Author Topic: Blind comparison LIGHTNING ROUND: Liszt's Funérailles!  (Read 8918 times)

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Online Brian

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Blind comparison LIGHTNING ROUND: Liszt's Funérailles!
« on: December 10, 2014, 08:00:13 PM »
Franz Liszt
Funérailles (from Harmonies poétiques et religieuses) for solo piano

(Wikipedia)

Pianist #1
Pianist #2
Pianist #3
Pianist #4
Pianist #5

This is not a comprehensive "let's find the best recording" game. I've simply chosen five recordings by five very interesting pianists. Some are old, some are new; some are very famous or beloved, some are just starting out.

The rules are very simple. There are only five performances. Listen to all five, describe your opinion of each performance, and rank them. You may feel free to discuss, disparage, praise, in any way you see fit. If you want to guess a pianist's name, go right ahead. Really: guess away, or make comparisons, or do whatever you like.

There's no bracket, so one ballot and the game's over.

Voting will be open for ten days - from now until 9 a.m. New York City time on the morning of December 20 22, 2014 (mid-afternoon in Europe). After that I'll post the results within 24 hours.

Audio file format: these clips are 16-bit WAV files ripped directly from the CDs. If there's a problem, please alert me. Please also be aware this means the file sizes are very big (100-130MB each). Right-click the links above to download to your hard drive.

Enjoy!!!
« Last Edit: December 16, 2014, 08:54:43 PM by Brian »

Offline jfdrex

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Re: Blind comparison LIGHTNING ROUND: Liszt's Funérailles!
« Reply #1 on: December 12, 2014, 09:55:38 AM »
Brian ~ Thanks for organizing this.  I'll be happy to participate, & am downloading the files, one by one, as I write.

Cheers,

John,
looking forward to playing "Spot the Cherkassky" ;)

Online Brian

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Re: Blind comparison LIGHTNING ROUND: Liszt's Funérailles!
« Reply #2 on: December 16, 2014, 01:46:35 PM »
Wow, two very fascinating posts, Scherzian, I hope you will be commenting on the others like this, too!

Four days left to comment before pianists are revealed

Cosi bel do

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Re: Blind comparison LIGHTNING ROUND: Liszt's Funérailles!
« Reply #3 on: December 16, 2014, 02:30:19 PM »
Wow, two very fascinating posts, Scherzian, I hope you will be commenting on the others like this, too!

Four days left to comment before pianists are revealed

Coule you please wait and let the weekend pass? I thought I would do this comparison next Sunday :)

Online Brian

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Re: Blind comparison LIGHTNING ROUND: Liszt's Funérailles!
« Reply #4 on: December 16, 2014, 02:41:16 PM »
Coule you please wait and let the weekend pass? I thought I would do this comparison next Sunday :)
Okay, if you bribe me.  :)

Cosi bel do

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Re: Blind comparison LIGHTNING ROUND: Liszt's Funérailles!
« Reply #5 on: December 16, 2014, 03:22:09 PM »
With a long and detailed comment :) ?

Online Brian

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Re: Blind comparison LIGHTNING ROUND: Liszt's Funérailles!
« Reply #6 on: December 16, 2014, 03:47:16 PM »
With a long and detailed comment :) ?
You'll do that anyway. :)

We'll say the new deadline is Monday.

Online Brian

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Re: Blind comparison LIGHTNING ROUND: Liszt's Funérailles!
« Reply #7 on: December 19, 2014, 03:54:09 PM »
Reminder to spend an enjoyable weekend with Liszt. :)

Cosi bel do

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Re: Blind comparison LIGHTNING ROUND: Liszt's Funérailles!
« Reply #8 on: December 19, 2014, 05:29:07 PM »
It is planned 8)

I hope some others will join Scherzian and me :o

Offline mc ukrneal

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Re: Blind comparison LIGHTNING ROUND: Liszt's Funérailles!
« Reply #9 on: December 19, 2014, 05:50:07 PM »
It is planned 8)

I hope some others will join Scherzian and me :o
Hope to...
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Offline André

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Re: Blind comparison LIGHTNING ROUND: Liszt's Funérailles!
« Reply #10 on: December 19, 2014, 05:50:33 PM »
Scherzian, you make your comments absolutely illegible with that white typeface against a light grey background  ???

Offline Moonfish

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Re: Blind comparison LIGHTNING ROUND: Liszt's Funérailles!
« Reply #11 on: December 19, 2014, 05:54:40 PM »
Scherzian, you make your comments absolutely illegible with that white typeface against a light grey background  ???

Select the text with your cursor if you want to read it. The white font is used so he can "hide" his comments.
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Offline Todd

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Re: Blind comparison LIGHTNING ROUND: Liszt's Funérailles!
« Reply #12 on: December 19, 2014, 07:05:41 PM »
I shall do my best.  I'm pretty confident that Herbert Schuch is included based on my initial pass (<60 seconds each), but I fear Bolet and Zimerman may not be . . .
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Offline mc ukrneal

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Re: Blind comparison LIGHTNING ROUND: Liszt's Funérailles!
« Reply #13 on: December 19, 2014, 07:07:11 PM »
I listened in reverse order (just for a change):

#1 - Here the lower notes are allowed to reverb (pedal), which is very menacing -even disturbing. Second section is almost dainty, but I like the contrast with the opening. Still, it isn't quite as somber as either #4 or #5, though better than the others. It also has a Chopinesque quality. Third section was good. There is a congested quality in a few spots in the highs. Very good ending (probably the best at tying in the other sections). 

#2 - More forward. Better opening. Perhaps a hair more dynamic contrast would help. Better second section, though the forward recorded sound doesn't help. Still, I like the feeling of this one (if a bit too hard hitting of the keys at times). Third section is probably the most interesting.

#3 - Wow, accoustic is opposite of #3, dry vs reverberant. At the start I wanted a bit of that reverb to help give it that menace and almost hopelessness (innevitability is probably a better word). Opening section just doesn't seem to reach the heights needed to set the rest of the piece in place. Second section seems sad (which is good), but not much else. Better in the third section. Some technical issues though and here everything seems to lack transparency. Painful to listen to.

#4 - This opening is not quite as menacing or dark. I don't find it as effective. Second section is played well, though no feeling of Chopin as in the fifth one. Oddly, I am reminded of silent movies when something bad happens and everyone is upset (does that make sense). Another very secure performance. The top is a bit pingy for my tastes and I don't quite feel the line. Third section is a bit too deliberate to start and has some abruptness to the dynamics I didn't like (not helped by the reverb).  Ending seemed a bit disjointed.

#5 - The opening is like the determined waves on the beach - continuous and with no hope of stopping. The pauses (after) are long and quite risky, but also quite effective after this pummeling at the start. The next section is performed in an almost Chopinesque manner, which I liked. It also reminds me a bit of Debussy. It's a very controlled performance. The third section reminds me of Chopin for sure, but transformed a bit (one of the Polonaises). Enjoyed the most.

SO, in order of preferernce: 5, 1, 4, 2, 3.

Upon relistening to #5, what I am noticing is that it holds the tension the most. The opening is definitely a step above the others in the way it just creates this almost innevitable progression that seems to have no exit and then it creates one. The second section is so clear - I loved this part the most I think. There is so much nuance and detail (and good use of rubato). I can see the development within each section and across the piece (it's greatest positive). Third section has great transparency (something noticeable throughout). Final section is as good as the first one too (and pauses are so risky here too).  I'd buy this one (despite some exaggerated singing/sighing a couple times :) ).


Color is changed to prevent participants from accidentally seeing results of others. It helps when one is writing impressions directly into the thread and one has to go back and forth. To read, just highlight it (or reply to post and you will see normal text). Will change when the results are posted...

EDIT: I should add that none of them are really bad.
« Last Edit: December 19, 2014, 07:10:23 PM by mc ukrneal »
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Offline jfdrex

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Re: Blind comparison LIGHTNING ROUND: Liszt's Funérailles!
« Reply #14 on: December 20, 2014, 11:55:01 AM »
I ought to preface my comments by confessing that I'm not a Lisztian in any way, shape, or form.  I have very few recordings of anything by Liszt, and I rarely listen to his music.  In fact, insofar as I have any general attitude toward Liszt's music, it's one of dislike if not disdain.  So in listening to these five recordings, I'm not judging them on the basis of whether they are echt “Lisztian” but for the quality of the pianism as a whole.  I want the performance to persuade me that this is music I should care about; or, failing that, to persuade me that this is piano-playing that I should care about and (dare I say it?) actively like.

So, with those caveats...

Pianist #1.  Not an auspicious start to this lightning round, IMHO.  On first hearing, this performance almost succeeded in turning me off to the Funerailles completely.  First impression:  Dull, plodding, lethargic, lugubrious, shapeless, lifeless, jarringly percussive (and the piano poorly tuned? Or wow and flutter in the transfer?), devoid of both lyricism and drama.  Second impression:  Overly deliberate, with the pianist intent on making a Big Statement in Capital Letters.  (“You must Listen:  This music is Dreamy.  It is Funereal.  It is Important.  It is Liszt!”)  At the same time, the pianist plays the notes (seemingly one note at a time), but not (to my ears) the music.  I don't sense an overarching grasp of the structure or vision of the work as a whole—or at least, not a vision that I share.  I had no desire to listen to this recording a second time, but in the interests of fairness, I did, after listening to all the other performances (all of which I found far more engaging than this one) at least two or three times.  First impression:  Arrau.  Second (slightly more appreciative) impression:  Bolet.

Pianist #2.  This pianist gains my attention immediately, and holds it from start to finish.  A powerful keyboard virtuoso as well as an intensely musical thinker who isn't afraid to take risks, this pianist brings out the inner life of the piece very well and shapes the music via dynamic shading, phrasing, elastic tempi, and great contrast between the different sections of the work.  The piano tone leaves something to be desired, and perhaps the performance ultimately is a shade too overbearing, even brutal in places, but this is an exceptionally intelligent, imaginative, exciting, assertive, and individual performance, one I'd gladly hear again.   A live performance, of course, and almost certainly Russian.  Richter?  Horowitz?

Pianist #3.  A lighter, more “feminine” interpretation/performance than the others—perhaps partly a function of the recorded sound?  (Far less heavy in the bass than Pianist #1, for example.)  But in any case, this pianist definitely has a delicate touch, the polar opposite of both #1 and #2.  The performance/interpretation is Chopinesque, almost Mozartian.  Very lyrical, songful, even sunny (esp. when the music transitions to the major, and in the faster passages, sounding to me far more like Chopin than Liszt).  This is the way I'd have expected Gieseking or Lipatti or even Haskil to have played this, if they played it.  (Which, as far as I know, none of them did, not being Lisztians; but if I was told this was one of them, I'd believe it.)  The oldest recording of the five.

Pianist #4.  A very individual, idiosyncratic, free, spontaneous-sounding, elastic (in tempo and in phrasing) performance.  Superficially similar to Pianist #3, albeit more assertive, more “Hungarian sounding” if I may say so.  There are little eccentricities that put me off a bit on second hearing, and a tendency to rush rather than to let the music breathe (although it does breathe), but I especially like the accelerando handling of the fast passage.  Cherkassky?  Cziffra?  (Not that I've ever heard anything by Cziffra; this is just my notion, from what I've read, of how Cziffra would sound.)

Pianist #5.  A very calculated, precise, controlled—too controlled?--performance.  (Certainly compared to Pianists #2, 3, & 4, each of whom is effectively spontaneous and highly individualistic in his or her own way.)  This pianist is an impressive keyboard technician with a splendid tone, and the recording itself, sonically, is easily the best of the five.  However, much as I'd enjoy hearing his pianist in the concert hall, and in recordings, somehow I don't feel that s/he truly gets inside this music; impressive as it is, this performance leaves me cold.  Everything is in its place, and yet that's not quite enough.  (In the manner of Michelangeli, whom I greatly admire but don't really love.)  I'd guess that it's a young (or young-ish) modern virtuoso of high repute, on the order of Kissin, for example.


So, my very subjective ranking:

1. Pianist #3  (Perhaps because it sounds more like Chopin than Liszt, and because of the patina of age-old wisdom, and because I like this style of playing in general & could listen to it all day.)
2. Pianist #2  (Wow.  Supreme virtuosity; superb pianism from start to finish.)
3. Pianist #4  (Not “perfect,” but idiosyncratic, individualistic, intriguing.)
4. Pianist #5  (Sounds great, but too polished, too perfect, not sufficiently individual.)
5. Pianist #1  (Just doesn't do anything for me at all.)

Final observations:

For me, pianists #2 and 3 stand high above the others, occupying twin peaks, as it were, while pianists #4 and 5 dwell happily below them on the sunny slopes.  Pianist #1 claims the dampest part of the valley, where sunlight never reaches.

Initially, I was somewhat surprised that my two top choices are pianists who take completely different approaches to the music and who sound completely different from one another.  But, on reflection, this makes sense to me if to no one else, as these are two styles of piano-playing generally that appeal to me most, even if they have little in common with one another.  I'm convinced that Pianist #2 is Richter (or, if not, Horowitz), but I'm especially eager to learn the identity of Pianist #3.

Offline mc ukrneal

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Re: Blind comparison LIGHTNING ROUND: Liszt's Funérailles!
« Reply #15 on: December 20, 2014, 12:23:32 PM »
So, my very subjective ranking:
We were almost the exact opposite, which is always interesting. I wonder what each of us means by Chopinesque, because we both used this term (more or less), but did not agree on which performers it related to. For me, I think of Rubinstein playing Chopin - the 60's recordings, which are almost always brooding and thoughtful. Usually I use the term in relation to the quieter more introverted parts, which is certainly how I think of Chopin, despite dazzling work like the Etudes.  The one you liked seemed too sad to me to be Chopinesque, for example. Which is really strange, because you thought it sunny. I'm having trouble reconciling our listening experiences, though it seems clear you liked what I disliked and vice versa.
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Offline Pim

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Re: Blind comparison LIGHTNING ROUND: Liszt's Funérailles!
« Reply #16 on: December 20, 2014, 01:30:42 PM »
1 slow, apotheosis around 2.30 fine, everything ok, but not convincing for me.
2 live, lots of pedal in the beginning, good apotheosis around 1.47, great long silence before the return of the lagrimoso. Becomes better after repeated hearing.
3 clean and weak to my ears. Not enough of the emotional tension that's in the piece.
4 sounds a bit soft and distant, played a bit fast, but the apotheosis around 1.27 is great, otherwise good too
5 great sound, little details such as the staccato left hand phrases are very nice, great apotheosis around 1.45, very beautiful and convincing throughout

5 > 2 > 4 >> 1 > 3


This, btw, is my favourite recording (he was on a roll that night anyway, great concert):
http://www.amazon.com/Gyorgy-Czyffra-Plays-Chopin-Ermitage/dp/B000FPOJE8

Offline jfdrex

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Re: Blind comparison LIGHTNING ROUND: Liszt's Funérailles!
« Reply #17 on: December 20, 2014, 03:11:20 PM »
We were almost the exact opposite, which is always interesting. I wonder what each of us means by Chopinesque, because we both used this term (more or less), but did not agree on which performers it related to. For me, I think of Rubinstein playing Chopin - the 60's recordings, which are almost always brooding and thoughtful. Usually I use the term in relation to the quieter more introverted parts, which is certainly how I think of Chopin, despite dazzling work like the Etudes.  The one you liked seemed too sad to me to be Chopinesque, for example. Which is really strange, because you thought it sunny. I'm having trouble reconciling our listening experiences, though it seems clear you liked what I disliked and vice versa.

Yes indeed!  I was quite intrigued and, admittedly, baffled by some of your reactions to certain recordings, thinking to myself (as no doubt you were thinking to yourself regarding my responses), What the blazes is he on about??? :laugh:  I suppose our divergent responses are proof of the old adage, There's no accounting for taste.

By "Chopinesque," I suppose I mean a certain kind of songfulness--the whole "piano-transformed-from-percussive-instrument-into-singing-instrument" thing.  In listening to the fast section of the Funerailles in some of these performances, I was very much reminded of the fast section of the Chopin Polonaise in A flat, op. 53.

And yes, the performance you thought was sad, I definitely felt was sunny.  Who knows why?

But curiously, after all that, we seem to meet in the middle, being in agreement re. our third-place choice. ;)

Online Brian

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Re: Blind comparison LIGHTNING ROUND: Liszt's Funérailles!
« Reply #18 on: December 21, 2014, 09:26:15 AM »
No attempt to guess on the last two? ;)

And I am always fascinated when people listen to the same performance and hear opposite things! Seems like it is happening more than usual in this game  ???

Offline Todd

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Re: Blind comparison LIGHTNING ROUND: Liszt's Funérailles!
« Reply #19 on: December 21, 2014, 10:13:16 AM »
This comparison really highlighted the role of decent playback sound.  Pianist 2 sounded awful through computer speakers, but when I used some decent headphones, things improved a lot.  This is hardly surprising.  Also unsurprising is my favorite in this group.  Interestingly, I could identify the two pianists whose recordings I already own (3 & 4) just by listening.  I did a quick check with an app to identify the others, but only after listening.


Pianist 1: Firm control, imposing but not over the top bass registers, to open.  The playing stays a bit formal in the middle section.  I ultimately want something more elastic.  The playing does certainly thunder at around the ten minute mark, and taper off nicely, though.  Rating: B-


Pianist 2: Intense, with an urgent feel in the climaxes.  The slower and softer passages offer more what I listen for.  More tonal luster would be nice, but it's still really good stuff.  Rating B+/A-


Pianist 3: Less intense and imposing than the first two, but a bit quicker.  The middle section is perhaps just a bit too rushed at times, and the playing never assumes massive scale, yet everything works well overall, even the very Chopinesque left hand playing around seven minutes.  Rating: B.


Pianist 4: This is how I like my Liszt.  (Or at least one way.)  Freedom in every regard – this is Liszt, after all – married to mastery of the keys.  The slow middle section is easily the best of this bunch, beautiful and indulgent.  The climaxes have an urgency combined with fluidity that reminds me of Julian Gorus in the Dante sonata.  Even silences are used to perfect effect.  I do like me some Herbert Schuch.  Rating: A(+). 


Pianist 5: Effective thundering, tolling bass notes, but the blunted right hand chords don't work for me.  The slow playing just doesn't click for me.  The climaxes sound a bit congested though quite intense.  Keyboard mastery is obvious, it's just not really to my taste.  Rating: C/C-
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