Author Topic: Schubertiade!  (Read 32628 times)

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Offline Todd

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Re: Schubertiade!
« Reply #100 on: November 09, 2019, 05:47:26 AM »



Every once in a while, a great artist releases a recording that, despite the artist's ability and talent, fails to live up to expectations; every once in a while, a great artist produces a dud.  This is not one of those times.

The disc opens with the main work, and Volodos opens with rich, dark-hued forte chords that seem perfectly controlled in every aspect, but then come the descending arpeggios and Volodos plays with such incredible sensitivity and finely nuanced touch that it scarcely seems credible.  Had he not released his Brahms and Mompou discs before this, one might almost think some studio knob twiddling was deployed to achieve the effect.  As he moves through the movement, Volodos plays every bar well nigh flawlessly, but something of a flaw does begin to catch one's ear.  The playing sounds so ravishingly beautiful and meticulous and perfectly refined in absolutely every aspect that one revels in the pianism alone.  The music almost becomes secondary.  That's not say the Volodos draws attention to himself and plays in a flashy way, but rather to say that the level of perfection is so absolute and all-encompassing that it almost defies belief, and one not only can't hear the musical forest for the trees, but one can't entirely appreciate the trees for the meticulously manicured bark, at least on the first handful of listens.  (It took a full half-dozen run-throughs before I could appreciate the full scope of the music.)  For instance, in the coda of the Allegro, one greedily listens to every note, or tries to, whether it is in the meticulously played accompaniment or the colorful melody or, even better yet, in the dreamy final notes.  It mesmerizes.  Volodos makes the Andantino the heart of his conception.  His playing is quite simply beyond beautiful, richly hued, and sorrowful in a flawlessly controlled way in the opening, and his slow tempo seems just right.  He transitions to the middle flawlessly, and then creates a dream-like atmosphere while slowly building up to a fully satisfying fortissimo.  One might be able to say that his sforzandi lack the last word in bite since they are so obviously perfect sounding, but that wouldn't be entirely true, and it's entirely irrelevant in the end.  In the Scherzo, Volodos displays more energy and weight, and while the rhythmic component is flawless, it's idealized, it's self-contained, and the Trio takes the more beautiful than beautiful approach up again in the right hand playing, where some of the pianissimo playing again makes wonder how he does it.  In the Rondo, Volodos lavishes such focus and control on the right hand playing as to render the movement an endless melody, only interrupted by some potent but gorgeous left hand playing in the stormy middle section.  The overall effect of the playing is to create an aural frieze of sorts, one so finely executed that the listener could, if he or she chose, grab any ten or twenty or thirty second snippet and listen to it in a loop and enjoy perfection, or, as is more advisable, the lucky listener could just luxuriate in the whole thing.  Great is such a puny word.

On Volodos' Tchaikovsky and Rach concerto discs the biggest draws are the encores.  That very nearly happens here - and that with one of the great D959s as the big work!  Volodos' selections were not random, and he makes them seem like more than miniatures.  To be sure, he does not and cannot turn the pieces into epoch defining compositions.  What he does and can do is play them with such immaculate control and beauty that he manages to deliver condensed versions of Schubert's much vaunted Heavenly Lengths, and in the D600/D610 he pulls off the musical suspension of time trick, and lends the playing weight and drama sufficient to be accompaniment to a serious lied.  In D313, at the 1'27" mark at the beginning of the middle section, the playing drops rather dramatically in volume from its already low level, to something akin to pppppp.  At first, I almost thought this was a case of engineering gone awry, though something nearly as delicate and gentle appears close to the end of the section.  Volodos easily displaces Yaeko Yamane in delivering the most gently played, quietest pianississississimo playing I've heard, and he does so while delivering such beautiful tone and such effortless lyricism that I cannot help but spin the whole damn disc when I start it up, just like with his Brahms.

When earlier this year I saw that the great Mr Volodos was releasing Schubert's D959, I was most excited.  Having heard a live version from him online a while back, I knew good things were in store.  Having now heard this disc multiple times, I can confirm that something much better than merely good was delivered.  A purchase of the year and decade.
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Offline hvbias

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Re: Schubertiade!
« Reply #101 on: November 09, 2019, 08:37:26 AM »
Thanks for the review of the newest Volodos, there is also an older disc of his that this has tipped me off to with D157 and D894.

Offline Todd

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Re: Schubertiade!
« Reply #102 on: November 09, 2019, 08:41:20 AM »
Thanks for the review of the newest Volodos, there is also an older disc of his that this has tipped me off to with D157 and D894.


That is a great disc, but this one demonstrates how Volodos has evolved in the ensuing years.  His touch and control in the earlier disc is of course super-fine, but it is now nearly super-human. 
The universe is change; life is opinion. - Marcus Aurelius, Meditations

Everything dies - Alien Bounty Hunter, The X-Files

Everyone dies - William Barr, United States Attorney General

Online Brian

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Re: Schubertiade!
« Reply #103 on: November 09, 2019, 01:10:27 PM »
That cover image is the same picture used on the back of the booklet for his Brahms CD.

Offline Mandryka

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Re: Schubertiade!
« Reply #104 on: November 09, 2019, 02:16:05 PM »
It certainly is amazing piano playing.

I’ve been listening to 959/ii. Does he build enough tension before the outburst? Or does it sound like a random nonsensical event? I don’t know. The pianissimos are so quiet!
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Offline hvbias

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Re: Schubertiade!
« Reply #105 on: November 29, 2019, 04:22:12 AM »

That is a great disc, but this one demonstrates how Volodos has evolved in the ensuing years.  His touch and control in the earlier disc is of course super-fine, but it is now nearly super-human.

I bought the old Sony SACD, the performances were very good. I have the new disc in my queue. In the meantime Kun-Woo Paik's Schubert album has been in my heavy rotation, it's exceptional, if you bought the CD does it have English liner notes?
« Last Edit: November 29, 2019, 04:24:03 AM by hvbias »

Offline Todd

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Re: Schubertiade!
« Reply #106 on: November 29, 2019, 05:37:40 AM »
In the meantime Kun-Woo Paik's Schubert album has been in my heavy rotation, it's exceptional, if you bought the CD does it have English liner notes?


Yes, by Jeremy Siepmann.
The universe is change; life is opinion. - Marcus Aurelius, Meditations

Everything dies - Alien Bounty Hunter, The X-Files

Everyone dies - William Barr, United States Attorney General

Offline hvbias

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Re: Schubertiade!
« Reply #107 on: November 30, 2019, 10:24:04 AM »

Yes, by Jeremy Siepmann.

Thanks, a purchase will be in order.

I've finished listening to Volodos D959 twice, the first time letting the volume just rip on my Harbeths, I think what you've written rings particularly true to how I'm hearing it as well. This might require many listens before I fully come to grips with it because I was reveling in his pianism, but aside from the Andantino I felt like I wasn't that moved by it as a whole. This might be because I was focusing so much on his playing. Last night it was 1 am, well past when I'd normally be up and I'm thinking shit, I really want to hear this all over again. It is pretty safe to say I'd go out of my way to try and see Volodos play this program.

My favorite from 2019 remains Lucchesini. I fell in love with this on first listen, in my opinion he brings some lyricism to the first movement that I found Volodos was a bit lacking in, and some nervous energy towards the end of the first movement. This disc sat on my shelf for a couple of months, I was afraid it would not live up to my expectations of seeing him play D959 live, which still echo in my head. Fortunately the overall execution and level of performance was fairly similar.

I have Lonquich up next. It seems like 2019 has been a bloody good year for D959.
« Last Edit: November 30, 2019, 10:27:22 AM by hvbias »

Offline Todd

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Re: Schubertiade!
« Reply #108 on: December 07, 2019, 07:51:11 AM »



Dina Ugorskaja now belongs to that collection of artists about whom it will always be asked "What if?"  What if she had not passed away at the way too young age of only forty-six?  I first stumbled upon her a few years back when I spied some late Beethoven she had recorded.  I bought it, listened, and then I then scrambled to buy up all of her recordings then available.  No doubt inspired by her father, Anatol Ugorski, she went her own way.  Her interpretations do not quite sound like anyone else's.  There something unique, sometimes willfully so, in much of her playing.  I still remember the first time I listened to her recording of Kreisleriana.  It left me bewildered, almost dazed.  What is this, I thought?  Now, it's old hat, but it took a while to get there.  Rarely do pianists evoke this type of response.  And yes, I am including the typically very willful pianists when I write that.  Unlike Pogorelich or Barto or even Ugorski, Ugorskaja is often off-kilter, but for some very good reasons that only reveal themselves after multiple listens, and coming to terms with what she decided to do.  It was with surprise and sadness that I learned of her death recently.  And then when I saw that Schubert would be her final recorded testament, particularly D960, I had to hear it, but I immediately thought that she would turn the main work into a personal exploration of impending death.

Ugorskaja has never been a speed demon, but her D960 is on the longer than long side, coming in at over forty-eight minutes total, with just shy of twenty-four minutes devoted to the Molto moderato.  While one might be tempted to approach this as her rumination on impending death, especially with the long pauses and desolate bass trills, one doesn't get that sense for much of the movement.  It does start very slow, and only gradually picks up the pace a little bit, and it does pick up in dynamic contrasts a bit, but it seems more broadly contemplative than grim.  Maybe one can catch aural glimpses of resignation, as when she extends some arpeggios just so, or hints of anger in the bass trills.  Also, partly due to the breadth and style, the movement takes on a fantastic air, sort of quasi-spontaneously unfolding.  It's not the most lyrical, not the darkest, not the lightest, not the most anything; it's just a serious take on the piece.  She continues this on into the Andante, which also remains slow and long a almost becomes the focus.  The middle section finds her playing the left hand figurations in an almost detached way when compared to the melody, so there's a sense of disjointedness, but it works.  After well over half an hour of slow, somewhat heavy music making, the Scherzo comes off as a light, lyrical respite, though it keeps a somewhat disjointed feel compared to fleeter takes.  The concluding Allegro ma non troppo merges the approach of the first two movements and the third into something alternating between more lyrical flights of fancy and stormier passages.  Overall, it's an excellent take, with some fine details, but it's not a standard-setter, and not a glimpse into the unknown by someone standing on the precipice.

Any ideas about purely funereal Schubert are entirely dispelled in D946.  Ugorskaja plays the opening Allegro assai with more than ample energy and drive.  Indeed, it comes closer than anticipated to sounding like driven, hard-hitting Schubert than lyrical Schubert.  The lyrical bit is saved for the quite attractive and very well judged Allegretto.  It's firm, yet lilting; it's relaxed, but it has backbone; it's beautiful, but it's not flowery, especially in the faster passages.  In the Allegro, she plays the music in a fairly driven manner in the outer sections, but it is the more tense than lovely middle section that stands out.  Here, one might say that there are hints of anger.  D946 represents a comparative qualitative step up.

The recording ends with the Moments Musicaux D780.  Again, Ugorskaja avoids the specter of death, at least to start, instead opting focus on some little details.  She extends some phrases, truncates others, mixes lyricism and harder edged playing, and deploys strong but not domineering sforzandi - and that is just in the opening Moderato.  The Andantino has long struck me as a piece that can assume as funereal and haunting a feel as anything in D960, and while Ugorskaja does offer hints of darkness, it's about more than that.  The lullaby section has a sense of darkness and resignation, but the second section is off-kilter, disjointed, a confused musical wandering, with the pianist searching, looking, desperately grasping, and when it returns, it is sharp, intense, and painful.  It turns out that this may be the emotional heart of the work, of the recording.  To offer nearly maximum contrast, the Allegro moderato is more or less just a gentle, lovely, slightly off balance piece meant to soothe.  The same cannot be written about the Moderato that follows, which has some bite, and the Allegro vivace has even more.  Finally, in the concluding Allegretto, one hears a more compact piece that seems to alternate between sorrow and acceptance.  Ugorskaja doesn't let the music just flow, but there's a sense of calm, even in louder passages, and somehow, even in simple chords, the pianist imbues the music with something more, something undefinable.  Though the set starts with Schubert's greatest solo piano work, Ugorskaja saves her very best for last.

Once again, as in every release I've heard from her - which is everything except her Brahms - Ugorskaja delivers something unique, something with moments of intimate insight and expression.  She delivers something real, something beyond merely the notes.  This is not the greatest Schubert recording I own, but it never needed to be, and to say that there is more than enough to return to over the coming decades is an understatement. 

Though I never met her, I already miss Ms Ugorskaja. 
The universe is change; life is opinion. - Marcus Aurelius, Meditations

Everything dies - Alien Bounty Hunter, The X-Files

Everyone dies - William Barr, United States Attorney General

Offline Todd

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Re: Schubertiade!
« Reply #109 on: October 11, 2020, 05:08:33 AM »


If a pianist is gonna start a new Schubert piano sonata cycle, why not announce intentions by starting off with D960?  William Youn includes the repeat and starts off slow and austere, highlighting, discreetly, some left hand playing, while keeping the long Molto moderato moving forward smoothly.  He manages to bring out all voices with superb clarity without overemphasizing anything, and he uses pauses expertly, not overdoing those, either.  He delivers right hand figures with perfect weight and duration for each note, he delivers supremely clear accompaniment, and then, of course, he delivers superb bass trills.  So basically flawless is Youn's playing that one might, just for a second, think it's too perfect.  He's gotta botch something.  Youn's playing is not the most emotive around, so I guess there's that, but that hardly counts as a flaw with playing like this.  Typically, I don't really think of Youn as a hard hitting pianist, because that's not his thing, but here he shows he can do so when so inclined.  In the Andante sostenuto, Youn delivers lovely melodies, and the accompaniment is halting.  Maybe that's a flaw, except for the perfect execution and realization, which Youn amplifies when he speeds up and plays the middle section with more lyricism and tension, and some terse, powerful left hand playing.  Youn plays the Scherzo at a brisk, clear pace, and again his clarity of voices really stands out.  One can follow the insistent, perfectly poised left hand, or the brightly colored melodies emerging form the right with equal ease.  Youn starts the concluding movement firmly but not with a massive bang, and almost like Zimerman, he sort of clips it a bit.  This means that the fortissimo playing later has more impact, and the gently insistent, indeed unyielding left hand playing sounds quite compelling, somehow drawing attention away from the melodies, though not really.  Very nice.  As predicted.  Less predictable is the rushed coda, which adds a nice touch.  He closes the disc out with D157.  Whenever I heard the opening, memories, never too old, of Volodos' recording comes to mind.  Youn does things differently.  He zips through the Allegro ma non troppo, delivering a less beautiful take, obviously on purpose.  It's more about propulsive energy.  The Andante likewise gets played briskly, and somewhat unusually, Youn does not play with unlimited beauty, instead focusing on simplicity.  It works, but sounds colder than Volodos.  He closes things out with a crisp, light Menuetto.  He plays slightly against expectations in the sonata, but delivers.

D664 starts off the second disc of the set.  This sonata can never sound too beautiful, and Youn is just the guy to demonstrate that.  The listener need only wait until the first arpeggio to relish the insanely delicate touch he deploys, and he delivers the entire movement with an at times almost eerie steadiness.  The dynamics alter gently, and the music at times sounds serene to the point of near stasis, with time itself suspended as each note coaxes the listener's ear.  Allegro moderato has rare been so ideally moderate.  In the Andante, Youn ups the beauty and serenity even more.  Somehow.  As the music rises gently in volume to the climax, it sounds inevitable and while loud, it remains calm.  And then, Youn plays the concluding Allegro almost stupid beautiful to open.  He neither over- nor under-emphasizes the rhythmic component of the movement, keeping things moving along at a nice pace.  No one, and I mean no one, has delivered a better little A Major.  Next comes the cobbled together D571/604/570 sonata.  Right away, in the opener, the music sounds like the accompanying text is missing.  Youn plays with multiple, quiet levels at once, and he creates a sense of drama that makes me hope he ends up accompanying some equally accomplished singer in Schubert's song cycles.  In the middle, before the return of the opening material, Youn plays the melody with almost inhuman beauty.  The second "movement" does not really sound of a piece, of course, but Youn does his level best to make it fit, and he introduces a bit of left hand weight.  The last two movements blend in, and again Youn demonstrates his ability to play with ridiculous beauty in the concluding Allegro.  The set closes out with the A Minor D784 sonata.  This sonata fares best with a bit of bite and strength added into the mix.  Youn starts off the Allegro giusto with a dark, brooding austerity.  The left hand trill that leads to the first instance of loud playing sounds foreboding, but Youn ultimately does not deliver thundering playing.  For those demanding imposing fortissimo playing, Youn may disappoint, but the tradeoff is that the music sounds more controlled and desperate, yet restrained.  The Andante finds Youn playing with his customary beauty, and then the Allegro vivace finds Youn playing with more grit and drive, making it obvious that the opening movement sounds exactly the way he wants.  To be sure, others hit harder in this movement, too, it's just that everything here is what the pianist wants.  So, D784 does come off well, if not as comparatively well as the other sonatas on offer here.

Superb sound.

A purchase of the year.
The universe is change; life is opinion. - Marcus Aurelius, Meditations

Everything dies - Alien Bounty Hunter, The X-Files

Everyone dies - William Barr, United States Attorney General