Lieder Ohne Worte

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Todd_A

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Lieder Ohne Worte
« on: 13 Jan 2016, 01:47 am »
In anticipation of hearing Michael Endres' release of Mendelssohn's complete* Lieder ohne Worte – a release I have exceedingly high expectations for – I decided to try a variety of recordings of Mendelssohn's collection of miniatures.  I will be revisiting Daniel Barenboim's set, along with the recently acquired and listened to set by Roberte Mamou, along with eight others, at least to start.  (Turns out there are at least twenty complete sets available, and that seems a bit too many even for me.)  There are some gems in this music.  I might as well get started.


* Turns out that the standard set of 48 may not be “complete”.  Roberto Prosseda's set includes 56 pieces. 







Daniel Adni.  Using Daniel Barenboim as the baseline for timings, Adni is generally slower, most of the time only a bit, but sometimes a lot.  19/1 sets the pace with a very slow tempo, and a gentle, lovely tone and demeanor.  The first Venetian Gondola Song (19/6) is stretched out to almost three minutes – a full minute longer than Barenboim – and sounds melancholy, but it's hard to imagine this as a song of any kind.  The second (30/6) likewise takes over a minute more than Barenboim, while the third (62/5) is about forty seconds longer.  But for real long, there's the Duetto (38/6), which is over two minutes longer.  When one considers these are all miniatures, that's pretty darn long.

Adni can and does infuse more energy into playing works, with19/3 and 30/2 notable examples, and the Funeral March 62/3, while slow, has weight and seriousness aplenty.  The famous Spring Song is pure delight, as it should be, and the equally famous Spinning Song is delightful and energetic in proper proportion.  As Adni plays the later works, many of them become more refined and serious, and the playing reflects that well. 

The additional works included in the set match the Barenboim set, except with the more famous Daniel, the Kinderstucke Op 72 is also included.  Adni plays all the extras as well as he does the main works in the set. 

Adni's set is more or less comparable quality-wise to Barenboim's, though not as tonally rich.  Sound is early 70s SOTA transferred excellently to digital.  He's at least as good here, and maybe better, as in Grieg's Lyric Pieces.  Perhaps Warner will reissue all of Adni's recordings.  It looks like he's sort of the Andre Previn of piano music: a great or near-great performer of second tier works.

Todd_A

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Re: Lieder Ohne Worte
« Reply #1 on: 14 Jan 2016, 01:53 am »



Michael Korstick.  The two-disc set opens with a serious, bright, at times metallic, but always expertly executed Variations sérieuses.  The main attraction is similar.  Korstick is generally just a bit slower than Barenboim, but sometimes he's quicker.  He also manages to bring the beauty on occasion.  Right out of the gate, 19/1 is wonderfully paced and very attractive.  But then one hears a bit more of what the pianist is all about in the Hunt Song 19/3, which is dashed off quickly and to say effortlessly would overstate how easy it sounds.  Granted, these works are not virtuosic showpieces, but Korstick takes the opportunity to display his technique, without overdoing it.  The piano sound brightens up during the piece, too.  The first Venetian Gondola song sounds attractive enough, but then immediately Korstick noticeably outdoes that with a 30/1 that is lovely and, often, delicate.  The Duetto, nicely paced, displays a slight metallic patina that doesn't help it much.  And that patina keeps making appearances, seemingly randomly.  It can be viewed as adding a smidge of intensity, which is true, but for me it subtracts more than it adds.  That written, Korstick can and does deliver in some other pieces, notably the famous Spring and Spinning songs, which are played with the same uber-effortlessness of the Hunt Song.  Sound is close to SOTA.  A nice set, but not a top choice for me.

Todd_A

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Re: Lieder Ohne Worte
« Reply #2 on: 15 Jan 2016, 01:05 am »




Livia Rev.  Aside from a couple YouTube videos of a nonagenarian Ms Rev playing a couple pieces, I've heard nothing from this pianist until now.  This set showcases the playing of a younger Rev – she was around seventy at the time of the recordings.  Ms Rev plays with slower tempos than Barenboim, and her style is unabashedly romantic.  Her sound is warm, her tone rich with only the occasional hint of metal, her dynamics a bit narrower than the other sets I've heard up until now.  Each piece comes across as its own little musical world.  The faster pieces – 19/3 is a perfect early example – lack the energy of other readings, but they make up for it with a darker hued, more, well, more autumnal sensibility.  There's also a pervasive feeling of escaping the world of Mendelssohn miniatures to something bigger.  In some slower movements, the sound is sometimes Schubertian.  Perfect examples of this include the Venetian Gondola Songs, which here sound uncommonly somber, almost like sketches for discarded songs from Die Winterreise.  In some – many – faster or bolder pieces, the sound is more Schumannesque, and of the later Schumann variety, at that.

Sound is a bit distant, heavy, and slightly opaque, resulting in something akin to a wash of sound.  The effect is generally very pleasant.  This is warm blanket Mendelssohn.  I mean that as a compliment.  (Hell, who doesn't like warm blankets, especially in winter?)

Todd_A

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Re: Lieder Ohne Worte
« Reply #3 on: 16 Jan 2016, 12:25 am »




Balázs Szokolay.   Szokolay's set presents the works in chronological opus number order, but jumbled order within each set.  As such, the set opens with the 19/6 Venetian Gondola Song, which here sounds like a sorrowful waltz, with not so subtle and definitely not so unattractive rhythmic snap that none of the preceding sets display.  Szokolay's prominent rhythmic drive remains constant throughout, with snappier pieces really benefiting.  And while Szokolay doesn't deliver play with a lush or delicate tonal range, and does not really focus on little details, and his style can be forceful, with a “big” sound, the playing seems to flow better than, and avoids the metallic patina of, Michael Korstick's playing.  Szokolay's timings tend to be slightly longer than Barenboim's, but at no point is the playing anything other than energized and taut.  Again, this is not the most subtle playing around, sometimes pushing the music at the listener, but I found it effective.  Not a top choice, but a fun, full-blooded one.  I'd really like to hear Szokolay in showy Liszt and Beethoven and the Brahms concertos.  His Scarlatti disc may be worth investigating, too.  Recorded sound is clear and close. 

Randy

Re: Lieder Ohne Worte
« Reply #4 on: 16 Jan 2016, 03:05 am »
Excellent reviews. Thanks for posting.

Todd_A

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Re: Lieder Ohne Worte
« Reply #5 on: 16 Jan 2016, 11:18 pm »




Daniel Barenboim.  I figured I might as well revisit Barenboim's set.  Having listened to the set multiple times, it was better known from the start, but now, after hearing several other versions, its individual traits are more noticeable.  First, Barenboim tends to use swifter tempi than all prior sets in almost all works.  Only occasionally does it seem that maybe – and that's a maybe – he pushes some pieces just a bit too much.  Could the first Venetian Gondola Song, for instance, be just a tad more relaxed?  Sure.  Should it?  Not so sure.  The tendency to comparative swiftness makes some of the works sound just a bit tense, but never intense, and the lovely, full tone Barenboim coaxes from his piano, and the uniformly wonderful playing of the melodies, make each piece sound distinct.  Indeed, Barenboim manages to produce more variation in style between pieces than any preceding pianist.  One thing he does not do, at least like Lev on occasion, and Adni frequently, is lend greater depth to some of the pieces.  Maybe Adni adds things that are not there.  Perhaps Barenboim pursues surface beauty at the expense of something deeper.  Both approaches work.  Sound is excellent.  Barenboim's set holds up.

LesterSleepsIn

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Re: Lieder Ohne Worte
« Reply #6 on: 17 Jan 2016, 01:07 am »
I agree about the Barenboim and I enjoy the Schiff as well. I'm curious about the Heinz Holliger on ECM but haven't heard it yet. I'm a fan of ECM recordings so I guess I'll have to give it a try.
Regards,
Lester

Todd_A

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Re: Lieder Ohne Worte
« Reply #7 on: 18 Jan 2016, 03:20 am »





Roberto Prosseda.  Specialization has its benefits.  Until I decided to explore Lieder ohne Worte recordings, I can't recall seeing the pianist's name before, though I may have.  He's something of a Mendelssohn specialist, having recorded all manner of works, including a variety of rarities and even a good number of world premieres.  He's also something of a specialist in the pedal piano repertoire, but that's too gimmicky for me, so I'll just stick with his Mendelssohn, at least for now. 

The set opens with 19/1 delivered with lovely legato and a most singing sound.  So far, so good.  19/2 displays a unique, pronounced but still gentle left hand staccato at the end, and this trait appears again throughout the set.  The first Venetian Gondola Song is dark and rich and moody and subdued.  Rather than flowing smoothly throughout, Prosseda plays with a soft-edged staccato part of the time, and he lets the piece fade away to silence with a perfect touch.  (Or the engineers made it happen.)  30/9 has hints of a light, Mendelssohnian Kinderszenen-like piece.  The second Venetian Gondola Song is much like the first, and the way Prosseda dispatches the trills, ascending in volume with laudable precision, is unique and effective.  38/5, labeled agitato, is precisely that, with the beautiful warmth dropped for a more pointed, almost aggressive style, though it never sounds hard.  Prosseda uses this style for many of the faster pieces.  This is followed up by a lovely but taut Duetto, with rich bass notes underpinning the piece.  The Spinnerlied, like 38/5, forgoes warmth in favor of a more pointed approach, though it hardly sounds anything other than attractive. 

Overall, Prosseda uses tempi pretty close to Barenboim's.  Sometimes he's faster, sometimes slower, but he's usually not too far away.  In the slower, gentler pieces he deploys a lovely, smooth legato.  In many faster pieces, he's a bit more fiery, deploying a slightly more strident staccato.  One thing he definitely likes to do is use the pedals, and some pedal clomping can be heard throughout the set.  These alternating traits lead to some pieces having much clearer voices than others, though nothing is ever really opaque.  And certainly nothing ever sounds hard or ugly.  Prosseda does not offer the stylistic variation of Barenboim, but every piece is so thoroughly well prepared and thought out that the set is a joy from start to finish.  The extra eight Lied without opus number make a nice addition, and the fugues and the reconstructed Allegro con Fuoco, while not exactly mandatory listening, result in two generously filled out discs.  Sound is close, clear, and warm.  Overall, this set is at the same level as Barenboim and Adni.  I think I may give Prosseda's Schumann a shot.

Todd_A

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Re: Lieder Ohne Worte
« Reply #8 on: 19 Jan 2016, 02:45 am »




Ilse von Alpenheim.  A swift, light, lovely 19/1 characterized by fluid legato quickly gives way to a more pointed, lean, comparatively lightly pedaled and often bright and more than occasionally metallic sounding approach in the faster works that follow.  The first Venetian Gondola Song is stark.  The second and third ones, too.  Overly mellifluous Mendelssohn this is not.  Rather, it strikes me as a lighter, slightly “smaller” version of Michael Korstick, though of course, Mrs Dorati recorded her set much earlier.  The set is certainly consistent, never really wavering much in style, with no wallowing allowed at any time, and more attention lavished on structure than melody.  While tonal beauty isn't really Alpenheim's thing, good dynamic control certainly seems to be.  This dynamic control, married to more appealing than normal tonal beauty in the left hand playing, makes the Spring Song an unexpected delight.  While I doubt this set gets many repeat listens around these parts, I can see some listeners enjoying this slightly stern set for its lack of excess. 

Todd_A

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Re: Lieder Ohne Worte
« Reply #9 on: 20 Jan 2016, 02:10 am »





Daniel Gortler.  Who is Daniel Gortler?  Well, he's an Israeli pianist who has recorded next to nothing, and about whom little information is available.  He's a professor at the Buchmann-Mehta School of Music, and he has been performing for a good while, and performs a wide variety of core rep.  So far, so good, I guess.  This set was recorded in 1997, but the Romeo release is from 2006.  It's also the only release I own with Hebrew liner notes.

I wonder why it took so long for this set to get released, because really, everything just jells.  Gortler's playing is lyrical at all times, and when it is not wonderfully warm and rich, it is bright and colorful.  Dynamics are basically perfectly judged.  Tempi are slower on the whole than Barenboim's, but Gortler's choices all make perfect sense.  When he needs to be energetic, he is.  When he needs to play slow, he does.  When the music needs to be a bit darker, it is.  And above all, Gortler plays the pieces as if they are, in fact, songs.  Listening, it is almost always possible to think about a singer in the mix.  Every piece seems just right.  Perfect, even.  If the praise seems too effusive, I can't help it.  I think this may the one, the Lieder ohne Worte I cannot be ohne.  The last time I experienced such a perfect blend of everything was when I listened to Paul Badura-Skoda's LvB cycle on Astree, but I have no quibbles with this set. 

Sound is nearly ideal, offering a perfect perspective and just a bit of resonance.

I'd love to hear Gortler in as much Schubert as possible, but for now only a Schumann twofer appears to be available.  I'm pretty sure I'll be buying it.

Todd_A

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Re: Lieder Ohne Worte
« Reply #10 on: 21 Jan 2016, 02:20 am »




András Schiff.  A single disc, incomplete set, the first of two picked up for this survey.  I figured that Schiff should be almost ideal for these pieces, but my enthusiasm was a bit misplaced.  The first thing of note is the resonant and hard sound, with a few clangy passages thrown in, which are rare for Schiff.  The second thing of note is how serious Schiff makes these pieces sound.  These are not charming miniatures; these are significant, heavy pieces.  (Well, sort of.)  Schiff does manage to make a good chunk of the playing work, and he tends to adopt slow tempi – though sometimes too slow.  102/5 (Kinderstuck), usually a light, quick, purely charming piece, is here transformed into a slow meditation on an abstract notion of childhood.  It is not entirely successful.  He makes Rev seem light and frivolous.  Not a first choice at all, but Schiff's talent is such that his heavier-than-it-should-be approach ends up offering an intriguing slant on a few pieces.

Todd_A

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Re: Lieder Ohne Worte
« Reply #11 on: 22 Jan 2016, 03:19 am »




Rena Kyriakou.  Until now, my only experience with this pianist was her woefully recorded set of Chabrier's piano music, which also lacks a bit in the energy department.  (This is mostly when compared to Naida Cole's blockbuster recording of two Chabrier pieces; Chabrier recordings aren't exactly super-abundant.)  But I've read a few glowing comments about her Mendelssohn.  On evidence of this set, Mendelssohn is more her thing.  First of all, the recorded sound is more helpful.  While aged (it is from 1962), with some distortion and drop outs, it nonetheless conveys the qualities of Kyriakou's playing.  Second, no doubt aided by what sounds like a Bosendorfer, Kyriakou largely emerges as a full-blooded player of Mendelssohn's music.  The tempi aren't necessarily fast – and sometimes, like right out of the gate in 19/1, they are incredibly slow – but they are generally well judged, and Kyriakou makes everything sound big and robust.  Her playing tends to favor the melody over the accompaniment, with some nearly biting, often bright but never harsh right hand playing evident much of the time.  I can't say the playing is nearly as lyrical as someone like Gortler, nor as deep as Adni, but it works.  A pleasant, better-than-expected set. 

It appears that the set is available on YouTube, so there's no reason to pay even the Vox price for this one.

Todd_A

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Re: Lieder Ohne Worte
« Reply #12 on: 23 Jan 2016, 03:35 pm »




Roberte Mamou.  Revisiting the first set I listened to in this mini-survey.  After hearing so many different versions, Ms Mamou's comes across as a nice enough set.  It generally sounds nice.  It is generally lyrical enough.  It may be a bit serious at times, but it also is devoid of excess rubato or dynamic fiddling.  But ultimately it is a bit unmemorable.  It isn't bad, it just isn't what I'm listening for.  YMMV.

S Clark

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Re: Lieder Ohne Worte
« Reply #13 on: 23 Jan 2016, 05:45 pm »
Thanks for taking the time to write these impressions.  This is a work that I was unfamiliar with, not being a huge fan of Mendelssohn's larger works.  Looking around on ebay for vinyl, I'm struck by the lack of recordings by the 20th century giants... where are the Horowitz, Rubenstein, Richter, Van Cliburn versions??  I find Gieseking and that's about it. 

Todd_A

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Re: Lieder Ohne Worte
« Reply #14 on: 23 Jan 2016, 09:58 pm »
I'm struck by the lack of recordings by the 20th century giants... where are the Horowitz, Rubenstein, Richter, Van Cliburn versions??  I find Gieseking and that's about it.



Complete or even substantial sets are more of a recent phenomenon.  The greats of the middle of the last century didn't perform many cycles - even Beethoven - and to the extent they recorded Mendelssohn, it would have often been as encores and such.  Select Lieder Ohne Worte seemed to be somewhat more popular among some of the greats of the early part of the 20th century when 78s ruled - Hofmann, Friedmann, and Moiseiwitsch all recorded a few, for instance.  The Lieder Ohne Worte have never really been core rep as far as I can tell.

steve in jersey

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Re: Lieder Ohne Worte
« Reply #15 on: 24 Jan 2016, 12:18 am »
Not to throw a "wrench in the conversation" I was curious if any examples of "Orchestrations" of this music form exist .

I've heard some Orchestrations of smaller scaled works that ended up sounding much more interesting to myself than the original music form by far.

Todd_A

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Re: Lieder Ohne Worte
« Reply #16 on: 24 Jan 2016, 04:50 pm »




Christoph Eschenbach.  A second set of selections.  A perfect example of a recording being exactly what was expected.  Eschenbach's playing is predictably meticulous, generally beautiful, and he never delves deep.  It's pretty much all surface, which works well in this music.  Everything stays light.  In an all bon-bon collection, the sweetest treat is the no doubt too saccharine for some Op 19/1, which flows effortlessly for over four and a half minutes.  Second tier and quite enjoyable.  Good sound, but the remastering could be updated.

Kenneth Patchen

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Re: Lieder Ohne Worte
« Reply #17 on: 24 Jan 2016, 06:38 pm »
I have the Roberto Prosseda two disc Decca set that I like very much. Mischa Maisky has done a Songs Without Words recording as well that I'd like to hear.

Todd-A, are you the same Todd who wrote the 2003 Mendelssohn biography, sitting on my shelf across from me?

Best,
KP

Todd_A

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Re: Lieder Ohne Worte
« Reply #18 on: 24 Jan 2016, 07:11 pm »
Todd-A, are you the same Todd who wrote the 2003 Mendelssohn biography, sitting on my shelf across from me?



No, I'm not.  (I gather you are referring to R Larry Todd.)

Todd_A

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Re: Lieder Ohne Worte
« Reply #19 on: 26 Jan 2016, 02:41 am »



Michael Endres.  The set that kicked the whole thing off.  It took a couple years for this set to hit the market, but it's here now, and it's basically what I expected.  I decided to listen to Daniel Gortler play some of the works before sampling Endres, and while I still find Gortler to be my favorite pianist in these works, that doesn't mean Endres isn't superb, because he is.  His style differs from Gortler's.

First, his playing, on the whole, is a bit faster.  He plays slower in some pieces, but Endres does not ever stretch the pieces out.  Second, Endres pedals more sparingly.  Some might say more judiciously.  Endres does not produce one even slightly unpleasant sound throughout, but the playing lacks the warm beauty of Gortler's.  Third, Endres plays with greater clarity throughout.  The closer sound helps in this regard, as does the sparer pedaling, but with Endres, the focus seems to be on making sure that no detail is left unaddressed, that melody and accompaniment both receive their due.  Fourth, Endres plays with more precise dynamic and tempo gradations.  There's a slightly analytical feel, though that is not meant in a negative fashion.  It was uncommonly easy to listen to each disc all the way through.  And when the predictable highlights pop up – the darker hued Venetian Gondola songs, the Spring song, Op 67/4 (a highlight for me) – Endres delivers.

Overall, Endres joins the ''Top Tier'', but not the tip-top tier occupied by Daniel Gortler alone.  Fully modern sound, as expected for an Endres release.



--

I like to group recordings of sets, cycles, or individual works into loose tiers.  Below is how I would categorize the recordings here.  None of these sets are at all bad, which isn't always the case, but nor are they all equally good.  Anyway, it's not meant to be anything more than an informal way to group the recordings, for me.  YMMV.


Tip-Top Tier
Daniel Gortler


Top Tier
Roberto Prosseda
Michael Endres
Daniel Barenboim
Daniel Adni


Second Tier
Christoph Eschenbach
Livia Rev
Balázs Szokolay
Rena Kyriakou


Third Tier
Andras Schiff
Michael Korstick
Ilse von Alpenheim
Roberte Mamou