Author Topic: The Asian Invasion  (Read 43844 times)

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Offline Todd

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Re: The Asian Invasion
« Reply #200 on: December 22, 2019, 06:07:48 AM »



The second appearance of the Novus in this thread, going back to their debut.  (I also picked up their pairing with Michel Dalberto in the Franck Piano Quintet and did not cover that here.  Nutshell description: Superb.)  The disc is a mixed rep affair with Austro-Germanic stalwarts Webern and Beethoven the anchors, with Korean composer Isang Yun something new. 

The disc opens with Webern's Langsamer Satz, and it's nine and half minutes of late romantic opulence exquisitely performed.  The Novus nailed Berg's Lyric Suite, holding their own with some big names, and they replicate that feat here.  The accessibility and gorgeousness of the music may make it atypical for the composer, but so what?  Clearly, the Novus need to record Schoenberg.  And hopefully Zemlinksy.

Beethoven's Op 95 follows.  More spaciously recorded, it offers a jarring musical contrast.  The ensemble do not soft-pedal, instead presenting the music with speed, precision, and in a tightly coiled, explosive manner that outdoes the mighty Prazak at times in the opener.  They do lighten up in the Allegretto ma non troppo, but the playing still stays firm, exact.  The Allegro assai finds the Novus back in their maximum comfort zone, and it is here where some more experienced ensembles make more of the musical contrasts.  The final movement has plenty of gusto, and some sweet viola playing, but here one can almost detect the corporate excellence morphing into something of a liability; it sounds so easy that it starts to fall short in ultimate expression.  It comes close to being more about execution than anything else, though it never quite gets there.  While I have no idea what the ensemble might record next, a bit more Beethoven for the imminent Beethoven year would be most welcome.

The disc closes with a couple works from Isang Yun, from whom I've previously heard only one disc's worth of small-scale orchestral music.  This is fairly early Yun, so it doesn't succumb to harsh modernism.  Rather, it's infused with Asian influences while blending western traditions.  As is sometimes the case, the result, to western ears seems infused by Dvorak's style and Bartok's incorporation of folk music.  There's also some fin de siècle feel in there, some Zemlinksy, or some French music.  It's quite effective, and it's good enough such that one might me tempted to drop it in some imagined parlor game where music aficionados attempt to "name that composer".  The folk tune component is played up in the final piece, an arrangement of the Korean folk tune Arirang, which is predictably well done.

Sound for the hi res download is, alas, not SOTA, with some glare and harshness in spots.  It's more than adequate, though.
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Offline Todd

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Re: The Asian Invasion
« Reply #201 on: May 11, 2020, 03:43:59 AM »



This Beethoven year has so far seen few intriguing piano sonata recordings issued, and since I own all of the complete sets being reissued, I am forced to contemplate and buy single discs from whenever, including war horse compilations, which I generally dislike.  I found Jae-Hyuck Cho's Beethoven disc while poking around on 7Digital, so I went for it because why not.  Cho was born in ChunCheon, South Korea, started studying as a wee lad, then moved to New York to study some more, most notably under Jerome Lowenthal at Juilliard.  So he's got the academic credentials.

His warhorse disc includes Opp 13, 57, and 53, in that order, with a Schumann-Liszt finisher.  Op 13 starts off conventionally enough.  The Grave opener is strong, but not overwhelming, and the Allegro di molto e con brio is played at a proper tempo, has some nice dynamic contrasts, and some insistent and reasonably steady left hand playing.  The return of the opening material sounds a bit weak and doesn't offer much contrast, but it is inoffensive.  The Adagio cantabile is competently played, steady, and the cantabile playing in the outer sections is nice.  A bit of contrast is introduced in the middle section.  The concluding Rondo is a bit slow and tame.  Some of the right hand playing sounds tonally attractive, though.  Op 57 starts off with an Allegro assai where Cho plays with clean articulation and nice pacing, but dynamics are limited and attack softened a bit.  It's a bit polite.  The Andante con moto is pleasant, with a somewhat leisurely pace, soft or soft-ish playing, and a bit of tonal beauty.  The finale comes off better, with Cho adding more heft to his left hand playing, and moving at a decent pace.  Overall, though, the sonata is kind of bland and forgettable.  Op 53 follows, and Cho opens the Allegro con brio with some pep, though it seems a bit louder than it should, which in turn means that dynamic contrasts later in the movement are muted a bit, but it's good.  The Introduzione sounds contemplative and attractive, and it segues to a Rondo where Cho plays with ample energy, drive, clarity, and nice left hand sforzandi that still seem polished a bit too much.  Overall, it's the best sonata on the disc, but even it is just like a drop of water in a lake of Waldstein recordings.  The Widmung encore starts off gently and beautifully and picks up steam until the end.  Not bad.  Overall, meh.
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Offline Todd

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Re: The Asian Invasion
« Reply #202 on: May 23, 2020, 03:47:30 AM »



I've never really been especially keen on Lang Lang. This recording is only the second of his that I have purchased, the other being Beethoven concertos with Christoph Eschenbach. He got airplay on the local classical station when he hit it big, and some of his recordings sounded kind of gauche, if technically snazzy. From time to time, I'd hear a live recording from him that I found more suitable. Some live performances of Chopin Mazurkas and Liszt Hungarian Rhapsodies extracts showed a bit more range and color. His recorded output is fairly limited, and includes a variety of works that I'm not exactly clamoring to buy, so I've not really heard a lot, nor have I paid attention to his discography. When I saw this reissue, I mistakenly thought it was new, but it's a decade old recording, which makes sense, because who would want to record Beethoven so soon after an injury? Anyway, in this Beethoven year that now will have fewer new releases than it should, I decided to buy.

Op 2/3 opens promisingly enough. LL has no difficulty with the opening theme, which sounds light and effortless. The second theme, though, moves right into near-banging territory, something which becomes all the more annoying every time it appears, because later on in the Allegro con brio he backs off and plays with notable subtlety. So one must conclude this sounds exactly the way he wants it to sound. And so it goes, with nice mezzo-forte and below playing, and slightly unpleasant forte and fortissimo playing. LL's ability to play soft and really quite attractively becomes even more evident in the opening of the Adagio. He keeps the pace steady, and when the loud, tolling notes arrives, he keeps them under perfect control. Very nice, and again, it offers evidence that he gets the sound he wants. At the end of the second theme, he displays a very fine touch as he lowers the volume to next to nothing. His control sounds exemplary, and the big old arpeggio near the end displays a level of control and precision that really sounds quite fine. The Scherzo has some playing that approaches aural unpleasantness, but never gets there, and it works well enough. LL plays the Allegro assai with a sense of playfulness and overt virtuosity, but in this movement that is more or less enough. When one hears the applause at the end, one does make some allowances for the fortissimo passages. Surely a pristine studio recording would have more refined high volume playing. Overall, better than expected.

Op 57 is a war horse, of course, and one that, in a certain sense, seems like a "natural" fit for the pianist. LL certainly tears into parts of the Allegro assai, but he also backs way off, and allows some phrases to breathe a bit. It does sound a bit contrived, as if he is doing it to underscore the contrasts, but I've heard (much, much) worse. As he plays the downward arpeggios to the fortissimo climax, he plays in a halting manner, which adds something of interest, but the loudest playing does tip over into garishness. The Andante con moto doesn't fare as well as the Adagio did in 2/3. LL does paly with a steady tempo, and he does deliver some nuanced playing, but he also plays much of the music in a slightly too stark fashion. The finale is chock-full of heavy-duty forte and fortissimo key pounding, and has ample energy. Intriguingly, LL does not play as fast as he can - there are significantly faster renditions out there - and he makes room for slower playing, and for some quieter playing. He modulates his dynamics nicely, offering an undulating wave of music, and some sustain pedal enhanced washes of notes. It's contrived and superficial, but not unsuccessful. The build up to the coda and the coda itself are both played with blistering speed and overcooked left hand playing, but it is designed to please the gallery, which it does. This is not a top 10 or top 20 version, but like 2/3, it's better than expected going in.

The encore is the opening movement to The Tempest. Why just one movement, who knows? Anyway, LL plays the Largo a bit quickly, and dispatches the opening of the Allegro at high speed, before backing off, and mixing up the tempo. Indeed, if anything, he slows some passages down too much, creating something a bit idiosyncratic. But it's not at all terrible.

I sort of wonder what Lang Lang can do nowadays. He's not a kid anymore, so maybe he has matured a bit. Perhaps he can take up Mompou (no, seriously) or perhaps more Schumann. Or more Beethoven. Or maybe he and his new wife can go the route of the Schuchs and deliver some fine works for piano duos.
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Offline Todd

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Re: The Asian Invasion
« Reply #203 on: May 23, 2020, 03:48:37 AM »



Every time Yeol Eum Son releases a new recording now, it must be snapped up immediately.  No delays are or will be accepted.  This most recent disc of three Schumann works was no exception.  The disc was pre-ordered as soon as was possible, and it has received an unknown numbers of airings since it arrived.  When a YES recording starts playing, one just wonders if she ends up setting a new standard or living up to an old one.

The Op 17 Fantasie is a very performance dependent piece for me.  In the wrong hands, it bores, sometimes interminably.  In the right hands, well, let's just see what YES does with it.  YES delivers one of the finest opening movements I've heard.  Were one to not know this work is described as a Fantasy, one may very well conclude it is.  Simultaneously structured and free-flowing, YES delivers multiple micro-dynamic gradations at once and a steady pulse combined with a strangely free yet studied approach.  When she slows down around three minutes in, and drops her pianissimo levels to Volodosian levels, the effect is hypnotic, and the forte playing that follows feels perfectly contrasted, like an inevitable development.  She uses long pauses and slows way down in parts, only to belt out more passionate passages with requisite wallop, if not abandon.  As the opening material returns after about nine minutes, she keeps a steady, slightly blurred left hand underpinning the flight of fancy right hand playing.  Some listeners may find the use of extended pauses a mannerism, and it is, but it works splendidly.  In the second movement, YES brings out the march-like element with a sense of whimsy and playfulness, and her dynamic control is so fine that one just listens to each phrase with unseemly avarice.  The middle section is slowed down, quieter, and gentler - and almost purely dreamy, or even child-like in the simplicity of some of the playing.  She then returns to the opening material with gusto.  The final movement opens sounding like a blend and homage to Schubert's Ave Maria and Bachian counterpoint, and YES lets the music unfold in an unrushed manner.  Some of the music is so serene yet so ridiculously well controlled that one sits and listens in wonder, as with Volodos' D959, as she plays both parts with shades of piano and pianissimo simultaneously.  She again creates a dream-like state, though here it is more pronounced, and her ability to force the listener to stop everything and wait for every note is extraordinary.  This recording is as close to perfect as any I have heard.

YES starts Kreisleriana with an appropriately animated Äußerst bewegt, with the right hand slightly to the fore, though the left hand is clear and clean.  More vigorous versions are available, but then when Sehr innig und nicht zu rasch arrives, her playing reverts to the almost dream-like soundworld of the Fantasie.  The second theme is a brief, rambunctious but controlled section before more meltingly beautiful playing, which is followed by the third section, which YES leads with the left hand, and then she closes out in lovely fashion again.  In Sehr aufgeregt, one might be able to say that YES doesn't quite go intense enough, at least until the end, but it's also hard to dislike such controlled and refined sforzandi and forte playing.  As expected, her Sehr langsam fares very well, and the more subdued passages of Sehr lebhaft do, too.  (So do the more animated passages.)  While it had become clear earlier in the work, in the second Sehr langsam, YES's penchant for delivering gorgeous, affecting, almost otherworldly slow movements becomes unavoidably obvious.  Sehr rasch gets knocked out with ample energy and drive, with some really finely articulated left hand playing managing to overshadow, but not necessarily overpower the right hand playing.  YES ends with a Schnell und spielend that is just a tad restrained in terms of tempo, but, especially in the louder passages, she plays in a style that creates a cumulative effect, an impression of boundless energy.  Alas, Kreisleriana is not quite to the standard of the Fantasie.  Where Op 17 may be the greatest ever recorded, Kreisleriana is merely on par with the greatest versions ever recorded.

YES ends things with a ravishing Arabeske, a teasing and gentle and poised treat.

I had sky high expectations when I bought this disc, and they were at least met.  Superb sound. 

A purchase of the year, the decade to come, and the century.  Brilliant in every way.
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Offline Todd

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Re: The Asian Invasion
« Reply #204 on: June 14, 2020, 04:31:34 AM »
A large part of the future belongs to China.  Just the way it is.  Perhaps my appreciation of Chinese music will grow over time, but in the meantime one can enjoy the increasing number of recordings of Western art music recorded by artists in the Middle Kingdom.  Like this here recording of Bruckner's Eighth.  The recording is taken from a concert performance of the China Philharmonic on June 20, 2012 in the Forbidden City Concert Hall.  Lan Shui conducts.  Lan Shui is a conductor new to me.  Born in Hangzhou, he started his studies there, only to have them temporarily interrupted by the Cultural Revolution, before resuming and then finishing off his studies in the US, where he also did some assistant conducting.  Shui ended up spending a good long time at the Singapore Symphony Orchestra.  He's also performed with various Western bands and recorded for BIS, so he's no newbie.

To the work, the opening Allegro moderato comes in at 14'50, and Shui keeps things moving along.  It lacks the sense of grandeur of some recordings, but there's some nice drama.  The brass do not dominate like in more famous recordings, and they don't play with the assurance of, say, the Chicago Symphony, but that's okay.  When one considers the distant, reverberant acoustic and the live recording, the balances can be appreciated all the more.  Shui makes sure that both the winds get their due and some of the string figurations aurally pop.  I'm guessing a lot of microphones were used, but spotlighting seems less prevalent and the balances come more from the conducting.  Shui also goes for a taut Scherzo, which comes in at 12'49", and he keeps an unusually snappy rhythmic sense, and as such, it sounds far more dance-like than more granitic readings, and the Trio is lighter, more ethereal than some other versions.  It works quite well.  The Adagio comes in at 24'23", and the opening minutes sound light and string dominated, which is good because the strings sound light and airy and pretty darned good.  It doesn't sound too heavy or burdened and only gradually builds up in scale.  It gradually slows down in tempo, and then it becomes more transcendent and dramatic, and it builds up to a fully satisfying climax, with enough brass weight, if not bite.  The relative scale and impact of the music on disc indicates that in concert it must have been something in person.  True, it cannot match the orchestral perfection of Karajan with Vienna, but that's a tall order.  Shui then lets rip in the Finale, which comes in at 21'30" (about 21'12" of music), starting in at a gallop, bringing the violins uncommonly to the fore, then he drops back in tempo and then pushes and pulls the orchestra to dramatic effect.  Some less than the best brass playing does catch the ear, but what are you gonna do?  Shui never really lets up the pace throughout, and he does have the brass play more intensely, but it is more blended rather than dominating, and the tuttis have a sort of all-consuming heft as a result, at least until the brass finally emerge to blast at the listener briefly before the massive coda.  The coda itself also has more prominent brass and is pushed forward at fairly high velocity to generate heat and applause.

As I listened, the symphony reminded me to an extent of Hun-Joung Lim's take and overall Bruckner style.  Lighter overall, and less brass dominated, the music sounds warmer and less imposing.  Perhaps an East Asian (excluding Japan) Bruckner tradition will emerge, one different from what has come before.  Or not. Whatever the case, I'll happily listen to more Bruckner, or anything else, played by various ensembles in the East.

Sound is good enough. 
« Last Edit: June 14, 2020, 05:00:42 AM by Todd »
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Offline betterthanfine

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Re: The Asian Invasion
« Reply #205 on: June 19, 2020, 12:29:28 PM »


A purchase of the year, the decade to come, and the century.  Brilliant in every way.

I must hear this NOW. Thanks for the review, Todd!

Offline Todd

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Re: The Asian Invasion
« Reply #206 on: September 13, 2020, 02:00:41 PM »



As I waited for the first installment of William Youn's Schubert Sonatas, I snagged a couple downloads from him that I had somehow managed to avoid buying until now.  Starting with the Chopin Concertos, I confess that here it's all about the pianist, just the pianist, and only the pianist.  The band and conductor are more or less irrelevant.  So what does Mr Youn deliver in this year that also saw the great Benjamin Grosvenor release a corker of a recording of these works?  Well, immaculate tonal beauty, refinement, elegance, and tastefulness, start to finish.  That's more or less the thing here.  There are more fiery, more energetic, more overtly virtuosic, more any attribute you choose recordings out there.  That's not really the point with Youn.  As I listened, the piano-heavy recorded balance ended up working perfectly.  In the E Minor, some pesky tuttis aside, I more or less listened to an endless stream of pianistic beauty, with the wash of right hand color and brightness making the Allegro maestoso soar, the Romanze lilt and seduce, and the Rondo sparkle and (gently) dance and basically force the listener to sit and listen in a sort of musicodopamine stupor.  In the F Minor, Youn could play with more bite or darkness or richness or whatever in the Maestoso, but that would not help at all.  The refinement of his playing is truly its own reward.  He brings that refinement to the beautiful nocturny Larghetto.  Here, the strings do some mighty fine work, too, though it's still all about Youn.  In the Allegretto vivace, Youn once again forces the listener to sit and listen basically slack-jawed, and the right hand cascades near the end, not rushed, and delivered just so, creates listener giddiness.  More or less as expected.  Youn still bats a thousand.  Oh, yeah, Friedemann Riehle leads the Nuremberg Symphony Orchestra in nice enough accompaniment and the recording sounds quite nice.
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Offline MishaK

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Re: The Asian Invasion
« Reply #207 on: September 16, 2020, 02:40:45 PM »



Takashi Asahina is a conductor I have long associated with Bruckner more than anything.  I figured now was as good a time as any to stream him conducting something else.  I settled on Beethoven.  This complete symphony cycle is recorded with the Osaka Philharmonic.  You know, his orchestra, as in the one he established in 1947 and led until his death.  This cycle was recorded in the year 2000, the year before his death.  He was 92 years old at the time.  This was his final presentation of the cycle.

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

This set offers yet another example of the value of streaming.  At its current price, I doubt I'd buy a physical copy of the cycle, but I got to hear it anyway, and in the event it ends up a budget issue at some point, I may buy it just to hear better what the engineers captured.

If you are even remotely interested in exploring Asahina in non-Bruckner, you MUST get a hold of his live 1975 Sibelius 2 with Osaka Philharmonic, recorded on tour at Teatro la Fenice in Venice (sounds like an unlikely combo, but it's true!). It is ON F I R E !!! Absolutely one of the most riveting performances of that work I have ever heard.

Offline MishaK

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Re: The Asian Invasion
« Reply #208 on: September 16, 2020, 02:45:56 PM »



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

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

Found this on Primephonic and started dipping my ears into it. Seems like the main purpose of this cycle was to assemble all the least authentic editions of Bruckner symphonies, that have been most tampered with by others. That's a rather unfortunate decision. The conductor should have enough to say on his own to make his mark, rather than having to resort to gimmicks by marketing a cycle of sketchy editions just to be different. 

Offline Todd

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Re: The Asian Invasion
« Reply #209 on: September 20, 2020, 05:22:57 AM »



Kotaro Fukuma is a name I'd only seen positive comments about until I finally splurged on two recordings, this one, and his more recent Beethoven recital on Naxos.  For this recording, I went with the deluxe edition, which means that Deux danses espagnoles, España (!), Célèbre sérénade espagnole, Navarra, and La Vega (!!) are also included.  Mr Fukuma has done the competition and recording thing for a while, so he's not a newbie.  It kinda shows.

Albéniz's magnum opus has a few rather fine recordings out there, of course, with de Larrocha's multiple versions all worth serious consideration, though both the Spaniard Esteban Sánchez and the Belgium-born, Mexican-raised Michel Block are more to my taste.  Well, here comes Mr Fukuma to offer something a bit different and pretty much as compelling.  Sánchez's darker, more animated take and Block's more languid and layered approach differ from Fukuma's pristinely clean, colorful but not hazy playing, punctuated by incredibly nuanced and refined touch.  Oh, yeah, sure, Al Albaicin has oomph and kick, with undulating rhythm and dynamic swells, and every other piece that requires it does, too, but that's only part of the magic.  El Polo has a delicate, nuanced rhythmic sense, with perfectly refined accenting.  Almeria emerges as something of an unexpected highlight.  Here's music played with such precise, gentle, refined touch, with perfect dynamic relationships between chords and phrases, that one sits sort of numbed to non-pianistic goings on.  And the best part is that any time this kind of music appears throughout the set, so the does the playing.  It's kinda a wow thing, or at least one of those things that, after hearing it, one lets out a gentle laugh and shakes one's head sort of in disbelief, but ultimately belief and delight.  Yeah.  It's that good.  But it's not that Spanish.  While listening, as wonderful as it is, one acknowledges but does not miss the greater fluidity that de Larrocha brings, the greater intensity that Sánchez brings, and the near sensuality that Block brings.  (Which is why one must have all the sets.)  It is sort of like a more Gallic Albéniz, one where Séverac plays an outsized role, and Fukuma's style sounds like an even more refined and tidier Albert Attenelle with French accents.  In other words, it's pretty freakin' sweet.

Now to the other good stuff.  The Deux danses espagnoles sparkle and sound bright, with ample rhythmic acuity emerging from Fukuma's fingers.  Nice.  Nicer still is España, and here again the heavy hitters have recorded it.  I confess a special affection for Block's impossibly beautiful and often too languid by half playing, never more so than in the Tango.  If Fukuma cannot match Block here, his crisper, brighter, sunnier overall sound works just fine.  Célèbre sérénade espagnole blends right in qualitatively.  Navarra is yet another piece where Block's style fits better than anyone's, yet, again, Fukuma's approach pays dividends.  The set concludes with La Vega, and here Sánchez rules the roost, with a darker hued, occasionally mysterious, occasionally turbulent take.  Fukuma's lighter, more Gallicized take offers its own more delicate and dreamy beauties though. 

Overall, this set is a peach.  Fukuma does not displace the titans, but it says something that those are the people he inevitably must be compared to, and that he holds his own speaks volumes.

Toss is superb modern sound, and this set is a winner. 
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Online Brian

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Re: The Asian Invasion
« Reply #210 on: September 20, 2020, 10:27:27 AM »
There's a deluxe edition with a second album of stuff that's not on streaming?! %*@#. Time to research...

Offline Todd

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Re: The Asian Invasion
« Reply #211 on: September 20, 2020, 10:34:42 AM »
There's a deluxe edition with a second album of stuff that's not on streaming?! %*@#. Time to research...


I almost bought Iberia only - until when I searched on Fukuma's name I found the deluxe edition for the princely sum of nine dollars and change.
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Offline amw

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Re: The Asian Invasion
« Reply #212 on: September 20, 2020, 10:40:12 AM »
I found the deluxe edition on a few streaming sites, but yes it’s probably worth buying. Have to say this is now my personal favorite Iberia. (My mom disagrees, and swears by Larrocha instead)

Offline Todd

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Re: The Asian Invasion
« Reply #213 on: September 27, 2020, 04:58:33 AM »



Uh-oh.  Does the E♭ major opener to D946 represent the first unforced error I've heard from William Youn (aka, Korean Piano Jesus)?  He omits the second trio.  Typically, I would say that would render any recording not all it should be.  But here I give Youn the benefit of the doubt, because everything he does, he does at a William Youn level.  The Allegro assai section is delivered with no little verve, bordering on the assertive, while retaining a lovely sheen and innate lyricism.  Combine that with the more than adequately gorgeous Andante, and well, all is well.  In the second piece, Youn moves back to more common, well above average playing.  He maintains a certain palpable musical tension even in the slower music, which becomes even more evident in the agitated yet lyrical second section, with the left hand playing twitchy yet precise.  Nice.  Youn plays the third piece in a stylistically similar manner such that one can go ahead and believe that the movements were composed together. 

The D915 Allegretto actually comes off as mere filler.  Filler of the highest caliber, delivered with polish and nuance and beauty, but it does sound somewhat surfacey.  Not so the D935 Impromptus, which represent the second main reason to buy, own, and cherish this recording.  Youn delivers the opening on the F Minor in quick, tangy fashion, with ample beauty but also bite, which effortlessly and almost without notice slips into the second theme, delivered with copious gorgeousness, and a flowing legato.  The second appearance of the opening theme takes on a very liederesque feel, as if Schubert had originally meant this accompany a young DFD with some proper German text.  And he alternates on to the end, with the accompaniment in the last section taking on a hypnotic, watery sheen, like a babbling brook.  The A♭ major falls on the somewhat quick, not especially inward looking end of the spectrum, at least to open.  Youn plays at a perfect pace, and with a perfect dynamic range - no need to thunder here - and only gradually, as the music unfolds, does it take on a deeper feel.  Then comes a doozy, and Youn plays the theme and variations B♭ major as nearly one endless stream of gorgeous melody, though some turbulent playing emerges where needed, which in turn only heightens the more melodic playing that follows.  In the F minor closer, he tosses in overt virtuosity, rendering it almost a hyper-lyrical encore.  But it ain't. 

To the extent there is an encore, the Valses Nobles D969 might fit the bill.  Here, Youn anchors the piece with rhythmically alert left hand playing, and while he can and does play beautifully, there some near brittle right hand playing, which, when Youn plays it, means it is being played that way for effect.  And what a wonderful effect it ends up being.

The minor, forgivable scare in the opener accounted for, Youn continues to bat 1.000.  Need to get to that Schubert sonatas set now.
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Online Brian

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Re: The Asian Invasion
« Reply #214 on: September 27, 2020, 05:43:13 AM »
Uh-oh.  Does the E♭ major opener to D946 represent the first unforced error I've heard from William Youn (aka, Korean Piano Jesus)? 
Making Kun Woo Paik Korean Piano John the Baptist and YES Korean Mary Magdalene?

Offline Todd

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Re: The Asian Invasion
« Reply #215 on: September 27, 2020, 05:50:01 AM »
Making Kun Woo Paik Korean Piano John the Baptist and YES Korean Mary Magdalene?


Works for me.
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 #216 on: October 03, 2020, 04:40:10 AM »



When snapping up Fukuma's Albéniz, some LvB also got snapped up because one can never have too much Beethoven.  A disc with three works, the mix of sonatas offers something not typically presented together, a sort of bonus.

Starting with Op 31/2, Fukuma starts with a slow, distended, beautiful Largo that really manages to suspend time, and then he moves into an Allegro that possesses ample speed and dexterity, but that's not the thing.  The thing is how Fukuma balances left and right hands, often emphasizing the accompaniment with unique accents, but then seamlessly moving emphasis back and forth.  Then he returns to ultra-slow returns of the intro material, a technique which can sound distracting or artificial, but not here, not at all.  The Adagio benefits even more from Fukuma's elegant and refined style.  Not afraid to toss in rubato, every little interpretive device works.  If one is going to decelerate a phrase, or extend some right hand figurations just that little extra bit, this is how to do it.  And that tone.  Man.  In the context of an aural sculpture approach, one might expect the Allegretto to sound a bit less than intense, and while harder hitting versions exist, Fukuma increases intensity more than enough.  His control and tone are such that sforzandi never bite, they emphasize strongly, and blend into the fluid closer.

Op 78 starts off deceptively, with Fukuma again delivering some beautiful playing in the Adagio cantabile, playing that sings as much as one could want, but as the movement unfolds, he adds more.  The Allegro ma non troppo displays a wide dynamic range, and the slight tension adds an almost Op 90 style tenseness to some of the proceedings.  The Allegro vivace sounds lighter and more fun, and exceptionally clean and dynamically wide ranging.  Here's middle-late Beethoven with seriousness and prankishness in a perfect mix.

Then comes Op 111.  Fukuma demonstrates how to open with a biting and dark Maestoso, indicating what was already obvious, namely that we was delivering exactly what he wanted to deliver before.  The Allegro sounds faster and more furious, but also kind of focused on moving forward, and concerned with structure rather than deep depths.  That's not a complaint.  The Arietta starts firm but lovely in the opening half, then slows down and morphs into transcendent Beethoven in the second half.  Fukuma then launches into variations imbued with seriousness of purpose, fine detail, and delicate touch blended in with playing of weight, and a transcendent feel.  The boogie woogie variation has a bright and elevated feel, and a rather formal rhythmic sense and some bracing left hand playing.  The "little stars" rank among the most perfectly realized I've heard, with layered dynamics within the quiet, elevated music.  Fukuma then cools things off a bit, creating a rarified, detached sound on his way to the chains of trills, which he delivers with a delicate touch, creating an ethereal foundation from which the other notes to emerge.  He delivers a peaceful, lovely coda to cap things off.

Looks like I'll end up buying all of Fukuma's recordings.
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Offline Todd

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Re: The Asian Invasion
« Reply #217 on: October 11, 2020, 05:08:53 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

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Everyone dies - William Barr, United States Attorney General

Offline Todd

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Re: The Asian Invasion
« Reply #218 on: October 18, 2020, 05:55:19 AM »



Until very recently, I hadn't seen the name Minsoo Sohn, or if I had, I forgot seeing it.  That changed when he dropped an LvB sonata cycle.  Before digging into that, I had to do some homework, especially since this Honens release of Liszt transcriptions and Liszt's Paganini Etudes popped up for a few bucks.  Sohn was born in Korea and has done the competition thing.  Notably, he studied in Boston under Russell Sherman.

The disc opens with Liszt's transcription of Bach's Prelude and Fugue in A Minor.  Out of the gate, Sohn demonstrates an unerring steadiness in his playing, and his tone sounds smooth, controlled, and entirely unruffled.  He unfurls the fugal writing with seeming ease and obvious clarity and he never sounds out of sorts.  He also introduces fairly little oomph into the mix, until the end, when he scales way up and approximates an organ quite nicely.

To Liszt proper, the same exact traits appear in the G Minor Etude.  Which ends up limiting the impact a bit.  Sohn has no problem at all playing the music, it just sounds formal and restrained.  Surely, Liszt's creations inspired by Paganini's creations should dazzle with garish fireworks.  While things improves with the Octaves Etude, Sohn again plays it too formally.  One gets the sense that he may not have been overly familiar with the pieces and opted to play it safe, though obviously that may not be the case.  La Campanella offers the best example of his style.  He dispatches everything clearly, with steady left hand playing, and sparkling right hand playing, with flawless runs and nuanced tapering, but it all sounds just a bit too cool and restrained. 

The transcription of Beethoven's Adelaide follows, and it offers more of the same, though here one gets to hear hints of how Sohn may handle straight-up Beethoven.  And it's not so bad, since, of course, more restrained Beethoven potentially makes more sense than restrained Liszt.

The disc closes out with Réminiscences de Don Juan.  It offers and extended example of Sohn's artistry.  Technically assured, with everything in its place, but almost entirely devoid of strongly distinctive personality.  One can certainly enjoy the conservatory and competition level playing as an example of proper, clean execution, but something goes missing.  I hope the same does not hold true for his Beethoven.
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