Author Topic: Aquiles Delle Vigne Plays Beethoven  (Read 856 times)

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Offline Todd

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Aquiles Delle Vigne Plays Beethoven
« on: September 06, 2021, 04:42:24 AM »

Aquiles Delle Vigne is not a brand-new name to me.  I've been aware of his Liszt Transcendental Studies for a while, though I just didn't buy them.  Then Amazon cleared the disc out for a few bucks, and is my wont when snapping up such deals, I perused other recordings by the elderly Argentine.  And wouldn't you know it, this Arrau/Pueyo/Cziffra pupil had recorded the New Testament and finished in time for the grand Beethoven year - and I knew nothing about it!  Flustered, embarrassed, and horrifically ashamed, I immediately set out to snap up said cycle, not even one second of lollygagging allowed.  I ran into trouble.  The few discs I could find were Japanese market priced when sourced from the US.  I looked to downloads, streaming, and so forth, and could not find the complete set.  Until I looked at Amazon, which offers the complete set as MP3 downloads when purchasing one volume at a time.  So I promptly downloaded all ten volumes.  Liner notes did not come with the set, but it appears that the cycle was recorded from around 2008 to around 2018, but the years could be off.  Crucially, this set fills a void in my collection, which until now had not had any recordings made by someone named after a character played by Brad Pitt.

So the first movement of the first sonata on the first disc sort of lets the listener know the pianist has ideas.  Rubato appears freely but not obtrusively.  ADV sees no reason not to emphasize this or that accent, just 'cause.  Some of the playing sounds thick and blocky - until it doesn't.  Somehow, he manages to make the playing flow even with some blockiness.  Little details abound in the context of a big picture approach.  The playing does not display modern, cool perfection (Sohn or Levit), but it works nice enough.  And the metallic, staccato laden sound, which reminds the listener of Steven Masi, works very well.  Which it shouldn't in the Adagio, but it does.  ADV does not ride the sustain for gobs of beauty, offering a harder, more austere sound - but it's neither hard nor austere.  The Menuetto sounds too slow and heavy by half - yet, somehow, due mostly to the tempo relationships, it manages to work.  The Trio sounds kinda fluid, kinda not, but it blends in well.  The Prestissimo most certainly sounds not even like Presto, and definitely sounds metallic and belabored and undifferentiated.  But.  Yep, it kinda works. 

The A Major sonata sounds peppier and funner out of the gate in the Allegro vivace, with a sort of gruff Kempffian nonchalance, even if it doesn't shed a sort of heaviness.  The music flows nicely enough most of the time, until ADV stops the proceedings briefly, adjusts, then moves forward.  The slow Largo appassionato kind of meanders along to open, with ADV seeming to relish the odd trill here, the poked out left hand playing there.  Not deep, and with really nice simultaneous dynamic contrast it charms more than anything.  In the Scherzo, ADV starts with a lighter, more dashed off style before resorting to something a bit heavier and slower, and at times a bit unsteady.  The outer sections are quite attractive, with the middle a bit rougher, and what sounds like some musical wandering doesn't even derail the proceedings.  Now, with the C Major, one would think that supremely fine execution is needed to make the most of the sonata.  It is, but ADV demonstrates that a slightly heavy, slightly indistinct, at times kludgy and too spacious approach can still approximate the music to the point of satisfying persnickety listeners.  ADV delivers a slow, deliberate Adagio that contains enough feeling, while the Scherzo sounds light and plucky enough, with some of ADV slightly heavy-handed touches thrown in liberally.  The Allegro assai sounds a bit slower and heavier than first or second tier recordings, but as with the other movements of the other sonatas, ADV somehow manages to make it work much better than it should.

Op 7 starts volume two, and ADV plays the opening movement at a nice Allegro-y pace for the most part, with some rough patches and at least one noticeable edit.  Dynamic contrasts remain a bit limited, and clarity of voices is not up there with the third best, but again it really doesn't matter.  ADV plays the Largo con gran espressione at a slow pace, which sounds nearly ideal, and there's a darkness and weightiness to the playing, though I can't say it's particularly expressive.  Fairly pastorale Allegro and Rondo playing close out a not at all too bad, but not at all great take.  In Op 13, even at this point one expects a Grave opening of some gravitas, and ADV delivers that, and then he delivers an energetic enough, if kind of unclear Allegro.  An expressive Adagio follows, and if one misses great singing playing, it still works well enough, as does the stormy and only occasionally kludgy Rondo closer.  In Op 22, a sonata that requires rhythmic sureness and drive, one can appreciate ADV's commitment to the music (the vocalization demonstrates that), but some of the playing is so unsteady and messy that one almost dislikes it.  (Turns out it's literally impossible to dislike it.)  The slow movement comes off nicely enough and has the singing quality one wanted in Op 13, and both the Menuetto and Rondo - the latter, especially - come off far better than they should.  Who says obvious devotion to a work by an artist can't overcome some technical deficiencies?

The third disc equivalent starts with 10/1, and here ADV plays ascending arpeggios of moderate then slow speed, with varying levels of slurring (quite a bit to a whole lot), and then he moves to slow and kind of heavy playing.  The Adagio, not too surprisingly, fares better, and if one likes exaggerated arpeggios, well, there are some unhidden delights to be had.  The final movement starts off rather slow, but strangely effective, and if it never achieves Prestissimo, or anything close, it, too works oddly well, the either A.) obvious edits or B.) obvious halts for hand repositioning notwithstanding.  10/2 ends up a cycle highlight.  Perky and kind of heavy at the same time (how, I don't know), it works in all three movements.  Somehow, ADV make a 4'30" "Presto" (?) closing movement succeed, which takes some doing.  Seriously, it's better than it should be.  The opening (not quite) Presto of 10/3 has some of that kludginess that plagues/benefits the cycle to this point and sounds like a good time.  As expected, the Largo fares even better, slow, contemplative, with a mostly satisfying climax, and then a mostly satisfying Menuetto and Rondo to close. 

Volume four starts off with a kind of heavy and slow and metallic Allegro from Op 14/1 with some pronounced and both unhelpful and unharmful rubato.  Once ADV settles into his somewhat broad groove, the music flows along suitably enough, and then things tighten up nicely in the Allegretto, and then a bit more in the Rondo.  While not the tightest, tautest playing around, the grand-ish flourishes add a nice touch.  14/2 comes off better still, with a relaxed demeanor in the comparatively (compared to ADV's playing to this point) light G Major Allegro.  The upper register demisemiquavers have a not displeasing blurry, bright sound to them.  The slightly chunky, playful march-y theme and variations come off nicely enough, with some nice little touches (exaggerated accents, one really nice accelerated arpeggio, that kind of thing).  ADV then keeps things plucky 'n' light in the closing Scherzo.  Nice.  The Funeral March sonata follows, and ADV launches with a really rather lovely Andante theme and then moves into distinct variations.  Interventionist pianists often make a musical meal out of the first movement, so this does not surprise.  The proportion and control all work well, and when he jabs out some groovier low-end notes, they amply groove.  Who can resist that?  The Scherzo sounds bright and punchy, with few traces of kludge.  The funeral march benefits from ADV's weight and slowness, sounding serious and then more serious, without sounding overwrought.  Nice.  The concluding Allegro does display a bit more kludge and some exaggerated rubato, yet it mixes in well enough, and sort of feels like an errant variation appended to the end of the piece.  The volume closes out with the Op 49 sonatas, and here ADV plays both nicely enough.  Not too heavy, not too fast, not too slow, there's just about right.

The first half of the set starts off with the first quasi una fantasia, and the Andante section sounds nicely paced, without outsize gestures, and just enough individuality to work.  The outsize gestures and mild kludge come in the third theme, though even there it doesn't detract, rather acting as sort of an expected episode.  The Allegro molto e vivace ends up sounding kludgier, with some stiffness in the outer sections, though the trio comes off well enough and with a sense of weighty nonchalance.  ADV kind of goes a bit too ponderous in the Adagio (this isn't late LvB), but then again kind of not, while the concluding Allegro vivace nearly turns into a musical train wreck.  Deliberate, halting, with big dollops of kludge, ADV bests someone like Nikolayeva only because he more or less hits the notes in a giant haze of piano playing.  Again, somewhat like live Kempff, it doesn't matter.  (Unlike Kempff, one never sort of just goes along, suspending disbelief and convincing oneself that this is really how it was supposed to sound all along.)  Der Mondschein starts with a decently taut Adagio sostenuto, moves to an Allegretto that sounds basically conventional, and ends with a Presto agitato that sounds indistinct, blurred, a bit slow, and, yes, has moments of kludge.  Not one of the greats.  The Pastorale opens with an Adagio Allegro that comes in at 12'34".  If that sounds slow, it is, but somewhat miraculously, ADV makes it sound swifter than it is, though the heavy-handedness and kludge and spacious to a notable fault phrasing in some passages cannot be ignored.  The Andante, in contrast, comes off pretty light and decently flowing, with nicely stark dynamic contrasts.  ADV presses the Scherzo, in relative terms, and a few awkward pauses aside, it comes off quite well, and the concluding Rondo sort of cruises along at a weighty, relaxed tempo, with giant blurs of notes to coax the listener's ears.  Not too shabby.

With disc six one arrives at the ever-important Op 31 trio.  In the opening Allegro vivace, ADV adopts a somewhat broad tempo, and if one at this point expects and hears a few rough and/or kludgy passes, one also gets to enjoy some interventionist playing in a sonata that can benefit from such an approach.  Dynamics don't really fall outside a reasonable range, so it's down to rubato and some distended phrasing here and there to make the (near-) magic happen.  In the very slow Adagio grazioso, a lil' bit o' kludge ain't no issue, and ADV imparts a sense of fun and ease into the mix.  ADV then ramps things up in the Rondo, which has nice dynamic contrasts, some pretty clean fingerwork, or at least acceptably good fingerwork (Herbert Schuch he is not), and sense of fun.  It's a nice start to the trio.  Der Sturm opens with a slow but not dragged out Largo, with clean note differentiation, and it gives way to a s suitably dynamic Allegro, though the dexterity and accuracy doesn't match up to the best.  The overall tempo does drag a bit over the course of the movement, but it's easy to listen past.  The slightly broader than normal Adagio comes off well enough with some nice accenting, brief accelerandos, and nice enough expressivity.  ADV then closes with an Allegretto with, comparatively, ample oomph 'n' groove, and a near-relentless forward momentum and clean left hand playing.  Nice.  (Let's ignore the piano sound as things wind down, though.)  In The Hunt, ADV starts with a fairly slow intro in the Allegro, and though he picks up the pace a bit, he never really goes for a zippy approach, instead opting for playing underpinned by slightly wobbly left hand playing and bright right playing and decent dynamic contrasts.  The tempo picks up and the playing sounds a bit tighter in the Scherzo, which also boasts satisfying dynamics in the outbursts.  The Menuetto falls on the slower end of the spectrum, which works well enough in the outer sections, but the inner section sounds just a bit too clunky.  The Presto con fuoco, which sounds closer to a slightly too weighty Allegro, has enough bounce and energy to keep the negative traits irrelevant.  Here's a recording of the sonata that certainly does not rate among the greats, yet somehow manages to work better than it should.  The same applies to the whole trio.  (Heck, the cycle.)

I can't report that AVD starts the Waldstein pianissimo, as he goes for a heavier approach, but I can report that he goes for a nearly thirteen-minute opener.  Some of the time it sounds faster than that, and others it sounds clunky and labored, but it always moves forward, even if sometimes it lurches.  Or kind of meanders.  The Introduzione veers into Largo territory and sounds heavy, yet still more effective than it should be.  AVB then starts off the Rondo in very slow, very constrained, and really very beautiful fashion - a true highlight of the cycle - but then the trouble sort of starts as the pace never really gets going like it should and the loud, fast playing sounds slow and disjointed, like the pianist struggles to hit each note.  Part of the style is for effect, and the effect could have been heightened with better pianistic command.  (Whenever I hear a pianist shoot for something absurdly slow, I automatically think of Pogorelich or Barto, and most pianists simply don't display that level of control.)  The playing does pick up the pace a bit in places, but overall, despite some promise, this is a dud.  It's not the worst I've heard, but it's not a Top 75 choice, either.  Op 54 starts off promisingly with a lovely first theme which segues to a more potent second theme that is played pretty well.  It can be written that AVD gives the second movement his best shot.  The disc ends with Op 57, and at this point one goes in with certain expectations.  Which are met.  Weight, not fast but not slow, and actually well enough played, the Allegro assai displays enough musical tumult to satisfy.  (It makes one wonder, along with the occasional vocalization, if this sonata was long in the pianist's repertoire when it got recorded.)  Again, one should listen to others if technical excellence is desired, but ADV does well enough.  He does even better in the Andante con moto, which sounds fairly taut and well executed, as if it emerges from under very well-practiced fingers.  The final movement keeps up a pretty good energy level and acceptable accuracy to close on a strong note. 

ADV's penchant for broad tempo and weighty sound hinted that he may deliver a good Op 78, and so he does.  The Adagio cantabile comes off well-nigh perfect, and if the Allegro ma non troppo lacks the technical perfection of some (let's say Sohn keeping to a modern set), nothing sounds bad.  Indeed, some of the nice little touches, including one especially nifty, seemingly random, and rather pronounced accelerando, really hit the spot.  This is closer to late LvB while not sounding weighed down.  The Allegro vivace closer comes off as a free 'n easy (in demeanor; free and rough-ish in execution) Scherzo.  Nice.  Op 79 starts with a Presto alla tedesca that's more a breezy Allegretto than anything, and it keeps the insouciant feel of the closer of Op 78.  The irreverent accenting and heavy-handedness results in a rather drunk sounding cuckoo, while the acciaccatura sounds both OTT and perfectly suited to the preceding music.  Very nice.  The Andante displays a nice mix of tonal beauty and tension, and the slightly exaggerated Vivace caps off another quite fine small sonata.  Now, experience up to this point set some expectations for 81a as well, and not surprisingly, ADV delivers on them, to the good and the bad.  Das Lebewohl has ample expression and weight and dramatic flourishes, but it also has some kludgy, uneven execution, but whatcha gonna do?  Rather like in Op 79, ADV plays the slow movement more quickly than normal, and with real tension and even some angst.  (Maybe.  I mean, how does one determine just how angsty a pianist plays?)  The Vivacissimamente is plagued by some of the standard shortcomings and sounds inconsistent, yet the fine right hand figuration here, the snazzy repeated chords there, and the overall spirit of the playing offsets the near or actual cringiness of some of the playing.  The listener roots for the pianist to pull it off.  In lesser renditions, the listener just wants it to stop.  The heavy, ponderous thing gets turned up to eleven in the opening chords of Op 90, which pummel the ears if one has the volume set to a decent volume.  (And why wouldn't one?)  The metallic sheen of the recording adds some bite.  The faster sections don't fare as well as the pounded out ones, but it works nicely, while the second movement comes off as slightly unkempt and rough and only sporadically lyrical, but it works pretty well.  Overall, another good disc.

The late sonatas start with an Op 101 where the opening movement does not quite sound somewhat lively, but it does possess innermost sensibility.  It possesses a proper late-LvB sound.  The march sounds like a basically indistinct mass of piano notes, with an unsteady pulse and sustain and distant microphones used to mask the difficulties.  Miraculously, it does not sound awful.  Entirely unsurprisingly, the Adagio sounds much the same as the slow opener, and the Allegro like the march, which means the fugal writing sounds muddy.  It both satisfies and dissatisfies at once, though it dissatisfies more.  Now for the big sonata.  And at 13'10", the Allegro is of beefy proportions.  Even at this sluggish tempo, ADV sounds uneven and unsteady.  It still manages to sound less than thirteen minutes and change in duration.  There's a grandeur and heroic effortfulness to the playing which makes it work better than it should.  The Scherzo is a miniaturized, unsteady version of the opener.  The last two movements more or less repeat the now established pattern.  The Adagio comes off quite well, though with some musical hiccups, as ADV delivers some expressive playing and a nice sense of desolation when he should, while the final movement don't sound quite so good.  The pianist puts in the effort, but like Barenboim in his latest, he struggles to make it through the gnarly passages with adequate clarity or precision.  Still, though, it's not terrible, and though there is no rational reason why it should be so, ADV's take satisfies more than elderly Barenboim's.  There you have it.  (And in a very Led Zeppelin In My Time of Dying moment, one hears some clanking then some speaking after the last notes fade.  I must conclude that in this time of simple digital snips, it was left in quite intentionally.)

The final trio starts kinda inauspiciously.  The notes emerge from a cloud of chaos, like the Ninth.  That works in the symphony, but not so much here.  The entire first movement, but especially the faster sections, sound disjointed, as if the pianist is finding his way, with tempi and accents just kind of spiraling this way and that.  Ditto the Prestissimo, though here the clangorous forte playing works.  Strangely, it's not that the playing fails completely.  Rather, like Tatiana Nikolayeva, you get what he's trying to do, and fortunately, he's more successful, though hardly in a Top 50 way.  Things settle down and achieve a more transcendent sound and feel in the Andante theme and slow variations in the final movement.  ADV keeps the faster playing under a semblance of control most of the time, and the steely bite adds something, though the playing lacks that ultimate transcendent sound I prefer until the final variation.  110 starts with a more elevated sound, though it doesn't sound especially cantibile.  The pronounced left hand playing and fairly steady overall sound work more nicely here than in 109.  The Allegro molto very nearly falls into the 'ugh' category, so heavy and ponderous and effortful is ADV's playing.  The final movement arioso sections work well, with ADV emphasizing some right hand notes in a most effective and pronounced manner.  The fugue and inverted fugue come off a bit better than expected going in, with not a lot of kludge to be heard.  The repeated chords leading into the inverted fugue actually benefit from ADV's style, though they start and stay loud rather than building up.  Op 111 starts with a potent Maestoso with more slurred playing than ideal, and when ADV moves to the Allegro, the pace is a bit slow, and there is some kludge, but the spirit of the playing is spot on.  ADV delivers the goods in the Arietta, which sounds elevated and sublime, and the first variation also sounds fine.  The second and especially third variation sound way heavier than ideal, and the rest of the second movement has something of a slogging feel.  Even the "little stars" sound too weighty and earth-bound, and the chains of trills sound a bit unsteady.  Still, the playing kinda works in its own way. 

In more than a few ways, this set should end up squarely in the fourth tier, given the frequent kludginess, heaviness, unevenness, and so forth.  There's no doubt at all that this is not one of the great cycles, or even a lesser cycle played at the highest level.  Nope, it ain't neither of them things.  What it is is a cycle where the pianist plays the way he wants to play and can play.  It exemplifies zero fucks given playing.  The listener doesn't have to like it.  Which ends up making it more enjoyable.  So I will add this to the third tier with full knowledge that some of the sonatas ain't no good at all, while some others are pretty darned good.  In some ways, it can be compared to Barenboim's most recent cycle in that here's a pianist past his peak, giving it his all (?), and sort of delivering - kinda.  It's just more enjoyable. 

Sound is not at all SOTA or close to it, and that has nothing to do with the recording being MP3.  World class engineers were clearly not employed, and it seems as though B-list piano tuners were part of the go-to crew. 

(As post-script of sort, when fast-forwarding, due to the recording and style, the music sounds like a player piano from a cartoon.)
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