Author Topic: The Asian Invasion  (Read 48855 times)

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Offline Todd

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



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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Offline Todd

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


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

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

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

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



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

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

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

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



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

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

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

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

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Offline Todd

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



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

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

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Offline Todd

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



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

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

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

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

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

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

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Offline Todd

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



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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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



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

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

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

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

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



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

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

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

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

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

Superb, up to date sound, if it is perhaps a bit too close.
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Offline Todd

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Re: The Asian Invasion
« Reply #191 on: June 22, 2019, 03:29:31 PM »



Kun-Woo Paik records so seldomly that whenever something new pops up, I just have to have it.  In that way, he's like stablemate Krystian Zimerman.  Also like his stablemate, Paik is a strongly individual pianist.  He goes his own way on disc, usually to superb effect.  As such, when I first spied this most exciting new recording of the complete Nocturnes, I knew I would have it in relatively short order. 

The set starts with the first Nocturne.  Paik plays it slow.  As in real slow.  As in 7'15" slow.  I don't recall ever having heard a slower take.  The slowness never results in the piece dragging.  Rather, it results in the piece sounding somber and fantasia-esque.  It also allows Paik to lavish attention on every little detail.  While no gestures sound outsize or ostentatious in the context of his playing, every note length, every pause, every miniscule dynamic gradation - and there are many to hear - receive attention.  Listeners wanting a more flowing, more traditional set should definitely listen elsewhere.  As Paik is wont to do, he jumbles the order of works.  (He did something similar with his solo Brahms and Schubert discs, to superb effect.)  Next comes Op 37/1.  Again, it's slow.  There's a heavy deliberateness to the proceedings.  The tradeoff is the ability to appreciate each and every little thing.  There are arpeggios with each note an entity unto itself.  There's some heavy left hand playing that takes on an almost organ like texture.  There's a solemn, processional feel to some of the music as a result.  But if the tempo is Andante, I'll eat my hat.  (Or rather, I'd eat my hat if I wore one.)  This here's an Adagio, maybe a Largo.  Paik's tone, whether bright up high, or rich down lower, sounds ravishing throughout.  It takes Klara Min's micromanagement style in the Mazurkas and ups the ante.  37/2 follows, and Paik presents it closer to standard.  Neither rushed nor slow, Paik presents it in a more flowing manner, and he keeps the tempo relationships in well nigh perfect proportion, and the way he tapers the ending is simply outstanding.  Op 9/2 follows, and under Paik's fingers, it emerges as a languid waltz.  Perhaps it sounds too beautiful, too languid.  Perhaps not.  (I can answer definitively: it does not sound too languid.)  Paik emphasizes the lower registers in 27/1, which sounds like a dark, brooding cousin to the Ballades.  At his selected, slow tempo, his steadiness, particularly coming out of the piu mosso, is almost unnerving.  Op 48/2 starts with tolling left hand notes, and then quickly moves into searching, gently etched right hand playing of no little emotional engagement.  He smoothly ratchets up the tension and volume for the climax, which falls heavily and beautifully on the ears. 

In 15/2, Paik lets the melody dominate in the outer sections, with beautiful individual notes accented just so, and he plays the middle section with a perfect mix of bite and restraint, never simply letting things rip.  Paik seems intent on not ever rushing any notes, though he clearly can.  He opens 62/1 with slow chords then lets them fade to nothing, taking his time, then moves to playing of unfailing beauty.  The playing is lyrical, yet it doesn't flow as smoothly as some other versions, though that does not harm the conception at all.  In this piece, Paik does drift off a bit, straining the musical line during the piece's 8'+ duration, but it sounds like a musical, and strangely purposeful, stream of consciousness, and when he finds his way back with the trills, the effect is arresting.  The piece becomes a self-contained world.  Op 15/3 comes across as something of a letdown afterward, not sounding particularly lyrical or smooth or evocative of much, but 72/1 follows, and Paik again delivers.  Spare, beautiful, and steady in its broad timing, it sounds weightier than the material often suggests.  48/1 starts off slow and solemn, with extreme attention to detail, and slowly builds to the thundering fortissimo climax, and though the music is played faster, Paik still prefers to take his time, lending weight.  Loud and slow or slow-ish is always something I dig.  15/1 makes for a fine follow-up, sounding sweeter and more purely lyrical at the outset.  Then the stormier music hits.  Paik keeps it slow and ultra-clear, with more unnerving steadiness.  The combination of focus on detail and slow tempo makes the piece veer into the too idiosyncratic, even for me.  Many listeners may dislike the effect.  32/1 is more standard in conception, the slow tempo aside, and the repeated notes before the coda hint that the mood has permanently shifted.  62/2 unfolds nicely enough, and then comes 27/2 that approaches Michel Block levels of slowness.  Now, Block's late career Chopin is sort of in a category all its own, and while Paik doesn't quite get all the way there, interpretively, he comes pretty close, and not just in terms of timing.  Paik holds the piece together at its near seven minute length, and his tone is rich, his rhythm gently rocking, his right hand flights of fancy quite, well, fanciful.  It's just lovely, above all.  55/2 finds Paik back to his steady, lovely and rich sounding self, and 32/2 sees the hyper-detailed style again.  The nuanced and exacting details, be they perfectly weighted trills, ever so slightly accelerated arpeggios, and fine dynamic gradations within a phrase, all appear.  The outer sections are suitably lyrical, the inner section stormier but not overdone.  55/1 stands out for the standard detailed approach and for the highlighted and deliberate arpeggios before the final chords.  The posthumous C Minor Nocturne follows, and Paik delivers a miniature blockbuster.  Simple and clear, tuneful and direct, Paik's playing sounds nearly without affect.  9/3 is back to the detailed approach, and here, while the different sections have the requisite approaches, Paik sort of flattens out the dynamic contrasts a bit, keeping the middle section under wraps.  The set concludes with the C-Sharp Minor Nocturne.  Paik ends on a high note.  The right hand playing sounds hypnotically beautiful at times, the left hand both steady where it should be, and fleetingly unstable.  While just a bit on the slow side, this is both more in line with more standard approaches, and uncommonly lovely. 

It's fair to write that this set of Nocturnes will not be to everyone's taste.  Paik generally goes for the slow approach.  He's more convincing and has more original ideas than Luiz de Moura Castro, though he doesn't match Michel Block, who goes further yet.  Those wanting something less detailed and more conventional would be better served by other recordings.  Those wanting something a bit different, and played at a very high level, well, this set may be the ticket.

Given how much I love Paik's Schubert disc - it's easily one of the best Schubert recordings of this century - it's not too terribly surprising that I also rather fancy this set.  Paik's pianism is my speed.  There's a pretty good chance this ends up a purchase of the year.

SOTA sound from the high res download.
The universe is change; life is opinion. - Marcus Aurelius, Meditations

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Offline Roy Bland

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Re: The Asian Invasion
« Reply #192 on: August 05, 2019, 05:11:01 PM »

Offline Todd

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Re: The Asian Invasion
« Reply #193 on: November 02, 2019, 07:20:14 AM »



A new musical tale from one of The Brothers Lim.  I first attempted to listen to this recording via streaming at Amazon.  Not yet having gone high res, the sound was too lossy, with garbled highs, so I aborted the effort and immediately started a hunt for a download.  Fortunately, it was at the second site I selected (Presto), so I was able to get down to business.  My first listen rather wowed me, as did my second.  So good is this disc that it was evident that I needed to do some comparisons with other top shelf recordings.  The top priority was to compare Chopin's Scherzi, and the choices there were obvious (more on that forthwith), but I decided to do the same with Kinderszenen, you know, just 'cause.  Here goes. 


 

First up, the First with Kevin Kenner.  Kenner opens the piece with ample speed and dexterity and power, with a sort of under wraps aggression informing the faster music.  It's certainly presto but Kenner also displays fluid and effortless transitions to slower, more beautiful music, and then he transitions to the central, gentle lullaby and plays with tenderness and tonal beauty aplenty.  He hammers out the left hand chords as he transitions to the return of the opening material, which he plays with even greater vehemence.  He dispatches the coda with speed and accuracy to satisfy anyone and delivers a kick-ass reading.  Next up, my long term reference, Ivo Pogorelich.  A brighter opening chord, followed by a more nuanced second chord is followed by playing so fast yet so insanely well articulated that it seems almost super-human.  Too, Pogo transitions to slower playing with such perfect control and fluidity that it not only masks the more extreme changes in tempo, but makes it sound perfectly normal, the way things are supposed to be.  He holds the last notes before the lullaby until they fade to silence, then he proceeds to play the lullaby at what initially seems like a ridiculously slow tempo, but what after 2-3 notes max morphs into the most beautiful, gentle, touching version imaginable.  I mean, he makes a quick right hand arpeggio turn into a moment of musical depth, and that's just one instance of many.  He transitions back to the opening material expertly, returning from a static, heavenly dream to something stormier and darker, and his ability to seemingly play left and right hand parts at slightly different tempi and different dynamic levels with perfection is, well, perfect, and his coda is ridiculously fast leading up to the ridiculously loud and perfectly controlled final chords.  It's still the bomb.  Now for Lim.  In updated sound, Lim comes close to replicating Pogo's opening before launching into the fast playing in the quickly dispatched movement (coming in at 9'31").  Lim then introduces rubato unlike the prior two pianists, starting off some phrases slowly and then accelerating.  He repeats this throughout, so it is a mannerism one may either like or dislike.  (I like it.)  Lim also manages to make some of the most difficult passages sound both chaotic and precisely controlled, and he also plays with varying dynamic levels simultaneously as well as anyone.  There's a large-scaled, manicured aggressiveness to the playing.  Lim plays the lullaby a bit on the quick side, and he sees no reason to play it with too much beauty or sentiment, instead playing with a bit of cool detachment.  Nice.  The return of the opening material is dispatched quickly and in supremely well-controlled fashion, shedding some of the quasi-chaotic feel of the playing prior to the lullaby, and as Lim approaches the coda, his already bright right hand playing becomes even brighter, and the run up to the coda is satisfyingly virtuosic.  Lim nearly matches Pogo for overall levels of satisfaction.

Starting with Kenner again for the Second, the pianist hammers out the fortissimo chords to perfection, but it is the arpeggios up and down the keyboard where he delivers much more nuance, at times delicacy, at other times tenderness, and at yet other times playfulness.  Tenderness reemerges as one of the main traits as the piece moves on, with Kenner demonstrating an ability to play in the pp to p range with variation equal to just about anyone's.  Throughout, whether playing fast or slow, loud or soft, Kenner keeps the piece moving forward with an unerring pulse.  It's really quite magnificent.  Pogorelich, in his much longer take, opens the piece in darker, more theatrical fashion, and then dispatches the multiple arpeggios with a more crystalline and emphatic style, as opposed to Kenner's more flowing style.  Every time Pogo returns to the loud playing, one gets to revel in thundering fortissimo playing imbued with dynamic nuance, but the even more purely pianistic conception than Kenner's ends up turning into more a display of pianistic prowess - and what prowess.  In the slower middle section, Pogorelich does a masterful job of creating a hazy dreamy atmosphere, if only in fleeting bursts, before moving back into ultra-super-virtuosic playing.  It's magnificent, if less so than Kenner's.  Lim again comes close to replicating Pogo's opening stylistically, and certainly his fortissimo playing sounds pulverizing.  The playing after blends clean left hand playing and sharp, loud right hand playing with more pronounced simultaneous dynamic variation.  Lim tosses in some rubato here and there, and sort of luxuriates in miniscule personal touches before playing the middle section in slower, more somber, but cooler fashion.  It's like a more detached, less virtuosic by design approach when compared to Pogorelich, and it pays off bigly.  Kenner's take is the best of this lot, but Lim shows that he's got what it takes.

For the Third, Kenner opens intense and fast, playing supremely well, with left hand playing that is simultaneously clear and intense, almost aggressive, with the melody softening things up a bit.  Kenner is not afraid to play up the showy parts of the music, and he see no reason not to play the descending arpeggios quick 'n' clean, but he also slows down and plays the chorale with no little beauty and lyricism.  Overall, a supremely satisfying version, one of the best around.  Pogorelich, in his second recording, opts for a longer overall take, but as with the earlier pieces this owes mostly to the extended tempi in the slower music.  He opens the piece with some fierceness and drive, but it lacks the degree of relentlessness of Kenner while sounding a bit harder.  Too, the left hand playing is not as obvious and powerful.  The descending arpeggios are played daringly slow, and the chorales benefit from Pogo's penchant for stretching out material while keeping everything together, and he ends the piece by playing with a combination of speed, power, and accuracy that few match and none surpass.  Another of the best around.  Lim goes for a possibly more idiosyncratic approach than Pogorelich by starting off fairly slow, not just in the opening bars, but for most of the octaves theme.  It sounds left hand dominated and heavy, though the left hand playing is not clean in the manner of Kenner.  The descending arpeggios are fast and taper off at the end, and the chorales are heavy yet attractive.  Curiously, the rhythm is often kind of kludgy or non-existent, but Lim makes it work, and he offers huge dynamic contrasts, seemingly wider than even Pogorelich.  Lim ramps up a bit for the end, but he maintains a sense of absolute control and restrained aggression.  It's unique and different and maybe the best around.

Finishing with the Fourth, starting with Kenner again.  Kenner keeps his playing light, quick, and nimble, with really rather nuanced dynamic shading throughout, sometimes subtly changing volume to superb effect.  His articulation is quite fine, and the piece not only sounds at times playful, it also sounds fantastic.  The central section is gorgeous, and while Kenner can play with oomph with the best of them, here it's the folk song that brings out his best playing, with perfectly judged note values and pauses.  It's quite affecting.  Then it's back to more heated, virtuosic playing on through to the end.  Kenner's disc is one of the few that offers a fair match up to Pogorelich, and in the case of the Second, he surpasses the Croat.  Pogorelich does the faster-than-fast, ridiculously-but-perfectly-executed-and-conceived slow music thing again in his take.  The sound is heavier and more dynamically wide ranging than Kenner's, offering less of a fantastic feel and more of a meandering, at times dark dream feel.  And yes, in the middle section, Pogorelich delivers magic nearly as effective as in the lullaby of the B Minor Scherzo.  Of course he plays the last section of the piece magnificently.  Lim opts for an overall speed between the two prior pianists, opening with some quite comfortable sounding playing that still has satisfying dynamic heft.  Lacking (purposely) the fluidity and speed of Kenner, Lim plays more sternly than the other two, though he still does the mock-laughter thing almost as well as the American.  Lim allows his right hand playing to dominate for a while, nearly washing away the accompaniment, and its bright and colorful and beautiful sound beguiles.  It's contrived and calculated and I don't care.  The middle section sounds simultaneously dreamy and potent, rich and bright, beautiful with hints of hardness.  It's all very well controlled - perhaps too much so for some - but it works magic.  Lim ends with a more restricted final section than either Kenner or Pogorelich, but that is not to say that it is anything less than fabulous.

For many years, Pogorelich's disc was my go-to for the Scherzos, and it was not until I heard Kenner's take, which also includes a generous amount of filler, that I found a rival.  Now, shortly afterward, Lim joins him, creating a trio of takes that sound just swell.  Sweet!


 

Kinderszenen is actually first up on the disc, but it was only after working through the more important Scherzi that it made sense to go for the Schumann.  I actually don't know how many recordings I own of this piece since it ends up as disc filler in so many cases, and I've never really established a favorite.  (I mean, if Arcadi Volodos records it, based on evidence of his Waldszenen and everything else, then that would probably be my reference, but the pianist hasn't seen fit to consult me on what he should record.)  I selected a couple reliable old hands for comparisons: St Annie and Nelson Freire.  Ms Fischer, on EMI, per usual plays with real engagement and passion and a fully acceptable if not perfect level of technical accomplishment.  Some of the playing is perhaps a bit intense for music meant to evoke thoughts of childhood, and maybe Träumerei isn't the dreamiest around, but quibbles are quibbles and this is quite fine.  Mr Freire, older of person but surer of hand when he recorded his set, plays a pianistically most satisfying take.  There's more of a sense of playfulness and joy in some pieces, Träumerei sounds quite fine if not quite dreamy enough (while I'm no big fan of Horowitz, his different takes on this piece achieve something quite special), and if perhaps there's less direct engagement for the whole than I truly want, it, too, is pretty nifty. 

Now to Lim.  Right from the get-go, there's some there there.  In Von fremden Ländern und Menschen, Lim's right hand playing is bright and dominates, though his left hand playing is clean 'n' clear.  There's a sense of wistfulness and, dare I say, innocence in the extremely well prepared piece.  Kuriose Geschichte, infused with some personal rubato to go along with Lim's sound, has a bit of fun injected into the idealized sound, and as the individual pieces progress, Lim proves to be a master of playing with either Eusebian poetry or Florestanian vibrance as needed, even if it remains studied.  He also sees fit to hammer out Wichtige Begebenheit to superb effect, exaggerating the scale, and also offering maximum contrast with the very slow Träumerei, which comes in at 3'20", and which allows Lim to stretch out some not values and arpeggios to their maximum extent (this side of what Tzimon Barto might do), and the overall effect of the playing is really quite spectacular, creating an intellectualized dream, if you will.  After a couple perfectly executed pieces, he plays with a similar style in Fast zu ernst and it's probably more perfectly realized.  Even with all that came before, Kind im Einschlummern offers something special.  While studied, it is tender, exact, and possessed of super-fine dynamic and tonal shading.  It's breathtakingly beautiful.  Lim achieves something nearly as good with Der Dichter spricht to close the set.  I'm not sure if I can say that Lim's recording is my top choice, but it is certainly a top choice, and one to which I will happily return.

Just shy of SOTA sound - there are hints of congestion in spots.

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

Offline Roy Bland

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Re: The Asian Invasion
« Reply #194 on: November 16, 2019, 07:56:30 PM »

Offline Todd

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Re: The Asian Invasion
« Reply #195 on: December 01, 2019, 06:13:52 AM »



A new musical tale from the other of The Brothers Lim.  Dong-Hyek gets more love and more international releases than his brother, and he is a festival buddy with Martha Argerich, too, which explains the presence of that somewhat well known pianist on this disc.  Since the Lims tied at the Chopin Competition, Dong-Hyek has gone on to record a fare chunk of heavy duty core rep, and he has appeared before in this thread because of that.  He's something of known quantity.  Dude can tickle the ivories, yes he can.  So Rachmaninoff is a logical stop in his musical career.



Lim announces his intentions out loud and proud as he opens the Second Concerto with a slow, deliberate arpeggiated chord, and Vedernikov does his duty by entering with a slow, heavy accompaniment to start.  The engineers put Lim up front and center, so one gets to hear a super-sized piano, and since he established years ago that he has got the chops, nothing goes amiss, or at least nothing goes amiss if one likes a slow-ish, heavy, calculated romantic sound.  The Adagio, predictably, is slow and luxurious and heavy and veers right up to the sappy.  Lim plays in a sometimes almost labored way, though clearly for effect.  The movement definitely sounds lovely, and a touch overlong.  In the Allegro scherzando, Lim finally lets loose a bit, zipping along the keyboard with stupid good dexterity and dynamic control.  Heavy, slow, labored playing, hah, he's just joshin'; he can do the virtuoso thing about as well as anyone today.  Occasionally, as he cruises along, some of the right hand playing sounds too brittle, but overall, the concerto comes off well enough, and Lim acquits himself nicely.

As with his brother's most recent appearance in the thread, I wanted to do a comp, but here only one, in the form of the dynamic duo of Daniil Trifonov and Yannick Nézet-Séguin with the Philly band.  I wanted a shootout of contemporaries.  Trifonov's total Russkie bona fides are on full display.  He starts off with a proper chord, slowly builds up, keeping that left hand playing steady, clean, and imposing, and with the less immediate, more traditionally balanced recording technique (which also sounds duller, it must be noted), he blends into the orchestra better, playing what amounts to snazzy obbligato at times, as opposed to an all-limelight style.  His fleeter playing is notably fleeter, less effortful, and more naturally waxes and wanes.  YNS and his Philly strings do not disappoint, and indeed, the band emerges as more flexible, more responsive, and more finely tuned and attuned than the Brits.  In short, though not as formidably weighty, it sounds more musically satisfying.  The Philly band also makes the Adagio more gooder, with a pillowy string sound, and Trifonov is in another class as he plays with a perfect mix of clarity and dreamy but not mushy romanticism.  It's boat floating.  And of course Trifonov, who can make a musical meal out of Liszt's Transcendental Etudes almost as sumptuous as Bertrand Chamayou's, delivers in spades in the closing movement, dashing through the fast passages with musically satisfying near-frivolousness.  The whole movement and whole concerto sound more up my alley. 



Lim and Argerich do some good work in the Symphonic Dances.  The sound is strikingly clear, immediate, and forward, and when the duo play some of those gorgeous Rach tunes in the first movement, and elsewhere, the result is, well, gorgeous.  The bass registers are startlingly hefty, approaching the wall-rattling heft of Alessio Bax's Rach recording.  (Alas, a lot of pedal stomping is also audible.)  The rhythmic component gets a little kludgy in the Andante, rendering the waltz something suitable for three left feet.  The final movement fares quite well, with the thick, weighty textures doing a darned tootin' job of evoking a quasi-orchestral feel, and the energy level remains very high throughout.  It's none too shabby.

For the A/B of the Symphonic Dances, I decided to stick with mighty Martha in her recording with the undeniably great Nelson Freire.  This almost seems, and actually is, a bit unfair, because Argerich and Freire have worked together for many moons, and Freire quite simply inhabits the most rarified realm of galaxy-class pianists.  While the recording again has copious low frequency energy, the playing immediately sounds lighter, nimbler, more rhythmically nuanced and vigorous, while still sounding more relaxed overall.  Truth to tell, Lim/Argerich probably eke slightly lovelier playing in the first movement, but Freire and Argerich seem livelier and more attuned with one another.  For a live recording, it seems better sorted out than the Lim/Argerich.  The second movement benefits mightily from significantly improved rhythmic sensibilities, which I put down to the Brazilian's presence.  The final movement displays all the same traits, though a couple places seem rushed or untidy, but this is one of those cases where the playing is of the moment and the effect is positive.  Overall, the all South American rendition is to be vastly preferred.

So, while there's nothing bad about Lim's playing, in both cases here, other, better renditions are available, and I didn't even do a deep dive.  I'll still make it a point to hear more from Dong-Hyek.  Maybe he can opt for Prokofiev or Ravel.  That'd be nifty.

I went for hi res download on this, and sound is generally SOTA, with oodles of clarity and, especially, weight. 
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Offline Todd

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Re: The Asian Invasion
« Reply #196 on: December 08, 2019, 06:27:34 AM »



It's been a while since I picked up anything from Hisako Kawamura, and as I contemplate whether I want to buy her limited selection of Beethoven sonatas, I thought it might not be a bad idea to try her Chopin Preludes that came out last year.  I've spied the set for a while, but it was never available at a price I liked, until now, so it seemed like a good time to give it a shot. 

The disc opens with the Polonaise-Fantasie.  Kawamura starts off with more strongly accented playing than anticipated, but quickly segues back to more nuanced, detailed and quite precise playing where each note becomes an event in itself.  The playing demonstrates a relaxed sense of rhythm and definitely leans more toward the fantasy side, though not of an opulently romantic nature, and ends with satisfying drive in the coda.  The piece has never been among my favorite Chopin pieces, but Kawamura definitely holds her own.  More to my liking musically is the Fantaisie-Impromptu, and here Kawamura plays with exemplary clarity, nice urgency, and very fluid and attractve right hand playing.  The Op 45 Prelude again benefits from Kawamura's right hand playing, and a sort of relaxed but steady pulse.  In the Op 59 Mazurkas, Kawamura's clean playing and attractive right hand playing remain, but the rhythmic component ends up sounding a bit too plain.  The small Fugue KK.IVc/2 is a nice enough piece that fills some time before the main event.

And it's for the Preludes that I wanted the disc anyway.  The first one is sort of dashed off, but kept under strict control, but one needn't wait any longer than the Lento to here a darker hued, grimmer, yet still lyrical piece executed with high end skill, with Kawamura again really delivering the goods in the similarly dark Largo and Lento assai.  And that becomes a hallmark of the set, with the slower Preludes all faring relatively better, with Kawamura's carefully prepared, nuanced playing displaying very fine touch, and more than hints of somberness.  This more or less necessarily means that her Raindrop Prelude comes off extremely well, with the beautiful right hand playing and somber feel in the left hand playing, which also ends up displaying more than enough heft.  That's not at all to say that she doesn't play the faster pieces with panache and drive, but rather just that the slower pieces have a bit more something there.  But she throws in some nice effects elsewhere, like the potent, tolling left hand notes in Allegretto Prelude, all while keeping the legato a-flowin'.  Kawamura closes out with a delicate, purely delightful F Major Moderato, and thumps out the Allegro appassionato with ample weight.  Overall, there's much to enjoy in this disc, though nothing really emerges as a first choice favorite. 

Sony's Japanese RCA arm produces SOTA sound, per usual.
The universe is change; life is opinion. - Marcus Aurelius, Meditations

Everything dies - Alien Bounty Hunter, The X-Files

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Offline Todd

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Re: The Asian Invasion
« Reply #197 on: December 14, 2019, 06:27:53 AM »



Claire Huangci is American, so what gives?  What gives is Shi-Yeon Sung, last included here in her version of Mahler's Fifth.  I bought the recording for the pianist, but I also get another shot at Ms Sung.  Nice.  My Paderewski collection is thin.  Until I bought Kevin Kenner's Resonances disc, I never consciously purchased something with any music by the Renaissance man, though I may have some individual recordings in large collections.  Kenner does the Pole proud, so there's something there.

I had no concerns about whether Ms Huangci could deliver on the keyboard part.  She's one of those young pianists who seems capable of playing anything and making it sound easy.  Which she does.  In some of the torrents of notes in the lengthy opening Allegro, she dispatches with runs and trills with ease, and her cadenza seems like an etude disguised as an almost jazz-infused cakewalk.  As important, Ms Sung and her German band expertly dispatch the fairly thick, Chopin meets Tchaikovsky and Rachmaninoff accompaniment.  The Andante is rather syrupy.  Huangci keeps her part crisp and lyrical, and the band does what it does well, but some of the string writing, in particular, is more saccharine then I tend to prefer.  It's not bad, it's just never gonna be a staple for me.  The concluding movement is again fairly thick in terms of accompaniment, and again Huangci tickles the ivories in effortless fashion.  Overall, execution rates more highly than the music.  Perhaps I should see if Kenner makes something more of the work.

The Chopin I'm much more familiar with, of course, and here giants tread.  Huangci and Sung do not join them.  To be sure, Huangci's somewhat broad conception is rock solid from a purely note hitting perspective, and she uses a wide array of interpretive devices well nigh flawlessly, to the point where one could do A/Bs with anyone, probably even Zimerman, and Huangci would hold up well.  It's just that the overall approach is vanilla.  Like, really smooth, creamy, rich vanilla with delicious hints of real bean, but still vanilla.  The approach is more restrained than other versions, more classical and less romantic, not that there's anything wrong with that.  And there are some hints of romantic playing the beautiful slow movement, which shows how to play clear and lovely with not too much pedal.  It requires rather fine touch, which the pianist has.  Soloist and band deliver a very fine closer, though one that doesn't go for virtuoso shenanigans as much as some other recordings. 

So Ms Huangci demonstrates again that she's got superchops, and Ms Sung shows that she can lead high grade accompaniment.  I rather want to hear more from both artists.  And so I shall.

Berlin Classics only cranks out high end sound.  I prefer cans over speakers for the recording, but it's superb either way.
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: The Asian Invasion
« Reply #198 on: December 15, 2019, 06:25:21 AM »



The Dragon takes a big old bite of the Bear in its second appearance in the thread.  The trio of works make for another fine mixed program.  The disc opens with Borodin's Second.  It's as tuneful as all get out, beautifully played, even with reminders that this modern ensemble uses steel strings, and overall displays a sense of relaxation and quite remarkable precision.  While one could appreciate a more luxurious approach, one can just as easily appreciate what is on offer here.  Somehow, I've managed to end up with three other versions of this work, and while I rarely listen to it, my memory told me, and a quick refresher reminded me, that the Prazak are rather better and apart from other versions I've heard, but it's nice to welcome another edition to my collection.  Indeed, why don't more ensembles record Borodin's quartets?



No one needs to ask that about the DSCH Eighth.  As it happens, I also recently snapped up the Pavel Haas Quartet's new DSCH disc, so an A/B was basically mandatory.  Starting with the Dragon, one hears superb technical acumen throughout.  One never fears that something will go awry.  In the second movement, the foursome ratchet up intensity markedly, without going over the top or sounding like they are straining, and the individual lines all remain clear, especially through headphones.  The relative lack of ear-splitting intensity reminds one of the Rubio Quartet, but the precision reminds one of the Emerson.  Quite the blend.  In the first Largo, one hears moroseness but less intensity and less forceful attacks than in some other versions.  That's observation, not criticism.  The work then fades into darkness with the second Largo.  Nice.  The Pavel Haas Quartet launch their version with a darker-hued, yet somehow more beautiful sound.  Then in the Allegro molto, the quartet erupt into more intense playing than the Dragon, but quite intriguingly, they do so without pushing tempi to the breaking point.  The intensity comes from the relentlessness.  While the Dragon do everything right in their set, the Pavel Haas seem to be, somehow, even more in tune with one another, and again each musical line remains audible, but they jell even better, and whether it's dispatching the famous theme in the third movement, or the light, soaring first violin playing in said same movement, or the darkness of the two Largos, or the overall feel of the music, the Pavel Haas are more gooder.  Don't get me wrong, the Dragon do superb work; the Pavel Haas rate with the greats.

The recording ends with Weinberg's Fifth Quartet.  Again, the Dragon play with admirable precision and all musical lines remain clear.  While the affinity with DSCH is obvious, the lighter mien, the groovier music (in a Soviet era sorta way), the directly lovely tunes in places, the actually light and humorous playing in the second movement, and the sharper and edgier playing in the Serenata, and everything in between, set Weinberg apart from DSCH more here than in my memories of the Danel's recordings of both composers.  The Dragon have things dialed in. 

This second appearance by the Dragon improves upon the positive impressions left by the first disc.  I look forward to hearing more from the ensemble.

Channel delivers superb sound, as expected.
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: The Asian Invasion
« Reply #199 on: December 21, 2019, 07:23:39 AM »



Another tale from one of The Brothers Lim, though this one is not new.  It dates all the way back to 2017.  This is the second appearance for Mr Lim in the role of accompanist on a disc of works for piano and violin, and Ms Kim also makes another appearance because, though German, she's more famous in her ancestral homeland. 

Fortunately, this disc is much more to my liking than Mr Lim's prior duo outing with Ji Young Lim.  While that disc is well played, it is safe and a bit bland.  This disc is well played, but it is not bland.  A couple things stand out in the D574 sonata.  First, Lim and Kim deliver playing displaying ample verve, nice and clean playing, striking but not overdone dynamics, and vigorous but not overdone rhythmic snap.  This Schubert is more about vivaciousness than lyricism, though the latter trait can be heard in no little amounts.  In short, the sonata sounds just dandy.  As does the Rondo, D895.  In fact, the enhanced lyricism makes it sound perhaps a bit better overall.  While I don't know if I can use the word "spontaneous" to describe the Allegro, there is an almost rhapsodic and free feel to the playing.  The big old Fantasia, D934 closes things out, and here Lim demonstrates an ability to fully cede the limelight, at least from time to time.  In doing so, he (perhaps aided by the engineers) demonstrates his ability to play with impressive evenness and delicacy, and Ms Kim does her level best, which is very good indeed, and creating what at times seems to be nothing less than a transcription and mashup of lieder.  The forward drive is subtly relentless, the rhythmic component snazzy as heck.  And lyricism permeates the vibrant music making, and the Andantino is rotten with it.  Oh yeah.  This here's a just dandy version of the work.



As luck and purposeful purchasing would have it, I also picked up Vilde Frang and Michael Lifits playing some Schubert, and Paganini, recently, so this offered another chance to spin that ditty, as if I needed another reason.  This recording lacks the sonata, but it includes some transcriptions.  For the purposes of this comparison, I'll stick with like works.  D934 is up first.  While Lim has definitely got world class chops, Lifits may just be a demigod.  His prior Schubert recording is among the best of the century, and he brings that goodness to this disc, which more than even in the Kim-Lim ditty displays a lied-like feel and then imbues it with about as perfect a realization of fantastic playing as one could hope for.  Lifit's melodic contribution beguiles, and Frang ups the ante in terms of what sounds effortless, which takes immense effort to pull off.  Lyricism and rhythmic vitality, and potent dynamic swings - not all of the macro variety - also permeate the playing.  And did I mention Lifits' right hand playing?  I mean, yeah.  Lifits opens D895 with some hefty playing, and Frang does her best to match him, and then the pair backs off into something more lyrical and beautiful, before again engaging in some mismatched playing.  I'd say that either Lifits should have backed off a bit or the engineers should have adjusted balances a bit, but Lifits does such a fine job that I actually kind of like the mismatch.  The Allegro section is then eleven minutes of Schubertian goodness anchored by pianism so good one almost wants to hear just that.  I write "almost" not just because this is a duo work, but because Frang does up her game in terms of volume without sacrificing one iota of control.  It's really quite fine.  Overall, I'd probably say that Frang/Lifits take D934 and the two duos tie in D895 - not that it's a contest, mind you.

This is quite possibly the best recording I've heard from Mr Lim.

Basically SOTA sound.
« Last Edit: December 21, 2019, 07:25:12 AM by Todd »
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