Author Topic: Schubertiade!  (Read 44526 times)

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Offline Todd

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Re: Schubertiade!
« Reply #120 on: May 13, 2022, 05:26:45 AM »





Some here and now Schubert from two different pianists.  Ran Jia’s studio recordings have been limited thus far to a couple Schubert discs, one on RCA, and one work of one of her father’s works on Naxos.  All three of those are most excellent, so when she released this private label set, I had to have it.  It took a while to get and ended up involving some email exchanges with the pianist directly, and she was very pleasant in the exchanges.  Jia’s overall style focuses less on mellifluousness and beauty and has some grit, which is a perfectly fine way to deliver Schubert.  It must be noted that this cycle was recorded live in a private residence and on some evenings at least one of the audience members was a small child with a cold or allergies.  In addition to extraneous noise, the recorded sound is not top notch, with congested forte and fortissimo, and studio clarity also goes missing.  On the plus side, this very much documents what Jia sounds like in person.

Then there’s Pienaar.  His Beethoven cycle rates as one of the greats, but I dislike his Mozart.  What ends up intense, brisk, engaging, and enlightening in the German’s music ends up crushing the Austrian’s.  Pienaar’s often intense playing could do something similar to Schubert’s works, though Pienaar is by no means limited to one style.  His brilliant twofer The Long 17th Century contains dozens of small pieces that demonstrate a more delicate, nuanced, and rhythmically varied touch.  Were he to bring that to Schubert, along with his intense style, well then, we’re talking.  (I’ve not yet listened to Pienaar’s Bach, Gibbons, or Chopin.)  Pienaar is very much a pianist of ideas, and he seems to elicit some divided opinions, which is fine.  It can make for enlightening listening, even if the results are not so good.

To Schubert:

D537

Jia – Jia’s earlier studio Schubert falls more into the hard-hitting variety, and while she always plays in attractive fashion, she goes after something different.  So it is here.  This early work has a brisk feel, though remains light until the speedy, almost rushed Allegro vivace, which lacks rhythmic flexibility. 

Pienaar – Pienaar goes for the fast and jittery and highly interventionist style from the start, with outsize accents and more pronounced rubato.  His forte playing sounds strident and aggressive, while his mezzo forte playing sounds merely aggressive.  In the slow movement, Pienaar slows down, but the almost lurching style sounds like a caricature of the music, something highlighted in the at times crazy fast closing movement.  Caricatures can entertain mightily and reveal heretofore hidden aspects of the original subject. 
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Offline Mandryka

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Re: Schubertiade!
« Reply #121 on: May 13, 2022, 06:30:11 AM »





Some here and now Schubert from two different pianists.  Ran Jia’s studio recordings have been limited thus far to a couple Schubert discs, one on RCA, and one work of one of her father’s works on Naxos.  All three of those are most excellent, so when she released this private label set, I had to have it.  It took a while to get and ended up involving some email exchanges with the pianist directly, and she was very pleasant in the exchanges.  Jia’s overall style focuses less on mellifluousness and beauty and has some grit, which is a perfectly fine way to deliver Schubert.  It must be noted that this cycle was recorded live in a private residence and on some evenings at least one of the audience members was a small child with a cold or allergies.  In addition to extraneous noise, the recorded sound is not top notch, with congested forte and fortissimo, and studio clarity also goes missing.  On the plus side, this very much documents what Jia sounds like in person.

Then there’s Pienaar.  His Beethoven cycle rates as one of the greats, but I dislike his Mozart.  What ends up intense, brisk, engaging, and enlightening in the German’s music ends up crushing the Austrian’s.  Pienaar’s often intense playing could do something similar to Schubert’s works, though Pienaar is by no means limited to one style.  His brilliant twofer The Long 17th Century contains dozens of small pieces that demonstrate a more delicate, nuanced, and rhythmically varied touch.  Were he to bring that to Schubert, along with his intense style, well then, we’re talking.  (I’ve not yet listened to Pienaar’s Bach, Gibbons, or Chopin.)  Pienaar is very much a pianist of ideas, and he seems to elicit some divided opinions, which is fine.  It can make for enlightening listening, even if the results are not so good.

To Schubert:

D537

Jia – Jia’s earlier studio Schubert falls more into the hard-hitting variety, and while she always plays in attractive fashion, she goes after something different.  So it is here.  This early work has a brisk feel, though remains light until the speedy, almost rushed Allegro vivace, which lacks rhythmic flexibility. 

Pienaar – Pienaar goes for the fast and jittery and highly interventionist style from the start, with outsize accents and more pronounced rubato.  His forte playing sounds strident and aggressive, while his mezzo forte playing sounds merely aggressive.  In the slow movement, Pienaar slows down, but the almost lurching style sounds like a caricature of the music, something highlighted in the at times crazy fast closing movement.  Caricatures can entertain mightily and reveal heretofore hidden aspects of the original subject.

 I once discussed the sound of his pianos with Pienaar and he said:

Quote
Recorded piano sound is radically different depending on the piano you play on, who the technician happens to be, how it is recorded and what you play things back on. Obviously, as you sense, I am not that interested in the sound per se but in relative differences of touch, voicings, matters of accentuation, gesture and diction, experimenting with timings etc. Some people hear these things, and find it all 'too much' - others don't pick on them at all and find the playing mechanical or bland. I guess if an enveloping 'warmth' is a prerequisite for a listener, it will be easy for above-mentioned things not to register in playing here where that kind of generic niceness is not the basic palette. If anything each recording of mine has been an ad hoc project in avoiding the syrupy, over-engineered 'SOTA' piano sound that seems to be the current fashion, and in avoiding the standardised approach to technique and 'emoting' that that engenders - or maybe from which it has come to be engendered by the practices post WW2.

. . .


it would be a mistake to assume that musicians have, by default, access to their ideal instruments, halls etc. for recordings. Almost no recordings nowadays are made under ideal conditions (if such a thing existed) unless the artist has real choice and access to corporate funding streams or private wealth (which, as you can imagine, I do not). Even then, we are still talking about the real world, and on the day of a recording any number of things may be short of just right. Of course, artists with 'corporate' level support might labour under different constraints (eg. big labels might limit repertoire choices, might have a 'house sound' or there might be weird power plays going on between grand old-school producers and engineers and aspiring musicians - something that often affects artistic decisions). But, that granted, it may simply be that certain artists' personalities and work do indeed fit naturally with how the more visible 'mainstream' things are generally funded and marketed now, and they may well have access to SOTA conditions.

Using decent-ish modern Steinways is a more-or-less neutral choice - it is not that I particularly like them, it is just that they respond reasonably accurately to the manipulations that I am interested in: like I said, details of relative differences in voicing, pedaling, different kinds of vertical dislocation between hands or notes in chords or contrapuntal textures, varieties of articulation, emphases, which notes are stretched or compressed, where stress falls in a phrase, tempo and dynamic fluctuations etc. etc. - and of course in the ideas that can be expressed using those tools.

(As I pointed out, some people find my obsessions with these things too 'interventionist', whereas others don't even notice them at all (perhaps because all they can hear is the 'de-prioritising' of blanket warmth and 'evenness' of the kind that a standard-issue, authoritarian, Rosina Lhevine-style technique would produce) and thus find my playing lacking in 'depth' (perhaps equating fleetness or speed with superficiality, to boot) - or boring, or outright incompetent. Others, still, find the detailing colourful and interesting, or (as you do, Mandryka) 'tense and turbulent'. That sort of spread is in the nature of aesthetic experience, as anyone who has eavesdropped on audience comments at any concert will know (unless an overwhelming consensus has previously been forged around the work of an artist - in which case many in the audience will predictably seek to perceive what they believe they are there to perceive)).

« Last Edit: May 13, 2022, 06:37:02 AM by Mandryka »
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Offline Todd

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Re: Schubertiade!
« Reply #122 on: May 13, 2022, 08:02:58 AM »
Aside from perhaps too many parentheticals, what Pienaar writes perfectly aligns with how his recordings sound, and aligns with his other writings.  I should note, if it was not clear, that I like his D537.  This is not my first go-round with his Schubert, or Jia's, it's just the first time I've sat down and listened with enough attention to try to describe what I hear.
The universe is change; life is opinion. - Marcus Aurelius, Meditations

People would rather believe than know - E.O. Wilson

Offline Todd

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Re: Schubertiade!
« Reply #123 on: May 14, 2022, 04:38:42 AM »
D568

Jia – Light, playful, and fast, fast, fast in the Allegro molto, which sure seems more like a Presto, Jia goes for a no-frills approach, and though she slows way down for the outer sections of the Andante molto, she retains a sense of urgency even here.  The last two movements end up slightly slower than the opening movement, but they sound direct and close to hard-hitting.  One might wish for more rhythmic flexibility at times.

Pienaar –  Pienaar goes for a slower, though still swift, opening Allegro molto, and he plays with much more dynamic and rhythmic flexibility than Jia, and though tonal beauty is not really something Pienaar often focuses on, here his playing sounds quite lovely at times.  Until the closing Allegro moderato, Pienaar plays with a gentler touch than expected, and even in the last movement he keeps things light.  And that left hand playing delights.

The universe is change; life is opinion. - Marcus Aurelius, Meditations

People would rather believe than know - E.O. Wilson

Offline Todd

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Re: Schubertiade!
« Reply #124 on: May 15, 2022, 04:17:15 AM »
D575

Jia – Jia scales things up in the opening bars of the Allegro ma non troppo, then moves to swift but rhythmically foursquare playing.  After some extra beefy left hand playing, Jia ends up playing with more flexibility as the coda approaches.  Jia relaxes her playing in the Andante and delivers tonal beauty and a gently lilting rhythm at times before pepping things up with potent accenting in the Scherzo. 

Pienaar – Pienaar again maintains a nice degree of flexibility, and he refrains from jittery playing, though he emphasized some left-hand chords, presaging D784, while always playing with admirably clarity at all times.  The clarity tips into hyper-detailed, almost amusical playing in the Andante as the notes emerge clear as day but without sounding related.  The Scherzo cruises along nicely, but it is in the Allegro giusto that Pienaar combines everything in a supremely satisfying manner, with perfectly weighted accents, zippy energy, rhythmic verve, and a jittery feel that lends a sense of giddiness to the music. 
The universe is change; life is opinion. - Marcus Aurelius, Meditations

People would rather believe than know - E.O. Wilson

Offline Todd

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Re: Schubertiade!
« Reply #125 on: May 16, 2022, 05:08:27 AM »
D664

Jia – One of my favorite Schubert sonatas since it is basically a stream of beauty.  But some pianists add a bit more tension than others, and Jia does that.  To be sure, in her second recording of the piece, her playing in every movement sounds lovely, but her potent accents in the Allegro moderato and tense accelerando in the middle section of the Andante add a little something extra.  She then adds some extra zippiness to the Allegro, which acts as a pianistic equivalent of the perhaps over-vitalized conducting of Schubert’s Third by Carlos Kleiber.

Pienaar – Pienaar takes the opening Allegro moderato slower than Jia and adds some extra weight and (perhaps faux?) depth to the playing, taking it beyond its purely lovely sounding ideal.  Also, his occasionally insistent but not overwrought accenting may detract some.  But here Pienaar does show he can play beautifully with the best of them.  This gets reinforced in the calm, lovely Andante, which exhibits a sort of suspension of time feel in places.  Unsurprisingly, the Allegro finds the pianist adding personal touches throughout.  It can become distracting, or it could if he did not make such a compelling case.  This movement of this sonata may end up being a good, quick way to determine if one like his style in the cycle as a whole.
The universe is change; life is opinion. - Marcus Aurelius, Meditations

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Offline Todd

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Re: Schubertiade!
« Reply #126 on: May 17, 2022, 04:03:57 AM »
D784

Jia – Both Jia’s and Pienaar’s style suites D784, and Jia delivers the forte goods.  She does so in a slow overall Allegro giusto (just under fourteen minutes), where she maintains a steady overall tempo, not speeding up appreciably when she starts hammering.  The mien of the movement becomes more somber, even like a funeral march in places.  Jia plays the Andante in similarly slow and steady fashion, and of course lets the beauty come out.  In the Allegro vivace, she speeds up a bit but still keeps the overall tempo slower than some others, and in the loudest passage she really hammers out the music, playing as powerfully as in the first movement.

Pienaar –  Pienaar goes for a just over twelve-minute Allegro giusto, and while he starts off sounding only a bit quicker, the thundering passages end up sounding rushed and twitchy, and some of the playing borders on the ugly.  Now, generally, that could be a negative thing, but not here.  Pienaar turns that jittery, aggressive style into something that grabs and holds the listener.  Pienaar slows down suitably in the Andante, and while it sounds serious and lovely enough, it lacks that special something Jia brings.  The Allegro vivace, though, alternates between almost crazy fast and loud playing and slower, gentler playing. 
The universe is change; life is opinion. - Marcus Aurelius, Meditations

People would rather believe than know - E.O. Wilson

Offline Todd

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Re: Schubertiade!
« Reply #127 on: May 18, 2022, 04:01:10 AM »
D845

(Jia did not record D840, so no comp is possible for that sonata.)

Jia – A sonata suited to Jia’s style, she does not disappoint in this, her second recording of the piece.  She does not take an all guns blazing approach in the Moderato, instead playing the most intense passages with ample intensity and speed but she lets some passages breathe and then goes for some dramatic build ups.  Jia delivers a superb set of variations in the Andante poco moto, with some of the playing sounding just plain fun, but some more forlorn and lovely.  The Scherzo has spunk in the outer sections, while the trio sounds attractive, and the concluding Rondo has rhythmic bounce to it. 

Pienaar –  When I first got Pienaar’s cycle, I fully expected D845 to be a high-speed, hard-hitting version to rival Friedrich Gulda’s teeth-gnashing version, but Pienaar offers something different.  The opening Moderato is a few seconds faster than Jia’s, but the playing almost always sounds slower.  Pienaar still manages to impart a sense of urgency to much of the playing, but it is not in the listener’s face.  He tinkers with the music so much in the at times jittery Andante poco moto, with tense slower variations and hyper-caffeinated faster variations riddled with quicksilver arpeggios, that some listeners may dislike it even more than I dig it.  The jitteriness, and bite and impact, comes in the outer sections of the Scherzo and the concluding Rondo, where Pienaar lets rip.  The playing is too lithe and pointed to truly pulverize, but it packs a punch.
The universe is change; life is opinion. - Marcus Aurelius, Meditations

People would rather believe than know - E.O. Wilson

Offline Todd

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Re: Schubertiade!
« Reply #128 on: May 19, 2022, 04:03:51 AM »
D850

Jia – Jia plays the Allegro vivace with ample forward drive and energy, and some of the playing ends up sounding a bit congested and pushed to the limit, though at some points her independence of hands illuminates inner voices very nicely, and the coda boogies.  Jia keeps up the pep and boogie in the Con Moto, and in the second section pushes forward at near breakneck speed, while in the Scherzo she keeps up the peppiness while adopting a not so rushed style.  Jia launches the Rondo as a playful march, and she keeps the music delightfully, well, light right on through to the end. 

Pienaar –  Pienaar goes for broke in an exaggerated Allegro vivace, where every aspect of the playing is overdone.  Rubato here, there, and everywhere; subtle and not-so-subtle desynchronization of hands; overdone accents; the works.  And it works – if one enjoys OTT playing.  Pienaar slows way down in the Con Moto, and delivers the pianistic equivalent of an x-ray, while maintaining enough rhythmic drive to keep the music afloat.  Exaggeration remains a key component in the Scherzo, with sforzandi and halting, almost drunken dance rhythm dominating.  Having gone with an exaggerated approach, Pienaar keeps at it in the Rondo, with an almost gentle, playful first section and stormy and well-articulated second section.  As interventionist as Schubert playing get – well, OK, that’s still probably the realm of Tzimon Barto – and it works splendidly.  YMMV.

The universe is change; life is opinion. - Marcus Aurelius, Meditations

People would rather believe than know - E.O. Wilson

Offline Todd

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Re: Schubertiade!
« Reply #129 on: May 20, 2022, 03:37:37 AM »
D894

Jia – Jia goes for the slow, repeat included opening Molto moderato e cantabile where the dynamic limitation of the recording hinders things a bit.  Jia’s left hand playing becomes the focus of the listening quite frequently, though not due to prominence, and the cantabile designation sounds lacking when compared to, say, Lifits.  In the Andante, Jia plays the slower music in attractive fashion, but she seems more at home in the trios with their greater bite, which gets reinforced in the Menuetto, where she belts out some of the playing.  Here, though, the trio has superb clarity of voices, allowing one to follow everything with ease.  Really nice.  The Allegretto comes off nicely enough but doesn’t bring what some others bring.

Pienaar – Pienaar opts to exclude the repeat, which is unfortunate, but it sort of fits with what he delivers.  The opening sounds attractive enough, but he ratches up the intensity and speed as the climaxes approach and plays in intense, pulverizing fashion, rendering the music as intense as the hardest hitting passages of D784.  He very nearly does to this music what he does to Mozart’s, namely make it wilt under his assault.  The same occurs in the Andante, where the trios are blasted at the listener.  Fortunately, music and listener survive and thrive.  The same more or less holds throughout, though in the third movement Pienaar shows he can do beautiful with the best of them.   
The universe is change; life is opinion. - Marcus Aurelius, Meditations

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Offline Todd

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Re: Schubertiade!
« Reply #130 on: May 21, 2022, 05:39:36 AM »
D958

Jia – Jia’s second recording more or less sounds like a live version of her studio effort: anodized aluminum in a comfy suede glove, fast and fairly intense, less concerned with beauty.  It works with this sonata, especially since here Jia takes her time with the Adagio and generates both beautiful tone and a sense of spontaneity.

Pienaar –  Pienaar goes further than Jia.  The opening Allegro sounds aggressive, with Pienaar pulverizing the keyboard and rushing forward, generating a sense of utmost urgency.  The coda brings a sense of relief.  The pianist slows way down in the Adagio, but beauty is in short supply.  Pienaar keeps things tense, with the left hand playing simultaneously slow and jittery.  There’s never a sense of really letting up.  Same with the tense Menuetto.  The concluding Allegro is one of the most unyielding, tense, nervous, almost violent takes I’ve heard, with Pienaar letting up as needed in a couple almost dreamy passages.  But this is a grueling gallop.  A superb, hard-hitting version.
The universe is change; life is opinion. - Marcus Aurelius, Meditations

People would rather believe than know - E.O. Wilson

Offline Todd

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Re: Schubertiade!
« Reply #131 on: Today at 04:55:46 AM »
D959

Jia – Jia’s forward moving style in the Allegro creates ample energy and heft, creating pianistic weight and drama without weighing down the music, even if it ends up some limited in expression.  The Andantino, though, sounds slow and searching in the outer sections, forlorn but not defeated.  The middle section is delivered with sturm und drang, and the transition to the final section is just masterful.  The outer sections of the Scherzo sound jaunty while in the trio, Jia plays the left-hand parts with slightly exaggerated accents and a just a bit off but just right rhythmic sense, and the Rondo marries lyricism, fluid rhythm, with a fine blending of lightness and storminess. 

Pienaar – The Allegro manages to sound faster and cleaner while also imparting an almost quasi-(chamber)-orchestral feel to the chords.  Nice.  Pienaar does sort of rush some of the music, but it exhilarates.  Or perhaps maddens, take your pick.  After such a zippy, at times almost manic opener, the Andantino sounds solemn and very slow to start, and Pienaar maintains the tension until he gets to an almost manic middle section starting with a nutso fast buildup.  It shan’t be everyone’s cup of tea, but that’s fine.  In the Scherzo, Pienaar surrounds a lurching trio with faster outer sections where he can’t help but tinker with tempo, to good effect.  The Rondo displays the back and forth between more standard playing and jittery playing likely to thrill some and annoy others.  An invigorating take.
The universe is change; life is opinion. - Marcus Aurelius, Meditations

People would rather believe than know - E.O. Wilson