playing.  Well, okay, it's because of the playing, but it's not because the playing is bad, it's because the playing is good.  Michie Koyama is an accomplished pianist.  She placed in both the Tchaikovsky and Chopin competitions back in the early and mid-80s.  So that indicates at least competition level quality playing.  The real problem is that she has been recording for three decades and has a sizable discography of about a two dozen titles covering core rep.  She's Sony Japan's equivalent to RCA Japan's Ikuyo Nakamichi.  (Since both labels are owned by Sony, they are both Sony artists, of course.)  Unlike many of Ms Nakamichi's releases, Ms Koyama's don't seem to remain as readily available, and some of the titles are of the more expensive than I would like type.  That wouldn't be such a problem if she hadn't recorded a lot of repertoire that appeals to me.  She has recorded Liszt's sonata.  Twice.  Fortunately, in that case it seems easy to choose the right one since the second recording is paired with Berg's Sonata.  She has recorded Scriabin's sonatas, Rach's Etudes Tableux, various Chopin solo works, and some Schubert, too.  But I get ahead of myself.  This disc of Chopin's Concertos was recorded in 2009 for the 2010 Chopin year, and it uses the National Edition of the scores first published in Poland in 2005.

I opted not to do A/Bs here, so I can't really say how major the editions of the score may impact the end result, but one thing that is immediately noticeable, aside from the slightly stage right location of the pianist (more so in the First), is the fairly light sound of the orchestral part.  Jacek Kaspszyk seems to opt for detail and balance and a clean, more classical sound.  At no point does the band drown out the soloist, who is not recorded with too great a scale.  Sometimes, the little orchestration details are nifty, and in the first movement of the First concerto, the strings double the piano in most delightful way.  Were I to guess, I'd say Sinfonia Varsovia uses smaller than customary forces for this recording, more true to its chamber orchestra roots.  When Koyama enters, she immediately offers a lovely sound that is both delicate and cleanly articulated and more bright surface playing than deep key weightiness.  She's not a great colorist, but her dynamic gradations are minute and expertly deployed.  Like the orchestra, Koyama's style here is not one of grand romantic gestures, and she generally plays with admirable clarity, with some right hand playing crystalline.  She rarely seems to be giving her all, instead opting to play with some restraint.  In the second movement of the First, her pianissimo playing is of the super soft, Yaeko Yamane variety.  Playing by the soloist and orchestra becomes a little more vibrant, at times quite robust, in the Second, and here again Koyama offers her best, most persuasive playing in the slow movement.  The finale is satisfyingly done, with the post horn call piano playing managing to sound restrained yet bravura, with some mighty fine independence of hands.

If I have a favorite recording of both concertos paired together, it remains Zimerman's second take with his purpose-built orchestra.  This disc doesn't rise to that level, but, unfortunately, it does make me want to hear more from Ms Koyama.  That could cause acute wallet pain if proper care is not taken. 

Sony farmed engineering out to Tritonus Musikproduktion, with predictably SOTA sound the result.

On a musically irrelevant, presentation detail note, what's up with photoshopping the light fixture on the right out on the front cover, to the point of even eliminating most shadow detail?  Maybe it disrupted symmetry somehow.
Title: Re: The Asian Invasion
Post by: Todd on September 29, 2017, 05:17:09 AM
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Time for some more orchestral music.  Kazuki Yamada is in his late 30s, studied in Japan and while a student helped form what would later become the Yokohama Sinfonietta, the ensemble for this recording.  He has also done a fair amount of conducting elsewhere, and currently is principal conductor for the Monte-Carlo Philharmonic Orchestra.  He’s made multiple recordings, but this one of Schubert’s Great C Major tickled my fancy. 

The performance starts off with a somewhat old-school Andante, which sounds a bit broad and flexible, but then Yamada speeds things up in the Allegro ma non troppo.  He never achieves the same type of speed and precision of contemporary conductors like Manacorda or Hengelbrock, but he never sounds too heavy or thick like some older performances might.  Indeed, despite the less than pressed tempi, Yamada keeps things light and transparent.  The Andante con moto sounds light and lovely, and some of the string playing evokes a lighter, innocent Wagner at times, and it also sounds relaxed and pastoral in portions.  The Scherzo is somewhat leisurely, and sounds like a scaled-up and refined Ländler.  The Finale is suitably energetic and vibrant and big in scale for a small orchestra.  Somewhat like Manacorda’s recording, the overall performance is quite detailed and transparent, but it lacks the same exuberance of the Italian’s recording.  While I can’t say that Yamada’s is my favorite version, it’s good enough so that I would not be averse to hearing him in other core rep.
Title: Re: The Asian Invasion
Post by: SurprisedByBeauty on September 29, 2017, 10:19:19 AM
First heard them at the ARD intl. Music Competition and was much impressed.

Ditto with these recordings. They are of the fast disappearing brand of beautician-quartets.

(https://pbs.twimg.com/media/DK4qRFTWAAAZLni.jpg)
#morninglistening to @VerusQuartet on @fontecNews

http://a-fwd.to/4PG58cV

in #Mozart w/a #StringQuartet & the #… http://ift.tt/2x0XToY  (http://a-fwd.to/4PG58cV)

(https://pbs.twimg.com/media/DK0syGCWsAE6ApI.jpg)
#morninglistening to @VerusQuartet on @fontecNews

http://a-fwd.to/4PG58cV

in #Beethoven #StringQuartets.

Begin… http://ift.tt/2fUkMQA  (http://a-fwd.to/4PG58cV)
Title: Re: The Asian Invasion
Post by: Todd on October 02, 2017, 05:43:33 AM
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[This will be cross-posted in "New" Music Log]


My first-ever exposure to the music of Nikolai Kapustin.  To be sure, I bought the disc because I was interested in hearing Sun Hee You play, and the disc was a four buck "Add On" at Amazon, but new music is something of a bonus.  (I'm finding "Add Ons" to be useful and fun.) 

Ms You was born in Seoul, did the wunderkind thing in her home country, attended the Yewon School, and ended up moving to Italy and earning a diploma from the Conservatorio Santa Cecilia and working with Lazar and Valentina Berman, among others.  Her bio cites a variety of collaborations with C-list artists and orchestras, but sometimes regional artists are as good as more famous artists. 

Kapustin is an honest to goodness living Ukrainian composer, and one heavily influenced by jazz.  Indeed, he was apparently known as jazz pianist and composer in the 50s.  This disc contains works penned in the 80s and 90s that betray that jazz influence.

The First Sonata definitely sounds sort of jazzy, in a Dave Brubeck meets Oscar Peterson meets Gershwin meets Debussy meets (early) Scriabin sort of way.  Much of the music sort of sounds like what might happen if a talented jazz pianist were hired to play piano at an upscale clothing store and decided to go off-program near closing time on a busy Saturday night.  It's improvisatory-ish and not easy listening, but it could still fade into the background if the pianist didn't play too loudly.  It's certainly not bad and makes for light entertainment, but I can't see listening to this very often.  The four Etudes and Bagatelles that follow are more syncopated than the sonata and given their brevity make for a more compelling experience.  The Seventh Sonata sounds like a jazzed up mix of Prokofiev and subdued post-war avant-garde writing, in a generic sense.  There's ample virtuoso writing in faster passages of the opening Allegretto, and the Adagio amoroso, possessed of a slow overall pulse, is stuffed with notes that fall not always beautifully on the ear.  That's perfectly alright, but I'm not sold on the amoroso bit.  Nor am I sold on the almost jazz-infused Boulez-meets-Schulhoff march that is the Minuetto being a Minuetto, though it sounds intriguing.  The concluding Allegro vivace is even more vibrant and intense than the opening movement.  This more abstract work is the best thing on the disc.  The concluding Variations take as their theme part of the opening of The Rite of Spring.  The music subjects the original to syncopated, vibrant, and colorful treatment, and it makes for an enjoyable enough listening experience.

Ms You most certainly possesses the technical equipment to play the music on offer here, and I would wager a whole lot besides.  Her recordings to date have focused on lesser-known composers and works, which is one way to make a name in a crowded marketplace, but I'd like to hear her in more standard rep, even if it is lesser works by greater composers.  Of course, I'd prefer to hear her take on more substantive fare even more.  The Chopin Etudes, say, or maybe some late Scriabin.

Superb sound.
Title: Re: The Asian Invasion
Post by: Brian on October 02, 2017, 05:47:27 AM
My first-ever exposure to the music of Nikolai Kapustin.  To be sure, I bought the disc because I was interested in hearing Sun Hee You play, and the disc was a four buck "Add On" at Amazon, but new music is something of a bonus.  (I'm finding "Add Ons" to be useful and fun.) 
Remind me how you found these? Saturday I needed an "Add On" and thought to look for classical CDs like this, but when I hit the main Add On page, music wasn't a listed category at all on the left hand side.
Title: Re: The Asian Invasion
Post by: Todd on October 02, 2017, 06:01:58 AM
Remind me how you found these? Saturday I needed an "Add On" and thought to look for classical CDs like this, but when I hit the main Add On page, music wasn't a listed category at all on the left hand side.


I stumbled upon them a while back.  To hunt for them, I do the following:

1.) Search in classical
2.) Select Amazon Prime Eligible
3.) Sort by price, low to high
4.) Update URL with page numbers to jump around more quickly


A sample URL with page number set to 50 (you need to update both page number locations):

https://www.amazon.com/s/ref=sr_pg_50?fst=as%3Aoff&rh=n%3A5174%2Cn%3A%21301668%2Cn%3A85%2Cp_n_availability%3A1248845011%2Cp_85%3A2470955011&page=50&bbn=85&sort=price-asc-rank&ie=UTF8&qid=1506952338

Good stuff starts showing up after page 100 or 150.  The population changes daily.  There is no way to search only Add-Ons, but the Add-On graphic allows them to be easily spotted when scrolling quickly.

Title: Re: The Asian Invasion
Post by: Brian on October 02, 2017, 06:57:14 AM

I stumbled upon them a while back.  To hunt for them, I do the following:

1.) Search in classical
2.) Select Amazon Prime Eligible
3.) Sort by price, low to high
4.) Update URL with page numbers to jump around more quickly


A sample URL with page number set to 50 (you need to update both page number locations):

https://www.amazon.com/s/ref=sr_pg_50?fst=as%3Aoff&rh=n%3A5174%2Cn%3A%21301668%2Cn%3A85%2Cp_n_availability%3A1248845011%2Cp_85%3A2470955011&page=50&bbn=85&sort=price-asc-rank&ie=UTF8&qid=1506952338

Good stuff starts showing up after page 100 or 150.  The population changes daily.  There is no way to search only Add-Ons, but the Add-On graphic allows them to be easily spotted when scrolling quickly.
Thanks much. For a company that so wants you to buy things, Amazon is so bad at helping you find them.
EDIT: Checking the "Prime Free One-Day" box on the left on the page you link seems to turn up lots of Add-On Items.
Title: Re: The Asian Invasion
Post by: Brian on October 02, 2017, 11:49:15 AM
BTW as an additional thank you, my favorite Kapustin album (back when I semi-regularly listened to his music; it's been a few years) was Steven Osborne's.
Title: Re: The Asian Invasion
Post by: Todd on October 06, 2017, 05:40:03 AM
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I figured it was time to try an all-Asian string quartet, so I went for the current year release from the Dragon Quartet.  The ensemble is comprised of four Chinese musicians who all have musical day jobs.  Li-Wei Qin appeared before in this thread when covering his Decca recording of Beethoven's Cello Sonatas.  Ning Feng, the first violinist, is a well known soloist with multiple recordings for Channel Classics under his belt.  Second violinist Weng Xiaomao is the concertmaster for the China National Ballet Orchestra.  Violist Zheng Wenxiao is the principal violist for the Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra.  So all of the members have proper, high-end credentials.  That more or less guarantees execution should be world-class.

Which it is.  This disc sees the Dragon taking on two war horses, Schubert's Death and the Maiden, and Dvorak's American, and this ensemble shows that they have the corporate chops to deliver the goods.  Their playing in the Schubert is, in a word, robust.  The first violinist calls the shots, but doesn't unduly dominate.  (Could be those Thomastik-Infeld strings he uses.)  The playing is precise and fast and energetic and the clean, slightly distant sound invites perhaps excessive volume.  There's a sleek feel to the playing, meaning that while every last detail is attended to in the Andante, one might miss a little bit more expression.  Or not.  Also, for people more disposed to a warmer overall string quartet sound, this ensemble will not be first choice.  There's an edge to the playing from time to time.  And people who like copious quantities of vibrato will be let down.  But those craving forward drive and insistent rhythm should be happy.  The Dvorak shares the same traits, and while there's plenty of energy, here the Lento could use just a bit more of a relaxed sound with more subtle dynamic shadings, though as in his LvB recording, Qin demonstrates that he's got the goods when called on.   

While the ensemble does not displace established favorites for either work - basically, leading Czech ensembles in both cases - the Dragon's playing and artistry is world class, and I would very much like to hear more from them in any or all core rep.  I'm thinking 20th Century stuff could be very nice.

I own only a few recordings from Channel Classics, and one trait they all have in common is SOTA sound.  As one sees from time to time from labels that strive for audiophile quality sound, the credits include a listing of hardware used, including Van den Hul cables - specifically the 3T, used exclusively through the recording and monitoring chains.  The classical music world needs more cross-branding. 
Title: Re: The Asian Invasion
Post by: Todd on October 09, 2017, 05:18:41 AM
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[This will be cross-posted in "New" Music Log]


Noriko Ogawa is a name I've long been familiar with, but until now, I've never listened to her playing.  Ogawa, in concert with repertoire advisor Yukihisa Miyayama, put together a disc comprised of a dozen short works or collections of works from eleven composers, with the works composed between 1900 and 1981.  The works are presented mostly chronologically by year of composition.

The disc opens with Two Piano Pieces by Rentaro Taki, who died at the ripe old age of 24.  The brief pieces hark back to Beethoven or Brahms.  Next comes Three Pieces after the Flower, by Shukichi Mitsukuri.  The pieces sound more "Eastern", by virtue of the use of pentatonic scales, and one can sort of hear where a more minimalist Debussy might have been heading toward.  Rather like with Yu Long's DG disc of Chinese compositions, from time to time one hears some music that would not sound out of place if it came from Eastern European composers, and here there are flashes of Janacek.  Too, in the final of the three pieces, one hears an austerity that calls Mompou to mind.  Apparently, the first movement was dedicated to Wilhelm Kempff, which makes sense.  Meiro Sugawara's short piece Steam follows, and this is unabashedly French sounding, meaning one needn't strain to hear the influence of Debussy at all.  Kunihiko Kasimoto's Three Piano Pieces, from 1934, follows, and it is even more Debussyan in approach, at least to start.  It depicts three different scenes of three different women wearing kimonos in Tokyo.  Vaguely impressionistic and programmatic, the work is more than just enjoyable, it is substantive, and more than imitative.  Some of the music melds Debussy at his most "impressionistic" and his most daring with hints of Karol Szymanowski and a wholly original, not entirely Western sensibility.  Next up are three brief Ryukyu Dances from Yasuji Kiyose, and here the name that immediately comes to mind is Bartok in a mix of his folk and didactic works.  They are enjoyable if slight.  Kikuko Kanai's Maidens Under the Moon, which is also a Ryukyu dance, follows, and her work is more bouyant and excited.  Perhaps her study in Brazil imparted a sensibility, because this sounds more like Villa-Lobos or Granados.  (Alternatively, one can imagine it as an even more caffeinated Charbrier of the Bourrée fantasque.)  It's quite delightful.

Fumio Hayasaka's Autumn follows, and once again Debussy is probably the closest Western analog.  Kiyoshige Koyama's brief Kagome-Variation follows.  The piece crams a brief theme and eight brief variations into just over five short minutes.  Written in 1967, it's adventurous, simple-ish (it's meant for children), and folksy.  Akio Yashiro's Nocturne, from 1947, is another work that brings French composers to mind, though Ravel in Pavane seems more the style here.  Yoshinao Nakata's Variational Etude is a brief set of simple-ish Etudes meant for children, and in this case, Ogawa herself played it in public for the first time at the age of seven.  I daresay this recording is a bit more accomplished than that early effort.  The disc closes with works by Ryuichi Sakamoto.  The Piano Suite, from 1970, is unabashedly modern.  The booklet mentions Messiaen and Miyoshi as influences.  I can vouch for the former, but not the latter, but it is not hard to hear echoes of Schoenberg, either.  Some may find the music and playing simply clangorous and tuneless, but that would be a shame.  It's one of the best works on the disc.  The final piece is the title track, Just for Me.  While not as formidable as the Suite, and despite being "Schumannesque" (though the composer means that he let the ideas take him wherever they lead), the piece is both somewhat sparse and somewhat angular and quite modern, which makes sense for a 1981 work.  Not as compelling as the other piece by the composer, it makes for a strong end to the disc.

Rather like with Long Yu's collection of orchestral works, I doubt any pieces presented here ever become core rep or oft heard pieces for me, but there's some good stuff packed in the seventy-eight minute running time, and I will return to the disc.

The twenty-plus year old BIS sound is fantastic, as expected.  I need to get me Ogawa's Debussy cycle.
Title: Re: The Asian Invasion
Post by: amw on October 09, 2017, 05:32:22 AM
The disc closes with works by Ryuichi Sakamoto.
Had no idea he wrote this kind of stuff, but I guess I'm not surprised in retrospect.

Quote
I need to get me Ogawa's Debussy cycle.
Yes you do.
Title: Re: The Asian Invasion
Post by: kishnevi on October 09, 2017, 05:31:42 PM
I thought you already had Ogawa's Debussy....
Title: Re: The Asian Invasion
Post by: Todd on October 09, 2017, 05:40:03 PM
I thought you already had Ogawa's Debussy....


No, it's one of the few complete cycles that I have wanted to buy but never have; it's never been a high enough priority.  I don't know how much longer I will wait.
Title: Re: The Asian Invasion
Post by: Todd on October 13, 2017, 05:50:35 AM
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Yin Chengzong appears to be something of a grand old man of Chinese pianism.  Born during the Second Sino-Japanese War, he lived through the upheavals in his country for decades and had to conform to artistic norms, and he managed to have a hand in creating and performing some works that are still around today.  He moved to the US in the early 80s, worked with some Western A-listers, and did the professor thing.  This recording of Debussy's Preludes dates from the late 90s, when Yin would have been in his late 50s.

Yin's pacing overall is slightly broad at over 83', but his pacing for each piece is just about spot-on.  Never once did I think his pacing was too slow, and his dynamic shading is superb, particularly at the quiet end of the spectrum.  His playing becomes nearly strident in the loudest passages, but the una corda use prevents that from coming to fruition in all but the very loudest passages.  Too, Yin's tonal palette is nicely varied.  Danseuses de Delphes starts the cycle off just swell, but Voiles offers a better sense of what the pianism is like when nuance rules, and while Le vent dans la plaine has some of that near hardness, it also reveals Yin as a pianist who can work harmonic (near-) magic, and play with clarity sufficient to appreciate some accompaniment patterns more than normal.  Ce qu'a vu le vent d'ouest approaches levels of hardness and oomph I usually associate with Zimerman, but Yin does something different, turning the piece into something more expressionistic than impressionistic, if you will, a big, hardened Etude that Schoenberg might have secretly edited, which is then followed by a soft La fille aux cheveux de lin as a musical antidote.  La Cathédrale engloutie, always the climax of the first book for me, starts off tense rather than calm, and builds to grand and satisfying fortissimo, bracing in its impact.  Yin sounds even more at home in the second book, with a more modern, more Etude-y feel overall.  Sometimes he manages to sort-of miss but even more hit, as in Les fées sont d'exquises danseuses, where the playing doesn't shimmer or sound as effortless and flowing as others, but that is purposefully done, and the effect is both enjoyable and distinct.  La terrasse des audiences du clair de lune finds Yin's right-hand playing slowly, but not too slowly, ascending very deliberately before transitioning to a dynamically constrained and cool piece.  Rarely does this piece stand out so much for not really standing out at all.  Well done.  Likewise Ondine.  Though very different, Yin's right hand playing craftily evokes Ravel's piece of the same name in subtle ways mostly focused on shimmering playing, and makes me wonder what he might have done with a full Gaspard.  Yin's style in Canope and Les tierces alternées ends up emphasizing slightly slow (overall) right hand playing with lots of focus on individual notes and chords, and the Feux d'artifice starts slow-ish, with almost comical left hand chords, before the fast, shimmering right hand comes to the fore.  The playing throughout is very fine, creating any mood the pianist wants to, with Yin equally at home in gentle and tender passages and powerful, masculine ones. 

Overall, I had no real expectations for this set since I'd never heard Mr Yin's playing, but it turns out to be rather good.  It doesn't displace my established favorites, but it doesn't have to. 
Title: Re: The Asian Invasion
Post by: Todd on October 16, 2017, 05:24:29 AM
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I figured I might as well try some videos from Amazon while they’re free.  This one seemed like a good place to start: An even younger Yuja Wang at the 2010 Verbier Festival playing some core rep advertised as focusing on Schubert and Schumann, with some Scriabin and Prokofiev included.

The recital opens with the Liszted Gretchen am Spinnrade from Schubert.  Unsurprisingly, Wang has no problem playing the music, and she just sort of cruises along, generating lovely, tuneful music as needed, playing the repeated right hand accompaniment with a serene ease, until the very Lisztian climax, which she dispatches with ease.  She seems more at home in the more virtuosic music, and she literally doesn’t break a sweat, no matter how much of blur her hands become and how much of her shoulders she puts into it.  The same can be written about Auf dem Wasser zu singen.  Wang sounds more in control than Motoi Kawashima, which is no mean feat, but she never generates a steely sound.  Next is Erlkönig, and Wang just tears right into the piece.  Whether belting out left hand chords or dashing off repeated right hand notes, Wang just does her thing.  The playing lacks the last word in diabolicality when the boy buys the farm, but that’s because it’s too easy, though it should be stated that the playing does not want for bite and drive.  One can certainly want more in the way of warm lyricism throughout the three pieces, but that’s not what Wang wants to do, and what she wants to do she does very well, indeed.

Schuman’s Symphonic Etudes follow.  Wang’s playing style better suits the Florestan passages.  She seems to relish the faster passages, playing with verve and dexterity at the level of Yuja Wang.  She often sounds fast, but never rushed.  The Allegro marcato fourth etude is comparatively light with crisp rhythm, and the Agitato sixth etude finds Wang playing at such velocity as to nearly sound rushed.  Nearly.  In the Andante eighth etude, one encounters the shortcoming of this performance, which is a Eusebius that seems moody, possibly due to excess caffeine consumption.  It’s all outward and showy, but it works for what it is, as does the Mendelssohn-on-speed Presto possibile.  This is a version long on excitement and short on introspection and poetry, but there’s no doubting the execution, or, really, the artistic vision.

The second half of the show, with Wang donning an even nicer looking dress than in the first half, starts off with some Scriabin.  The Prelude Op 11, No 11 is slightly quick but lovely and restrained.  The Op 13, No 6 Prelude sounds bold and fiery, while Op 11, No 12 is gorgeous and dreamy, showing that Wang can produce any sound and effect she chooses.  The Prelude Op 8, No 9 returns to fiery playing.  The Poem Op 32, No 1 again reveals Wang’s more nuanced interpretive side, and makes me kinda hear what she can do with Debussy or, hell, why not, Mompou.  Volodos recorded Mompou, and that turned out well, to put it mildly. 

The last big work is Prokofiev’s Sixth Sonata.  In the Allegro moderato, Wang is not afraid to play the dissonant passages with some real sting, and while she also plays with plenty of forward momentum in the faster passages, she also observes the moderato directive and doesn’t speed through it just to speed through it.  She also plays with some touching tonal beauty in slower passages, and she real pounds out the most intense music later in the movement.  The Allegretto starts as a playful march and turns into something of a demented dance in the outer sections, though Wang keeps it from becoming dark or heavy.  Anchored by tangy right hand playing, the Tempo di valzer lentissimo is uncommonly lovely in the outer sections and rather pointed in the middle, while the Vivace closer moves forward at all times, even in the slow section, with Wang’s drive and articulation world class.  This is an outstanding performance of the Sixth, one of the best I’ve heard, and it’s the best thing I’ve heard from Wang.

The encores – Chopin’s 64/2 Waltz, a transcription by Wang of a Melody from Gluck’s Orfeo ed Euridice, and Cziffra’s supervirtuosic reworking of Strauss’ Tritsch-Tratsch-Polka – all let Wang relax a bit and show what she can do in lighter fare, though not less demanding. 

Sound is excellent if not SOTA.  (I’m thinking a lossless copy would sound better than streaming.)  I think Ms Wang might just have a bright career ahead of her.
Title: Re: The Asian Invasion
Post by: Todd on October 20, 2017, 05:55:47 AM
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I enjoyed Yuja Wang’s 2010 Verbier Festival recital enough to give her 2013 appearance with Gautier Capuçon a shot.  The pair play Cello Sonatas from Shostakovich and Rachmaninoff, and the Grand Tango for Cello and Piano by Astor Piazzolla. 

The program starts off with the Shostakovich.  In one of the less surprising occurrences in my listening experience, neither artist has any difficulty playing the music.  A bit more surprising, though not much, is that Capuçon is the star of the show.  Wang can and does play very well indeed, but she doesn’t seem to have quite the same feel for DSCH that she does for Prokofiev, and while her playing cannot be faulted in terms of hitting the notes, she doesn’t seem to infuse much urgency or darkness or bite.  The playing is more sleek and efficient, amply powerful when need, but in support of the cello.  Capuçon delivers the goods.  His tone, while not the biggest, at least as recorded, is full and rich, and his intonation is spot on.  He digs in when he should, and slashes away in the two Allegros as appropriate.  I’ve only got a couple other versions of this – Gabetta/Ursuleasa and Harrell/Ashkenazy – and this performance cedes overall quality to the Harrell/Ashkenazy version, which sounds more lived in, with both players giving their all, albeit in studio conditions with many takes possible.  (As an aside, the score Capuçon uses has the word “Beethoven” in large letters right across the top, as can be seen in the cover image.)

Wang seems to be more at home in the Rach.  Her playing sounds more flowing, and she’s not shy about overpowering Capuçon on occasion.  He doesn’t seem to mind ceding the limelight, and in any event, when it’s his turn, he offers his own robust playing.  Rather like the Chiesa/Baglini pairing in this work, Capuçon/Wang offer a more modern, sleek take on romantic playing, though it might, might be slightly more romanticized than the studio effort.  It’s certainly got the verve and the drama to satisfy, and comes off relatively better than the DSCH. 

Having finished off the big works, the duo deliver a beefy and vibrant and buoyant Piazzolla (extended) encore.  It’s lighter than the other works, but it makes for a nice change of mood and leaves the patrons smiling. 

This recital basically lived up to expectations.  Two young/ish stars of the day deliver the goods in memorable if not necessarily for-the-ages performances.  If I had the chance to hear this duo in person, I’d happily plump for tickets. 
Title: Re: The Asian Invasion
Post by: aukhawk on October 20, 2017, 07:10:55 AM
Wang can and does play very well indeed, but she doesn’t seem to have quite the same feel for DSCH that she does for Prokofiev, and while her playing cannot be faulted in terms of hitting the notes, she doesn’t seem to infuse much urgency or darkness or bite.

Perhaps because, as I've remarked elsewhere, Shostakovich's piano music in general seems pitched somewhat below the highest level of virtuosity - which is not to say it isn't fine music, but it is music that Dmitri or Maxim can play.  Not playing to Wang's strengths, maybe.
Title: Re: The Asian Invasion
Post by: Todd on October 23, 2017, 05:33:14 AM
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I spotted Ilia Kim's new release of four Muzio Clementi sonatas and preludes a couple months back, and when it came out, it was available only at premium price.  As it turns out, the price of admission is $0.  Both of Ms Kim's CD releases are available on YouTube.  It appears that she's the one who posted the recordings, or perhaps it was her record label, so I figured I might as well try both, starting with the Clementi. 

Ms Kim was born in Seoul, started studying in her home country, moved to Germany for further study starting at age eleven, did some additional studies in Austria, and then commenced on the touring life, and eventually ended up in Italy.

The first work on the disc is Op 2, No 2, and Kim shows that she has a light, quick touch, sure rhythmic sense and command of the music.  The music is basically just light, fluid fun, with a tiny bit of drama in the Rondo.  Op 7, No 3 is much the same in the first movement, with a bit more fire in the last movement, and a more introspective, in a surface sort of way, Cantabile e lento.  The two brief Preludes are light fun.  The Op 13, No 6 sonata has a very Beethovenian sound to it, and perhaps Lou took some inspiration from it.  The disc ends with Op 40, No 3, which is slightly more robust yet, though it still remains in the late Mozart/Haydn, early Beethoven vein.  Since I happen to fancy that style of piano sonata, it's just splendid. 

Kim's playing overall is lighter and more superficial and slightly more stylistically contained than Pietro De Maria's, to mention my most recent foray into Clementi's music, but it is just about as compelling, and it makes me think I really need to explore more of the composer's oeuvre.  I just want that Tipo box, dammit.  I also need to listen to Kim's other disc post-haste.

Sound on YouTube can be problematic.  Here, it allows one to appreciate every aspect of Ms Kim's playing, but the piano sounds light.  Given Kim's liking for Fabbrini Steinways, I tempted to think it's a Fabbrini-ized model B or C - it certainly doesn't sound like a nine-footer - but the recording may be bass shy, or maybe Kim doesn't play with much left hand heft.  I may just have to buy the disc to see if the instrument info is included (it isn't always on Piano Classics releases), and to get every last iota of sound quality out of the recording. 
Title: Re: The Asian Invasion
Post by: Todd on October 27, 2017, 05:33:08 AM
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Figured I might as well try Ilia Kim's first disc while it's still free.  The disc starts with Schumann's Humoreske.  The piano sound on YouTube is close and dry and a bit plinky, and doesn't display the sound usually produced by a Fabbrini Steinway, so listening through that, Kim plays with nice differentiation between the Florestan and Eusebius sections.  Her fingerwork is generally quite nimble, her dynamic contrasts ample, her rubato fine.  She sounds freer and more fluid than either Hisako Kawamura or Da Sol Kim, though the latter's command sounds more sure.  That written, Ms Kim's Eusebius is dreamier and more introspective yet expressive than the other two pianists, and she plays much more than just surface deep.  I rather dig her approach to Schumann.

The Liszt Sonata, at thirty-one minutes, is on the broad side overall, though much of the playing is suitably swift.  To be sure, while she can play the work well, when compared to the last three versions I listened to before this - Kamenz, Angelich, and Pogorelich - Kim does not display superhuman virtuoso command; rather, she displays the more human variety.  Also, in comparison to those three very distinctive readings, Kim's is fairly straight-forward.  She does take her time with some of slower music, and it sounds attractive, though it doesn't offer a tender musical portrait of Gretchen, a la Kamenz, but instead offers a more abstract and formal approach.  There's a lot to enjoy in this recording, but it's not one of the great recordings of the work.  If a listener wants to go the YouTube route for the Sonata, I would certainly suggest the 1982 University of Maryland performance by Nelson Freire instead.

Franck's Prélude, Choral et Fugue ends the disc.  Chamayou and Block and maybe Rubackytė aside, I tend to power through this work when it pops up on a disc.  The small-ish scale, bass light sound of the recording actually benefits the piece here, which Kim dispatches with enough verve to entertain.  I doubt I will ever listen to this disc again because of this piece, though.

The YouTube sound of the Fabbrini Steinway is bass light and ultimately not satisfactory, so I will probably have to buy both of Ms Kim's discs at some point to get a better idea of what she sounds like.
Title: Re: The Asian Invasion
Post by: Todd on October 30, 2017, 04:53:11 AM
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Klara Min is yet another Korean pianist with a fine pedagogical pedigree making a first appearance in my collection.  In her case, she studied with no less a pianist than Byron Janis, so one must assume she has chops.  True, she stated that his lessons were more about musical philosophy than technique, but since she was already a degreed adult when she started working with the great pianist, that sort of makes sense.  Apparently, she's also up on the business side of things as she founded and is the artistic director of New York Concert Artists and Associates, and she currently lives in both New York and Berlin.  This recording of assorted Scriabin works on the Steinway & Sons label is her third release, and also her third label.  Though the release has no booklet, the marketing folks still managed to squeeze in four tasteful glamour shots of the pianist. 

The disc contains thirty-four tracks of Scriabin's smaller scale fare, with the 24 Preludes Op 11 taking up the lion's share of the disc.  Min displays a wonderfully nuanced touch from note one.  Her tone is a bit bright overall, but there are many shades to be heard, and her dynamic nuances are quite appealing.  While the first four tracks all sound just lovely, it's the fifth track, the Poeme fantastique, Op 45, No 2, where one's ears really perk up.  Mostly quiet and lovely, she seductively deploys both rubato and dual dynamic levels somewhere between p and pp.  The playing is fastidious to the Nth degree, but here that is high praise, not criticism.  Finally, in the Sixth Prelude, Min plays with some oomph, and it turns out just swell.  She plays loud from time to time throughout the disc, but mostly the music is less extroverted and the style more inward looking.  It takes not inconsiderable skill to make the playing sound as appealing as here.  So much beauty, so much control, so much nuance.

The 2015 recording was made in Sono Luminus Studios, and not unexpectedly, sound is superb.  The close microphone placement definitely benefits the quieter playing more, though maybe a tad more space could have benefitted the loudest passages.  I look forward to hearing more from Ms Min. 
Title: Re: The Asian Invasion
Post by: Todd on November 03, 2017, 06:03:31 AM
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I spotted this disc of conductor Shi-Yeon Sung leading the Gyeonggi Philharmonic in Mahler’s Fifth recently, and I tried to decide if I should buy it.  It looks like I didn’t have to.  UMG uploaded the disc to YouTube (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bkKahBboqgY&list=PLlxE-pcMA1N4x1vVoZo0qBDQsaI7PTpCU), and the Gyeonggi Philharmonic uploaded a concert performance of the same symphony to YouTube, as well (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eqVmq51srzM).  I figured I might as well go the free route since it is open, and I figured I should listen to both versions, just because.

To the conductor, Shi-Yeon Sung is one of a small but growing number of female conductors, and she’s been on something of a roll in the last decade or so.  Born in South Korea, she took up the piano at age four, trained at various European music schools of note, started winning major conducting contests in 2006, became the Boston Symphony Orchestra’s Assistant Conductor in 2007, and Chief Conductor of the Gyeonggi Philharmonic Orchestra in 2014.  I was very much interested in hearing this recording if for no other reason than I’ve never heard a woman conduct Mahler.

To the music, both versions are, not surprisingly, very similar in overall approach.  The Decca recording, even on YouTube, sounds better, and the execution sounds more assured, almost certainly due in part to multiple takes.  The following description applies to both versions, unless noted.  The Trauermarsch starts slow and solemn, with Sung building up to some more intense playing later on.  Everything holds together quite well.  Better yet is the second movement, which certainly starts off vehemently stormy, but Sung and her band back off nicely and then alternate between tightly executed, stormy playing, and something more introspective.  The music never sounds maudlin or overwrought.  In the concert version, Sung brings out the dance-like elements of the Scherzo very nicely, and she keeps much of the music light (for Mahler) and the pacing very nice.  The brass may not equal a band like the CSO, but that’s OK, it's a concert.  The Decca version sounds somewhat stiffer or more formal, though more tightly conceived.  There are no brass issues of note.  The live Adagietto is just lovely and at about ten-ish minutes, nicely paced.  The studio effort at closer to eleven-ish minutes, is more beautiful yet, and more overtly romantic.  The Rondo is played at a nice tempo, has ample energy and adequate clarity and ends up closing out the work in excellent fashion.  Overall, I rather enjoyed both renditions.  I’d give the overall nod to the Decca recording.  While neither is the best version I’ve heard, both are far from the worst.  I’m not sure I feel compelled to buy a copy since the symphony is not my favorite, but it is clear that Ms Sung should record more, and depending on what, if anything, she records, I may very well snap up future offerings.  If she ends up recording a Mahler cycle, I will likely buy it.

There are some sound issues in the live recording.  The highs are rolled off, and the lows, while weighty (augmented by the use of a sub), are muddy.  The Decca upload sounds better, with more extension, better clarity, and better everything else, too.  I suspect the disc or a lossless download would sound better yet.
Title: Re: The Asian Invasion
Post by: Todd on November 06, 2017, 06:05:08 AM
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Time for more Chopin, this time from Dizhou Zhao.  Mr Zhao was born and raised in Shanghai, where he obtained most of his training, though he also spent some time studying with Jerome Lowenthal.  He competed in multiple competitions, though not the biggest name ones, and after winning the Louisiana International Piano Competition, he recorded this 2009 disc of Chopin's Etudes for the Russian label Classical Records.

Zhao is one of a growing number of pianists who seem to have no real problem playing these pieces.  The playing throughout the set is generally excellent, and one can hear why the pianist might do well in competitions.  Zhao seems at his best in the faster pieces that can benefit from tight execution and flashy display.  For instance, 10/5 is especially fleet and exciting.  However, this is followed by a 10/6 that doesn't sound especially expressive.  And so it mostly goes throughout the first dozen etudes.  Op 25 opens with a more expressive first etude, and the the third is played as a dandy, light galop.  The second set contains a dud in 25/5, which doesn't sound really coherent, but otherwise the other eleven etudes in this set come off slightly better than the first dozen. 

This isn't really a bad recording, but the thing with the Etudes is that there are so many really good and great recordings to choose from that merely acceptable won't do.  Among younger pianists, Lisiecki and Chochieva both deliver versions more to my liking, as do Freire and Yokoyama and Pollini and, well, you get the idea. 

The recording is available on YouTube. 
Title: Re: The Asian Invasion
Post by: Todd on November 10, 2017, 07:00:11 AM
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I finally got around to a disc from a pianist I've been generically aware of for a while.  Soyeon Lee was born in Seoul, and spent the first nine years of her life in her original homeland, but then she and her family moved to the US, where she still lives.  She studied at the Juilliard under Jerome Lowenthal, among others, and has won competitions and is now a professor.  She's recorded a handful of discs for Naxos, the first of which was this Scarlatti job in its long-gestating complete set. 

There's certainly no doubt about Ms Lee's chops.  She handles all of the sonatas with ease, with superb dynamic control, a generally snappy rhythmic sense, and well-judged ornamentation.  There's no weak piece on the disc.  It's the very model of high-grade pianism playing very fine core rep.  What's not as apparent is a strong individual character.  Consider Pletnev and Baglini and Pogorelich and Babayan and Zacharias, with their freer dynamics and rubato, and they produce more of a sense of adventure.  Alternatively, Schiff and Hinrichs offer more introspective Scarlatti.  Lee is more straight-forward.  There's certainly nothing wrong with that, and I can see some listeners preferring that approach. 
Title: Re: The Asian Invasion
Post by: Todd on November 13, 2017, 06:18:18 AM
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I wanted some more chamber music from an Asian ensemble, so I settled on the sole disc from the Kumho Asiana String Quartet.  As with the Dragon Quartet, the cellist is known to me: the great Sung-Won Yang.  This is an early recording from him.  His fellow ensemble members here are Eui-Myung Kim and Soon-Ik Lee on violins, and Eun-Hwan Bai on viola.  The ensemble was funded by the Kumho Corporation of Korea and gave free concerts back in the day.  I wouldn't mind one little bit if some socially conscious corporation opted to give back in that form again now.  The disc contains three core rep staples: Haydn's 76/3, the Ravel, and Dvorak's American Quartet.  It was recorded in LA in 1996.

The disc starts off with the Haydn.  Right out of the gate, one can detect stylistic differences between the Kumho and the Dragon.  While the Dragon are all about modern, sleek execution, the Kumho allow themselves a bit more fun and lightness and flexibility.  The Allegro is bouncy fun, the Poco adagio, with expressive but not overdone vibrato, is elegant and restrained - but not too much so - and the Menuetto is a sprightly, fun dance, and the whole thing wraps up with a vibrant Finale.  The first violin does seem to be in charge, but everyone is heard.  The Ravel is lovely and sounds quick and energetic more than lush.  The Assez vif is really nice and rhythmically incisive, and the clarity of the second violin and viola is quite delightful.  The last two movements are well executed and sleek.  The Dvorak sounds more relaxed, more lyrical, more romantic in nature than the Dragon Quartet.  Think of it as closer to a Czech quartet in approach, whereas the Dragon is closer to an American quartet like the Emerson or Juilliard.  Which approach is right?  Well, both, of course.  Which is better?  Typically, I prefer the approach offered by Czech ensembles and the Kumho Asiana.  To be sure, the great Czech ensembles have the more rustic, folk inspired music down a bit better, and can sound smoother, but the Kumho Asiana are very fine, indeed.  While better versions of each work are available, this is an extremely fine one off disc. 

The recording is available of YouTube.
Title: Re: The Asian Invasion
Post by: Todd on November 20, 2017, 06:52:39 AM
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Miao Huang at bat.  Born in China, Ms Huang performed most of her formal studies in Germany, where she now lives.  In addition to studying piano, and like Corey Cerovsek and Kit Armstrong, Ms Huang is a bona fide intellectual in another area, having earned a master's in business mathematics.  This Chopin and Ravel disc on Genuin from 2013 is her only one so far. 

This is the fourth new recording of Chopin's Third Sonata I've bought in the last few months, and I'm not really a huge fan of the work.  Huang, unlike the others, omits the repeat in the Allegro maestoso.  She plays with flexibility and tonal variety similar to Gotsouliak's, though she plays more quickly.  She does not play with the poetry and sweep of Goerner, but she's not necessarily lacking in those areas.  She does not display the forensic precision and command of Lim, but she's no slouch.  And by omitting the repeat, the movement, as played here, seems to cohere better than Gotsouliak's recording, as well as a number of others.  Huang zips through the Scherzo with a robust smoothness, and opens the Largo with suitable power before moving to a more lilting and lovely style that flows along nicely, even if the playing lacks the coherence and flawlessly maintained musical line that Lim offers.  The Presto nan tanto is played at a nicely energetic but not rushed pace, and Huang again displays nice tonal variation and a flowing sound.  She's not afraid to pedal to obtain her effects, which is just fine.  It is an excellent version overall, and I prefer it to Gotsouliak, but it is not as compelling as either Goerner's or Lim's readings.

The Barcarolle follows.  It is about the same length as Lim's, but here one can hear her sounding a bit more rushed than Lim, and while her warmer tone might be considered more attractive in some ways than Lim's, and her playing is really quite fine, it just doesn't possess the same degree of overall awesomeness that Lim brings.

Gaspard ends the disc.  In Ondine, Huang's warm, rounded tone - her playing displays zero rough edges throughout - does an excellent job creating a lovely, clean yet dreamy sound, and the climax has a formidable left hand foundation.  Le Gibet maintains the warm sound, which could be something of a distraction given the music, but she keeps it slow and controlled.  Huang dispatches Scarbo with admirable clarity and energy, but it lacks especially wide dynamic swings, and it lacks something in terms of scampishness, malevolence, or rude vigor that the best versions bring.  It's a bit too polite.  Huang's Gaspard is excellent overall, but here there are many top flight versions from decades ago as well as the recent past, and this doesn't displace or augment my favorites. 

SOTA sound. 
Title: Re: The Asian Invasion
Post by: Todd on November 27, 2017, 06:49:40 AM
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I enjoyed Julius-Jeongwon Kim’s hard-hitting Schubert, so I figured why not try some of his earlier work for EMI.  I settled on Rach 2 paired with Tchaikovsky 1.  You don’t get a more warhorse heavy disc than that.  Old hand Vladimir Valek is on hand for stick waving duties, with the NDR Radiophilharmonie doing the orchestra thing.  I went the zero additional outlay route as this is available for streaming from multiple sources.

The disc opens with Rach 2.  The opening Moderato is at least moderate, and perhaps a bit languid to open, but it falls within normal performance parameters.  Kim’s dispatches the fastest, most challenging bits with seeming ease, and he coaxes some appealing sounds from his instrument, but nothing really pops out.  The Adagio is generically attractive, with everything sounding more or less right, and Kim does a good job in the slower and quieter music, but he seems a bit more at home playing the few louder passages.  In the Allegro scherzando, Kim plays with more gusto, and the effect is predictably excellent, if nothing that hasn’t been done before.  Overall, this is a perfectly fine version of the concerto, but it lacks that something special that the best versions have.

The Tchaikovsky is a tough piece to make me love, or even really like.  Freire and Abduraimov manage the trick handily, Argerich and Cliburn a bit less so.  Not even the mighty Arcadi Volodos really knocks it out of the park here, so it’s not surprising that Kim and crew don’t quite do that, either.  The opening movement has grand gestures and romantic swagger, though some tempi choices are not the most electric out there.  The Andantino semplice is more delightful than normal, with a light, almost balletic feel to it, and Kim proves up to the challenge of dashing off some passages with real elan.  Kim and Valek then deliver a very energetic and playful Allegro con fuoco, closing the work out nicely.  Overall, it’s comparatively better than the Rach, but it doesn’t rise to the level of the four pianists listed first, though it is better than my memories of some other notable recordings. 

This is the type of recording that streaming was made for.  Everything is fine and superbly played and professional, but I would never spin this a lot if I owned a physical copy. 
Title: Re: The Asian Invasion
Post by: Todd on December 04, 2017, 06:39:46 AM
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Another Amazon Add-on entry.  Pianist Sachiko Furuhata-Kersting (SFK from now on) was born in Yokohama, started studying at a very young age, concertized in Japan, studied at the Music Academy in Tokyo, and then moved to Germany to complete her studies at two different academies, where Roberto Szidon was one of her teachers.  She's got two releases on Oehms under her belt, and, due to price and repertoire, the Beethoven and Schumann ditty ended up in my possession.

The disc opens with the Mondschein, and SFK goes for a slow, eight-minute opener.  She maintains a steady tempo, plays with nice dynamic control, and doesn't break the line, but ultimately the movement just ends up sounding too slow.  The Allegretto is bizarre, with SFK playing some at a brisk pace, but then she deploys rushed rubato for no good reason and uses pauses to not so good effect.  The Presto agitato finds SFK playing fast, and playing some chords so fast that they blend together, or she doesn't play them all.  She rides the sustain quite a bit, blurring some passages to the point where the notes are undifferentiated, undulating blurs.  More excessive rubato pops up, too, and SFK slows way up in the middle, presumably to create a darker mood.  SFK's interpretation is definitely different, unique.  I'm not sold on it.  The WoO 80 Variations follow.  Coming so soon after Kissin's not so hot sounding but very well played take, one gets to hear a very fine sounding, but not as well played take.  SFK plays some of the variations with a nice degree of oomph, but she also deploys her rubato and plays some passages in what I must assume is purposely garbled and/or blurred fashion.  Interpretive chicanery can work better in a variations setting, and so it goes here to an extent, but, as with the sonata, I'm not sold on the interpretation.

Schumann's Symphonic Etudes follow, first with the standard set, then with all of the five posthumous variations tacked on to the end.  The pianist goes for the super slow approach in the opening Andante.  It might work slightly better than in the Beethoven.  Fortunately, SFK switches gears in the first etude, though she again uses her by now standard interpretive devices.  She then mostly resorts to, well, variations on those devices.  To her credit, in the fourth etude she takes the marcato designation very seriously, though the eighth etude seems a tad less seriously devoted to accented playing, instead sounding comparatively lyrical.  SFK then works her way through the rest of the pieces using her standard devices again before playing the Finale in loud, highly energetic fashion, though the playing seems close to being uncontrolled at some points.  The posthumous variations sound rather like the main work, with the same results.  Overall, Schumann's music can often withstand or even benefit from interventionist playing, but even so, I'm not sold of SFK's Schumann, either.

Superb, fully modern sound with not a little breathing and pedal mechanism noise audible.  In the Schumann, it sounds like the piano goes out of tune a few times, but nothing too major (and certainly not like the Rach concerto from Sokolov). 
Title: Re: The Asian Invasion
Post by: Mookalafalas on December 08, 2017, 06:55:53 AM
You mention you are a fan of Sung-Won Yang.  You might be interested in this.

(https://www.israbox.one/uploads/posts/2017-12/1512646958_sung-won-yang-j_s_-bach-cello-suites-2017.jpg)

  I had decided I already have too many sets of the cello suites, but plan to find some way to give it a listen.
Title: Re: The Asian Invasion
Post by: Todd on December 08, 2017, 06:58:19 AM
You mention you are a fan of Sung-Won Yang.  You might be interested in this.

(https://www.israbox.one/uploads/posts/2017-12/1512646958_sung-won-yang-j_s_-bach-cello-suites-2017.jpg)

  I had decided I already have too many sets of the cello suites, but plan to find some way to give it a listen.


That and the earlier EMI set are both on my radar.  UMG uploaded this set to YouTube.
Title: Re: The Asian Invasion
Post by: Mookalafalas on December 08, 2017, 05:42:18 PM

That and the earlier EMI set are both on my radar.  UMG uploaded this set to YouTube.

  I'm listening right now.  I like it a lot, but then I can say that about quite a few sets.  Has a greater focus on the lyrical, harmonic side, but without giving in to a romantic interpretation.  Mostly eschews the dance/rhythmic focus some hip-sters go for, except for places like the bourree in No. 4, where he pulls out the stops. He seems to have a greater affinity for the high than the low end of the scale. It sometimes feels like he's playing a big viola--almost none of that straining for deep bass rumblings that most go for. 
Title: Re: The Asian Invasion
Post by: Todd on December 11, 2017, 06:26:45 AM
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Since Piano Classics uploads many of its titles to YouTube, there's no reason to buy many recordings from the label any more, or at least there isn't if the proposition itself is dodgy.  A case in point: Yuan Sheng's three-disc collection of Chopin's piano music played on an 1845 Pleyel.  The issue here is not Sheng, whom I've never heard before, but the instrument.  I'm not really a fortepiano guy, and the little HIP Chopin I've heard has been OK-to-good, so the YouTube route makes more sense for me.  Piano Classics uploaded the three discs as one massive three hour and twenty minute video, so breaks are needed.  Alternatively, all fifty-two tracks have been uploaded separately by Kontor New Media. 

Yuan Sheng is a Beijing-born pianist who received is early training in his home country before heading to New York to study at the Manhattan School, and then enter competitions.  He has played around the world, and he also made some recordings of Bach keyboard music for Piano Classics.

Going by disc, the first disc contains the Ballades and Impromptus.  Sheng plays with nice speed and energy throughout all the Ballades, rather like Wojciech Switala on a disc I recently bought, though the Pole's fingerwork seems more dexterous.  Sheng, though, even through YouTube, gets slightly more robust bass from his instrument, and greater apparent dynamic range. Sheng also plays with a slightly more lyrical style in the last two Ballades.  His style and the instrument combine to render the Impromptus quite good.  The faster decays make some of the runs sound crisper and faster than they are probably actually played, and keeps the works lighter overall.  The Fantaisie-Impromptu comes off especially well, the twangy string that interrupts the silences notwithstanding. 

The second disc starts off with the Preludes.  Sheng's overall approach is fairly standard in conception, and much less interventionist than Sheila Arnold's recording on an 1839 Erard.  Sheng's Pleyel sounds closer in overall sound to a modern grand, creating a bigger sound, and an often more lyrical sound.  Sheng doesn't hit his keyboard quite as hard as Arnold hits hers, and the microphones seem a bit more distant, so the almost extreme dynamic contrasts are missing, but it sounds fine, and if the tolling final notes of the last Prelude don't have the impact of Arnold's, they have enough heft. 

The remainder of the set is devoted to the Nocturnes.  After Wojciech Switala's sole Noctunre on an 1848 Pleyel, my expectations for Sheng's take on twenty of the works were not too high.  Sheng easily surpassed my expectations.  It took only until 9/2 to hear the benefits a HIP keyboard can bring: fast decays leading to superb clarity in fast passages, allowing the pianist to accelerate and glide over the keys while maintaining a proper melody.  It also does not take long to hear what HIP keyboards cannot do: the bass line generally doesn't match the melody, the sustain rarely creates a dark atmosphere, the dynamic contrasts are not as pronounced as with a modern grand.  Some of the pieces become almost salon music again.  I write almost, because in some pieces, Sheng does generate scale and power than seems better suited to more intimate public performance spaces.  (I listened in my system with a sub, so that may have augmented things a bit.)  He does generate a darker, or at least hazier atmosphere on occasion, mostly in the later Nocturnes.  Sheng exceeded expectations so much that I may, at some point, keep an eye out for a different HIP set of Nocturnes to try in physical format.  Hell, I may buy this trio in physical format.
Title: Re: The Asian Invasion
Post by: Todd on December 18, 2017, 06:14:00 AM
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[This will be cross-posted in "New" Music Log]


The last of the trio of three buck discs of contemporary music.  This disc fits squarely in both The Asian Invasion and "New" Music Log threads because of the participation of three Asian artists, and all of the works are contemporary and by five composers I'd never even seen the names of prior to buying this disc.  It could also fit into a women's thread since all three performing artists, and one of the composers, are women.  Pianist Sang Hie Lee, born and partly educated in South Korea, formed Ars Nostra to explore and cultivate new music for two pianos which she plays along with Martha Thomas.  Both Lee and Thomas are academics with multiple advanced degrees from various universities, and Ms Lee also does research into health and biomechanics pertaining to musicians.  Kyoung Cho joins the duo in the first work, and she is likewise a Korean born academic-musician, currently teaching at the University of South Florida. 

The first work is Chera in Nain (2009) by Eun-Hye Park, for two pianos, soprano, and gong.  It is based on the story in Luke of Jesus raising a widow's son from the dead.  The vocal parts, performed by Kyoung Cho, are in Greek and Korean and alternate between narration and a sort of singspiel.  The music is modern, with angular phrasing, some tone clusters, and a generally clangorous sound.  It's not terrible, but it's not a great work.

Next is ...Aber Jetzt Die Nacht... (2013) by Lewis Nielson.  The work is based on a journal entry by a concentration camp victim, and at a bit over nineteen minutes, it the longest piece on the disc.  It is jagged, dark, at times quite intense, and a reasonable short-hand description would be to think of Schoenberg and Messiaen blended together, with perhaps hints of Prokofiev thrown in.  If that blend sounds appealing, then this piece might appeal; if not, probably not.  Additional devices are used to extract novel sounds from the piano (eg, soft head hammer, horsehair brush, and E-bow), and for the most part the effects add to, rather than detract from, the proceedings.  The use of two pianos does allow for a more powerful sonority and greater weight than a single instrument could achieve, and had the set been recorded to SOTA standards, the impact would likely be greater.

Celestial Phenomena (2008) by Gerald Chenoweth follows.  An "intuitive" tone poem for two pianos, it strives to depict things like the Big Bang, a black hole, starshine, and the like in its ten or so minutes.  The massive lower register tone clusters than open the Big Bang do a fine job of opening the work, and the often thick harmonies take maximum advantage of the two pianos in use.  (One can envision what a duo like Michel Dalberto and Michael Korstick might be able to deliver in the opening.)  The description "tone poem" ends up be pretty accurate, because the piece flows from one brief section to the next logically and smoothly.  This is a very modernist piece, with some big dollops of minimalism, some more hints of Messiaen, and it's definitely not a first choice work for people who want traditional melodies in their music. 

Paul Reller's Sonata for Two Pianos (2008) is more formally structured than the preceding works, and is divided into three movements played attacca.  Influenced by American musical forms - jazz, blues, and rock, as well as American composers of days gone by like McDowell and Ives - the piece is weighty, dense, and though new to my ears, the more formal approach of the piece made it sort of predictable in overall arc.  That's neither a good nor bad thing, it just is.  It's more accessible than a fair chunk of post-war piano music, sounding more like it could have been written in the 20s or 30s.   

The concluding work is Windhover (2009) by Daniel Perlongo.  The piece is an extended work inspired by a poem inspired by the Eurasian Kestrel.  Unsurprisingly, given the inspiration, Messiaen once again comes to mind, but only rarely, and Perlongo is no mere copycat.  The hints at birdsong are not as dynamically wide ranging as the Frenchman's music, nor is the writing quite as unpredictable.  Perlongo's harmonic invention often falls much easier on the ear, too, with more than a few lovely sounds to be heard, and he does a creditable job creating a sort of static sound, creating a musical image of the depicted bird hovering.  The work sort of overstays its welcome, though.

Overall, this disc is good, the pianists and the vocal artist (who doesn't really sing here) all do good work, but really, for me, only Celestial Phenomena held my interest sufficiently to warrant more than a handful of listens.  Others could very well be much more enthusiastic about the disc as a whole. 

The disc is taken from a single live performance at the University of South Florida in Tampa in March 2016.  Sound quality is more of the efficient reporting than aural luxury type. 
Title: Re: The Asian Invasion
Post by: Todd on January 01, 2018, 08:30:31 AM
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Hai-Kyung Suh’s first appearance in the thread.  Ms Suh was born in Korea, started training early, then moved first to Japan and then to the US to finish her studies.  She now lives in New York.  I first spotted her in a Mozart concerto twofer paired with Neville Marriner, though I’ve not listened to that yet.  She’s recorded a variety of other core rep discs, including the complete Rach concertos, and most are available for streaming on YouTube, but I decided to sample something different.

This disc is a collection of nineteen miniatures from core rep (Schubert, Chopin, etc) or just shy of core rep (Field, Falla) composers.  Some of the pieces included are very well known, some others less so, but it is basically an assortment of encores.  The disc takes its name from its first track, Schubert’s Nacht und Traüme D827.  Suh plays it with a gentle, steady, lovely touch, that is a bit slow and deliberate, and this carries over to pretty much the whole disc.  Sometimes the pieces can sound bland (Schumann’s Traumerei), sometimes a bit stodgy but not without appeal (Chopin’s Nocturne In C Sharp Minor and Berceuse), sometimes a very nice if somewhat restrained fit (Liszt’s Un Sospiro), to just plain good fits (Grieg and Brahms).  Not infrequently, I wanted a little more color, a little more energy, a little more insight.  It’s not a bad disc, but it’s sort of a background music type of disc.  Another example of streaming coming in handy.  I’ll probably give her Mozart or Rach a go at some point.
Title: Re: The Asian Invasion
Post by: aukhawk on January 05, 2018, 03:09:08 AM
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Klara Min is yet another Korean pianist with a fine pedagogical pedigree making a first appearance in my collection.  ... ...

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

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

(https://images-na.ssl-images-amazon.com/images/I/71DlcpXMZUL._SX425_.jpg) (https://images-na.ssl-images-amazon.com/images/I/618RiukpfcL._SX425_.jpg)

Programming is a problem - I mean who wants to listen to 17 consecutive Mazurkas?  12 of these are in a minor key, which made the disc very attractive to me, and for the most part this is quiet and contemplative music.  So much so that the two C major Mazurkas played back to back plumb in the middle of the recital come as a bit of a rude interruption.  I'm no expert on Chopin style, but Klara Min seems me to adopt a neutral approach, gentle but with great clarity and very well recorded, that lets the music shine through.  Very enjoyable - but maybe over two or three sessions, 5 or 6 Mazurkas at a time is enough!
Title: Re: The Asian Invasion
Post by: Todd on January 08, 2018, 06:17:36 AM
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More music from Sung-Won Yang, this time an assortment of short pieces with French ensemble Les Bons Becs.  Said ensemble is a wind and percussion ensemble based in France, with a heavy dose of clarinets.  The disc veers into crossover territory with its inclusion of one work each from Sonny Bono and David Bowie to go along with short pieces from the likes of Albeniz, Kreisler, Villa-Lobos, Schubert, and so on.  That Schubert’s Ave Maria survives its transcription still sounding lovely is no surprise at all, and for the most part the other works all sound just fine, if one approaches this disc as a light entertainment.  The transcriptions of two traditional pieces - Amazing Grace and El cant dels ocells - don't work as well, though the former would probably have worked better had Yang played it solo.  Make no mistake, the artists all know their stuff and play very well, and Yang’s tone is absolutely lovely and lyrical when needed, and a bit weightier when needed, too.  As with his work with Trio Owon and Enrico Pace, he’s also a star who does not need to always be the center of attention.  It’s a fun recording, and since UMG uploaded it to YouTube, there’s no reason to spend even a nickel on it. 
Title: Re: The Asian Invasion
Post by: Todd on January 15, 2018, 06:37:00 AM
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Another Add-on snag.  For under $5, I picked up Pi-Hsien Chen's complete Bach Partitas.  I've seen Ms Chen's name mentioned before, and her Schoenberg is on my to-consider list, but this is the first time I've listened to her playing.  Ms Chen was born in Taiwan, started studying early, did the child prodigy thing (first performance at age five), moved to Germany to study at a young age, got her diploma, and did post-diploma studying with Hans Leygraf, Wilhelm Kempff, and Claudio Arrau, among others.  She did the competition circuit, winning first prize in both the Schoenberg and Bach competitions. 

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

Good stuff.
Title: Re: The Asian Invasion
Post by: amw on January 15, 2018, 11:49:17 AM
I’m a fan of her playing in general but didn’t know this existed, so thanks...
Title: Re: The Asian Invasion
Post by: Todd on January 22, 2018, 06:26:37 AM
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I figured it was time for a wunderkind, in the form of Niu Niu.  Niu Niu, real name Zhang Shengliang, was born in China way back in 1997, started playing piano at age three, gave his first performance at age six, and then at the advanced age of nine he started studying under Hung-Kuan Chen in Boston and he also signed with EMI, releasing a Mozart album in 2008.  This disc of Liszt transcriptions was released later in his career, when he was fifteen.  He is now twenty years old.  How time flies.

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

This is a nice enough disc, and given the pianist’s age when he made it, one can hope that he ends up maturing a bit more and focusing a bit less on dazzle and more on insight.
Title: Re: The Asian Invasion
Post by: Todd on January 29, 2018, 06:26:44 AM
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My first proper (ie, physical media/lossless) exposure to the artistry of violinist Suyoen Kim.  As she records for Deutsche Grammophon Korea, I assumed she was Korean, but that is not the case.  She is German, born and raised and educated.  Nonetheless, since this release is on DG Korea and she's a bigger star in South Korea than the West, I'm going to post about the disc here.

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

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

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

I have Kim's Bach queued up, but I would not mind hearing more from her, or from the other two musicians, for that matter. 
Title: Re: The Asian Invasion
Post by: Mandryka on February 01, 2018, 04:28:23 AM
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Ji Goldberg Variations, worth hearing, some staggering of voices and unusual ornaments. Entertaining.
Title: Re: The Asian Invasion
Post by: Todd on February 05, 2018, 06:25:45 AM
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Ji-Hae Park is not unique in my exploration of Asian artists in that she was born in Germany and records for a Korean arm of UMG, nor is she unique in being more popular in Korea than in other markets.  Suyoen Kim meets both those criteria, too.  So, factoring those tidbits in, as well as the fact that Ms Park is an Honorary Ambassador for the 2018 PyeongChang Olympics, and the fact that she won The Respected Korean award in 2010, among various other political and social honors in Korea, I'll post about her here.  Her website is dreadful, and the Wikipedia page devoted to her appears to be a rehashing of her PR artist bio, but from that it appears that she probably received training in Europe, did the competition thing, and plays a Guarneri.

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

Even streaming, one hears Ms Park breathing quite a bit in places, indicating relatively close microphone placement, while pianist Simon Lepper is presented more distantly.  The overall sound seems like maybe some reverb was added to create a certain ambience and effect since here and there one hears noticeable piano pedaling and reverb at once, but it is just fine.  This is the type of recording that may end up in my collection in physical form.  Superb.
Title: Re: The Asian Invasion
Post by: Todd on February 12, 2018, 06:27:37 AM
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The King is dead!  Long live the Queen!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

SOTA sound, as one would expect from a recording made in Jesus Christus Kirche in Berlin in late 2015. 
Title: Re: The Asian Invasion
Post by: Todd on February 19, 2018, 06:30:41 AM
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Another disc perfect for streaming.  This is available in various outlets, and UMG uploaded it to YouTube.  Neither the Saint-Saëns First or Elgar concertos are particular favorite concertos of mine, but they can be enjoyable.  Mee-Hae Ryo was born and raised in Korea, started her musical training early, moved to the US to study at Juilliard and the University of Michigan, then moved back to Korea to teach and concertize, and she spends a good amount of time performing in Europe.  With her background, one would expect technical excellence, and that's more or less what one hears on this recording.  The Saint-Saëns is well executed by all parties, with Ryo generating a nice tone and playing in an often vigorous if somewhat proper manner, at least when compared to the romantic excess of Maisky or the more exuberant and lithe Isserlis.  Ryo's playing in the Elgar is less heart-on-sleeve than Maisky or du Pré, being more reserved in the manner of Fournier, though not quite so elegant.  Here the orchestra plays with somewhat greater passion than the soloist at times, to good effect. 

Overall, Ms Ryo plays very well, indeed, and I would not mind hearing her in other core rep.  Composer-conductor Amaury Du Closel leads the Nuremburg Symphony Orchestra in professional, extremely well-played support.  This is a very high-grade recording in every respect, but it is not one that demands many listens, like the other mentioned recordings.  The short timing might be an issue if one bought the disc.
Title: Re: The Asian Invasion
Post by: Todd on February 26, 2018, 06:24:59 AM
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Another Amazon Add-on snag.  I only recently stumbled upon the Shanghai Quartet when I learned that they recorded a complete LvB String Quartet cycle for Camerata.  This disc of the Mendelssohn Second and Grieg string quartets represents my first exposure to their playing.  I infrequently listen to both works, and for the former rely on the Pacifica and Emerson, and for the latter on the Emerson only.  The ensemble itself formed in Shanghai in 1983.  Three of the four members at the time of the recording were Chinese.  Brothers Weigang Li and Honggang Li played the violins, and Zheng Wang played viola.  All three attended the Shanghai Conservatory and held various teaching positions.  American James Wilson rounded out the ensemble on cello.  He attended University of Michigan at Ann Arbor and also did the teaching thing.  Even before this now quarter century old recording was made, the ensemble had been Ensemble-in-Residence at Tanglewood and Ravinia, as well the Graduate Ensemble-in-Residence at Juilliard.  In other words, they're the real deal.

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

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

(The ensemble has changed lineups since 1993, though the Li brothers remain, with Honggong playing viola now, so the current lineup may or may not sound the same.) 
Title: Re: The Asian Invasion
Post by: Todd on March 05, 2018, 06:27:46 AM
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When I signed up for Amazon Music Unlimited, many thousands of interesting titles became available to me, and when I did a quick search for the Hammerklavier, many of the usual suspects appeared in the result list, but so did some unknown ones, like this one.  This disc is from the CD Baby label, meaning it was most likely self-produced by the pianist.  Said pianist, Makiko Hirata, was born in Japan and started her training there before moving to the US and studying at the Juilliard and taking her Bachelor's at Manhattan School of Music and her Master's at New York University.  She's done the competing and performing thing, though some of it with B- and C-list collaborators, not that there's anything wrong with that.

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

A few audible pops while streaming indicate that a secure copy of the recording was not made.
Title: Re: The Asian Invasion
Post by: Todd on March 12, 2018, 05:29:11 AM
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Japanese conductor Eiji Oue might be considered cheating a little for this thread, rather like Myung Whun Chung, but I'll cheat.  I've never heard Oue in Mahler, and this made for a good opportunity.  Oue's take is different than most others.  There's a Celibidachean element to it in that this recording comes in at a hefty 95'+.  There's also a focus on detail and tinkering everywhere.  The over thirty-one minute long Andante comodo starts off sounding quite beautiful, and in many places it stays that way, but an also slightly off, slightly eerie-cum-despondent sound can be heard, and that's all fine.  What fascinates and both simultaneously attracts and slightly repels are some of the numerous small touches.  Oue extends note values here, there, and everywhere, sometimes more discreetly than others.  When he does it with the brass, it's the most prominent, but other sections get their turns.  Some passages will start haltingly to then lurch forward.  The movement loses some of its overall cohesion, but some of the individual ideas are impossible to ignore.  Too, though no one would ever confuse the NDR band for Fluffy's Berliners, some of the string playing is quite lovely, with some tremolos whispered out.  Sometimes, in the slowest passages, the whole movement seems on the verge of collapsing.  That's not to say there's not something appealing in that.  Im Tempo eines gemachlichen Landlers comes in at a lengthy 19'08", often sounds lethargic and drained of any dance like rhythm, exaggerated or grotesque.  Some may very well find the distended tempi grotesque in its own right, and the few times Oue whips the band into a frenzy, he them turns around and slows things way down.  Some passages have almost every gesture emphasized, and others none.  It is, shall we say, a very non-standard reading.  The Rondo Burleske, at 15'18", is also slower than normal, but the overall effect on the music is not quite as extreme as in the first two movements, though this take is not a high voltage, violent take.  One benefit of the broad approach is that one gets to listen to details at one's leisure.  The concluding Adagio is also slow at just over a half-hour, but slow final movements are much more common in my listening experience.  It's in line with other emotive slow readings.  Oue gets some incredibly delicate, sweet playing from the violins early on, and as the movement goes on, it becomes a sorrowful lament, and the coda and the closing pages, after a very long pause, take a suitably long time to deliver.  It's the easiest movement to digest as it sounds most standard.  Sometimes throughout the work, the corporate playing in the live recording sounds a bit taxed, but nothing to detract from the proceedings.

Sound even streaming is excellent, which is common for Exton.  While not a first choice, and at times unique to the point of weirdness, there's something compelling here.  I may have to plump for an optical disc or download.
Title: Re: The Asian Invasion
Post by: kishnevi on March 12, 2018, 07:08:31 PM
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Japanese conductor Eiji Oue might be considered cheating a little for this thread, rather like Myung Whun Chung, but I'll cheat.  I've never heard Oue in Mahler, and this made for a good opportunity.  Oue's take is different than most others.  There's a Celibidachean element to it in that this recording comes in at a hefty 95'+.  There's also a focus on detail and tinkering everywhere.  The over thirty-one minute long Andante comodo starts off sounding quite beautiful, and in many places it stays that way, but an also slightly off, slightly eerie-cum-despondent sound can be heard, and that's all fine.  What fascinates and both simultaneously attracts and slightly repels are some of the numerous small touches.  Oue extends note values here, there, and everywhere, sometimes more discreetly than others.  When he does it with the brass, it's the most prominent, but other sections get their turns.  Some passages will start haltingly to then lurch forward.  The movement loses some of its overall cohesion, but some of the individual ideas are impossible to ignore.  Too, though no one would ever confuse the NDR band for Fluffy's Berliners, some of the string playing is quite lovely, with some tremolos whispered out.  Sometimes, in the slowest passages, the whole movement seems on the verge of collapsing.  That's not to say there's not something appealing in that.  Im Tempo eines gemachlichen Landlers comes in at a lengthy 19'08", often sounds lethargic and drained of any dance like rhythm, exaggerated or grotesque.  Some may very well find the distended tempi grotesque in its own right, and the few times Oue whips the band into a frenzy, he them turns around and slows things way down.  Some passages have almost every gesture emphasized, and others none.  It is, shall we say, a very non-standard reading.  The Rondo Burleske, at 15'18", is also slower than normal, but the overall effect on the music is not quite as extreme as in the first two movements, though this take is not a high voltage, violent take.  One benefit of the broad approach is that one gets to listen to details at one's leisure.  The concluding Adagio is also slow at just over a half-hour, but slow final movements are much more common in my listening experience.  It's in line with other emotive slow readings.  Oue gets some incredibly delicate, sweet playing from the violins early on, and as the movement goes on, it becomes a sorrowful lament, and the coda and the closing pages, after a very long pause, take a suitably long time to deliver.  It's the easiest movement to digest as it sounds most standard.  Sometimes throughout the work, the corporate playing in the live recording sounds a bit taxed, but nothing to detract from the proceedings.

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

Hmm, I am interested. But Amazon offers only MP3, and I would want a physical CD.  Any leads?
Title: Re: The Asian Invasion
Post by: Todd on March 13, 2018, 05:21:46 AM
Hmm, I am interested. But Amazon offers only MP3, and I would want a physical CD.  Any leads?


Amazon Japan or HMV Japan.
Title: Re: The Asian Invasion
Post by: Todd on March 19, 2018, 05:25:43 AM
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It seemed like a good time to hear a new take on some DSCH.  I opted for a violinist new to me in the form of Bonjiu Koo, in what appears to be her only recording, from 2011.  The Sony Korea execs went almost all-out, enlisting conductor Maxim Shostakovich to lead the North Czech Philharmonic Orchestra in the main work.  Pianist Sergio Posada Gomez was tapped for the Op 134 Violin Sonata and a couple Op 34 Preludes, transcribed for piano and violin, that end the disc.  The packaging is of the posh cardboard trifold type, and the covers and booklet contain seven shots of the violinist, two of her violin, one of the violinist and conductor, and each of the conductor and band.  The pianist gets no love.  But hey, the fashion stylist gets a name check.  Ms Koo was born, raised, and mostly educated in South Korea, though she earned her PhD at Yale.  She appears to perform mostly in her home country and with B- and C-list orchestras in Europe.  To her credit, she owns the copyright to this recording.

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

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

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

Exemplary sound.  It is not as dynamic and the Tetzlaff recording in the concerto, though the sonata pulls off a nice "they are here" sound. 
Title: Re: The Asian Invasion
Post by: Todd on March 26, 2018, 05:17:56 AM
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[This will also be posted in "New" Music Log.]


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

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

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

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



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



* Mr English also wrote his dissertation on Koželuch's keyboard sonatas.  It is available online: https://digital.library.adelaide.edu.au/dspace/bitstream/2440/84697/8/02whole.pdf
Title: Re: The Asian Invasion
Post by: Todd on April 02, 2018, 04:19:04 AM
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This disc by Collegium Vocale Seoul caught my eye when it was released, but importing a physical copy was too expensive for my liking, so I back-burnered it.  This is another perfect disc for streaming as it is more a themed disc than a disc devoted to one or two works or groups of works by one or two composers.  It is comprised of eleven different works by as many composers, ranging chronologically from Palestrina to Nystedt.  Each individual piece is short, and the stylistic differences make for nice contrasts, and the disc ends up being successful if for nothing else than it serves as an advertisement for the fine ensemble.  The singers all sound splendid and they work together beautifully, which is a good thing since only a couple pieces include an organ accompaniment.  Perhaps one might wish for a bit more interpretive style, but in terms of execution there’s nothing to kvetch about.

The ensemble has also recorded Durufle’s Requiem, so I may give that a listen at some point.   
Title: Re: The Asian Invasion
Post by: Todd on April 09, 2018, 04:18:29 AM
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This is Li-Wei Qin's third appearance in this thread, and the first as a soloist.  This recording of the Walton Cello Concerto, with revised ending, and the Elgar Cello Concerto, with Britten's Four Sea Interludes sandwiched in between, appears on both the ABC Classics and Decca labels.  I picked up the ABC branded version as an Amazon Add-on.  Qin is joined by Chinese conductor Zhang Yi at the podium.

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

The Britten Four Sea Interludes may lack the ultimate punch that Colin Davis brings, though not by much, and Yi, as he does throughout the disc, leads the LPO is magnificent, beautiful, meticulous playing.  Add in fully up to modern snuff sound, and this is a peach of a disc.
Title: Re: The Asian Invasion
Post by: Todd on April 16, 2018, 04:24:33 AM
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Last year, on a whim, I picked up Sonig Tchakerian's recording of Bach's Solo Violin Sonatas and Partitas from Decca Italy and ended up with near or actual personal reference set.  As part of my continued exploration of recording by Asian artists, or now titles released in the Asian market only, I picked up Suyoen Kim's 2011 recording for DG.  I was hoping for another home run.  I didn't quite get it.

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

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

On an irrelevant note, this set comes in a package new to me.  It's an extra thick case with a disc on each side of the case, sort of like two-thirds of an old-style, fat double CD case.
Title: Re: The Asian Invasion
Post by: Todd on April 23, 2018, 04:26:54 AM
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Anna Kurasawa is a name new to me.  Born and raised in Japan, she lived and studied in her home country until graduating from the Toho Gakuen College of Music, and thereafter she moved to Germany to study there, as well as in France.  Along the way, she won various competitions.  This debut disc of Brahms and Rachmaninoff was released by Naxos Japan.

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

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

Here's a case where streaming is ideal; I would have been more disappointed had I shelled out green for this.
Title: Re: The Asian Invasion
Post by: Todd on April 30, 2018, 04:24:55 AM
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It took me a while to get to Klara Min's Chopin Mazurkas disc.  It's been available for streaming for a good long while, but my experience with her Scriabin strongly suggested that a minimum of sixteen bit resolution is needed to appreciate what she does with the music.  And what she does here is similar to what she does with Scriabin: her tone is slightly bright and her playing is of the supremely fastidious and very personal sort.  While her rhythmic sense appeals, she lacks the more overtly dance-like rhythm of some other pianists.  Rather, Min lavishes immense attention to matters dynamic and tempo related.  Her dynamic gradations are so finely controlled as to invite - nay, demand - hushed, fully attentive listening.  Too, her rubato, with the minutest of minute shifts in tempo, demand attention.  The Mazurkas are, of course, short works, yet as presented here, each one is a self-contained work with nearly infinite details to attend to, and sometimes the result is that a two minute piece, though not slow, seems to go on longer than expected as Min will make the relative note value and dynamic shadings between two notes stand out, and she will render an arpeggio a series of events chained together rather than something dashed off.  Sometimes one forgets what one is listening to.  In some ways, Min goes further than Vassily Primakov or even Jean-Marc Luisada in terms of personalizing and micro-managing the pieces.  That's not a bad thing, not at all.  The only complaint I have is that she did not record the complete set of Mazurkas.  Min's discography is thin, though as luck would have it, her web-site states that she recorded for Steinway & Sons this month, with the release slated for June.  I don't know what she recorded, but I suspect I'll listen to it.   
Title: Re: The Asian Invasion
Post by: Todd on May 07, 2018, 04:28:10 AM
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Takashi Asahina is a conductor I have long associated with Bruckner more than anything.  I figured now was as good a time as any to stream him conducting something else.  I settled on Beethoven.  This complete symphony cycle is recorded with the Osaka Philharmonic.  You know, his orchestra, as in the one he established in 1947 and led until his death.  This cycle was recorded in the year 2000, the year before his death.  He was 92 years old at the time.  This was his final presentation of the cycle.

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

This set offers yet another example of the value of streaming.  At its current price, I doubt I'd buy a physical copy of the cycle, but I got to hear it anyway, and in the event it ends up a budget issue at some point, I may buy it just to hear better what the engineers captured.
Title: Re: The Asian Invasion
Post by: Todd on May 14, 2018, 03:41:19 AM
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Yurino Izumi is so obscure that the only reason I stumbled upon this disc is because it showed up in Amazon Music's queue while I perused for new Schubert recordings.  Ms Izumi, per her poorly designed and maintained web-site, was born in Japan in 1983, studied there and in Paris, won a few competitions and awards, and currently concertizes.  This is her only commercially available recording as far as I can tell, and I opted to stream it.

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

The disc is entertaining enough overall, and streaming probably doesn't offer the very best possible sound, but I think I'll pass on buying a physical copy, though I would not be averse to listening to any potential future releases from Ms Izumi.
Title: Re: The Asian Invasion
Post by: Todd on May 21, 2018, 03:46:38 AM
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I found Eri Ikezi's sole disc, for Newport Classics, whilst hunting for Amazon Add-ons.  Ms Ekezi was born in Japan and received her early training there.  She made her Carnegie Hall debut at the age off 11, and she studied at Juilliard. She is also a noteworthy ultra-obscure pianist because she changed careers entirely.  She now works in France as a culinary journalist and artisanal chocolatier.  She has been involved with the website The Chocolate Life for years.  In addition to her Juilliard studies, she also has a degree in math from UC Berkley and a Master's in International Economic Policy from Columbia.  That's a pretty heady CV for a chocolatier.  Another minor note, the producer of this recording, David Dubal, dedicated his book about Vladimir Horowitz to her. 

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

Ms Ikezi certainly had the chops to play some big pieces, and may still.  Better production and repertoire choices may have made for a better debut disc, but in any event, it appears likely that this disc will end up her entire recorded legacy.  It's not bad.
Title: Re: The Asian Invasion
Post by: Mookalafalas on May 21, 2018, 05:35:09 AM
 I hope her life isn't as tragic and messed up as it sounds. Sounds like 3 huge and hard won careers thrown away.
Title: Re: The Asian Invasion
Post by: Brian on May 22, 2018, 06:59:36 AM
I hope her life isn't as tragic and messed up as it sounds. Sounds like 3 huge and hard won careers thrown away.
Do you know something we don't? Is there a biography somewhere online? I read your post before Todd's and thought maybe she was dead or missing, but instead she's...a chocolatier? There are worse fates!
Title: Re: The Asian Invasion
Post by: Mookalafalas on May 22, 2018, 04:14:34 PM
Do you know something we don't? Is there a biography somewhere online? I read your post before Todd's and thought maybe she was dead or missing, but instead she's...a chocolatier? There are worse fates!

   She spent thousands of hours to become a concert pianist, and gave it all up, 4 years getting a math degree from America's top U and gave it up, and an equally impressive MA and gave it up. To me it sounds like someone with staggeringly great talents, who pursues enormous goals, and then upon achieving them feels some compulsion to throw them away.
Title: Re: The Asian Invasion
Post by: Todd on May 28, 2018, 04:03:01 AM
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Korean pianist William Youn caught my eye when he released the second disc in his now complete Mozart piano sonata cycle.  One off discs are common; second discs often presage even more to come.  I decided to be patient and wait.  After all, I've got more than a few Mozart cycles.  Also, waiting afforded me the option of hearing him teamed with Nils Mönkemeyer in a Mozart collection for Sony Germany.  The extremely high-grade results increased my interest in hearing this cycle. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sound quality is superb, though not as good as Prosseda's ongoing cycle on Decca.  This gives little Oehms Classics two of the best Mozart cycles out there.  Maybe they can release a third in the next decade.
Title: Re: The Asian Invasion
Post by: betterthanfine on May 28, 2018, 01:19:39 PM
^Listening to his recording of K310 on Spotify right now. Impressive indeed! Many thanks for the review, Todd.
Title: Re: The Asian Invasion
Post by: amw on June 01, 2018, 04:55:19 AM
You should check out Youn's Davidsbündlertänze on Ars Produktion as well; I just re-listened to it by chance and it seems like it could be your kind of thing.
Title: Re: The Asian Invasion
Post by: Todd on June 02, 2018, 05:00:59 AM
You should check out Youn's Davidsbündlertänze on Ars Produktion as well; I just re-listened to it by chance and it seems like it could be your kind of thing.


Noted.  I suspect I will be listening to more from Mr Youn in the future.
Title: Re: The Asian Invasion
Post by: Todd on June 03, 2018, 04:01:10 AM
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As I was able to snag this disc as an Amazon Add-on, I decided to try some more HIP Chopin, including a first attempt at a HIP sonata, with the pianist Ka-ling Colleen Lee.   Ms Lee was born in, and currently resides in, Hong Kong, where she undertook her early studies before heading to Germany for more advanced studies.  She placed sixth in the 15th International Frederic Chopin Piano Competition in 2005, and in the same year she recorded this disc for The Fryderyk Chopin Institute in the Witold Lutoslawski Polish Radio Concert Studio, when she was 25 years of age.  An 1848 Pleyel was used for the occasion.

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

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

As mentioned, the recorded sound is close, but it does an estimable job of creating a "they are here" effect, and it makes me wonder what some other artists might be able to do with this piano or one that sounds like it.  Andrea Lucceshini has been concentrating more on period instruments the last few years.  Hearing him play Chopin, or anything, on such an instrument would likely be a treat. 
Title: Re: The Asian Invasion
Post by: Todd on June 10, 2018, 05:42:38 AM
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Norichika Iimori is a name new to me, but since I found his Brahms symphony cycle available to stream, I figured I might as well hear what he can do.  Iimori was born and raised in Japan, took a degree from Toho Gakuen School of Music, and received additional training in Germany.  He's done lots of guest conducting and acts as Principal Conductor of the Japan Century Symphony Orchestra and Principal Guest Conductor of the Württemberg Philharmonic Orchestra.  In addition to this set, he has recorded a lot of core rep, including complete Beethoven and Mozart symphony cycles. 

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

The Japan Century Symphony Orchestra plays at a very high level, and Exton's sound is very fine via streaming, so I expect it would be superb on disc.
Title: Re: The Asian Invasion
Post by: Todd on June 16, 2018, 04:51:06 AM
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Sang Mi Chung is new to my collection.  Her scant bio info indicates that she was born in South Korea, studied at Juilliard, is part of the Arista Trio, teaches at Hunter College, and records for Centaur.  She's recorded several discs.  Her Szymanowski caught my eye. 

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

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

Overall, Chung's disc is nice, but better versions of all works are available.  I may have to try her Clementi next.
Title: Re: The Asian Invasion
Post by: Todd on October 06, 2018, 12:32:17 PM
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Jung-Ja Kim is a Korean born pianist with deep roots in the US.  She earned degrees from Juilliard, appeared with Leonard Bernstein in a televised Young People's Concert back in the 60s, and she has been at the Boston Conservatory since 1972.  She's got some experience. 

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

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

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

This here's one of them discs and artists I was hoping to find.  Superb in every regard.
Title: Re: The Asian Invasion
Post by: Todd on October 13, 2018, 06:22:25 AM
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Okay, the crappy cover, which looks like a pixelated screengrab from Footloose, is enough to put off some potential buyers, but one must be resilient to move beyond D-quality work from aspiring marketing students.  (I certainly hope a seasoned pro didn't put the cover together.)  Jung-Ja Kim's Ravel disc starts off with the Sonatine.  Old-pro Henk Kooistra is the engineer, and he and his production team go for a soft-grained, soft-edged, resonant, billowy sound.  To be sure, Kim pedals generously, but it's almost like the sustain is held down throughout and she applies the una corda generously.  Less than ideal sonics, or perhaps just right sonics, aside, Kim's playing is a blend of the dreamy and the literal.  There are no garish displays or tweaks, and Kim's playing is generally fleet and cool.  It works quite well. 

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

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

Overall, this disc is not as good as her Mozart disc, but it is well worth hearing.
Title: Re: The Asian Invasion
Post by: Alek Hidell on October 13, 2018, 07:59:35 AM
^ Wow. It's hard to believe those two covers were produced by the same label.

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