Author Topic: The Asian Invasion  (Read 40794 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.
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 #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 »
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 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!