Schubertiade

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Todd_A

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Schubertiade
« on: 5 Feb 2016, 03:46 am »



I do love me some Schubert solo piano music.  After Beethoven and Debussy, Schubert is probably the composer I listen to most in the solo piano repertoire.  The sonatas from D664 on, the Impromptus, the Wanderer Fantaisie, the Moments Musicaux: I love ‘em all, and I always enjoy hearing both old favorites and new and, hopefully, fresh recordings.  With Andras Schiff’s new release of Schubert recorded on a fortepiano, I decided to buy not only his new disc – Schiff releases are basically mandatory purchases for me – but also to splurge and by a bunch of Schubert discs.  As it happened, this splurge also overlapped with my Italian market release splurge in the form of Michail Lifits’ twofer including D845 and D894. 

Schiff got the first spin.  Schiff’s Decca Schubert recordings are up there with the best to my ears, so when I saw that he recorded Schubert for ECM, I was most excited.  So far, irrespective of repertoire, I prefer Schiff’s ECM recordings to his earlier outings.  Alas, these recordings are on fortepiano.  Very few artists have been able to produce fortepiano recordings I really enjoy rather than endure.  Paul Badura-Skoda and Penelope Crawford manage the feat in Beethoven, but Paul Badura-Skoda’s Schubert isn’t my thing.  There’s something about Schubert’s writing that seems to beg for the longer sustain of a modern grand, for the beautiful legato that is possible.  And Schiff is a proper pianist!  Well, not really, not anymore.  His last release of the Diabellis included a recording on the same 1820 Brodmann used here, so he is exploring new instruments.  I generally do not read liner notes, but for this Schubert release he wrote an essay called “Confessions of a Convert” in which he expounds on why he now loves to perform on a fortepiano.  He seems convinced, and it is reflected in the playing.

The set includes six works.  The D817 Hungarian Melody gets things off to a good but not great start.  Part of the issue is getting used to the sound.  The Brodmann seems to produce no high treble at all.  It produces a dull sound.  However, the closely miked recording also reveals all manner of little details throughout.  But the piece, not my favorite to begin with, never jells.  Things pick up in D894.  The instrument definitely lacks the power or sustain of a modern grand, but Schiff more than period specialists I’ve heard, manages to play with a good amount of power where needed, and the instrument ends up being more about quiet playing, allowing for all manner of subtlety in the slow movement.  Schiff is just the guy to bring it out.  The Moments Musicaux that end the first disc ends up being the highlight of the set.  The lack of sustain allows Schiff to play some passages with a soft bluntness, lending a darker hue at times, but he also manages to make some of the pieces sound quite lyrical, despite the instrument. 

The second disc starts off with the D915 Allegretto, which sound just dandy, and then moves to the D935 Impromptus.  Schiff manages much the same feat as with D780.  The set ends with D960.  Here the shortcomings of the instrument are inescapable in the opening movement, which sounds too small, and the bass trills, for the most part, too plain.  That written, as the movement progresses, Schiff uses the ability of the piano to stop on a dime to good effect.  The second movement sort of becomes the more intense center of the work.  I write sort of because, while it does not become the center of the work, the Scherzo is one of the most amazing, mesmerizing takes I’ve ever heard.  I don’t know if Schiff uses the moderator pedal throughout, or what else he may be doing, but the playing is gossamer light, swift, incredibly clear and well articulated, and just whizzes by.  It’s breathtaking and brilliant.  The final movement is more earthbound but still more than excellent.

For me, with my limited exposure to HIP Schubert, Schiff now sets the standard, though there is no doubt that I prefer the sound of a modern grand and I will continue to listen to Schubert that way for the most part.  This release does make me hope that Schiff revisits Mozart using the Brodmann, or perhaps some other period keyboard.  Perhaps he can do there what he does here. 

Sound is ECM’s best.


THROWBACK

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Re: Schubertiade
« Reply #1 on: 5 Feb 2016, 01:24 pm »
Thanks for the wonderful writeup. When I hear great piano playing I am torn between the inspiration to go practice harder and the despair that makes me want to take an axe to my Steinway-B. Lately, I have been sharpening my axe.

FullRangeMan

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Re: Schubertiade
« Reply #2 on: 5 Feb 2016, 01:43 pm »
András Schiff is a wonderful pianist.
I prefer the modern piano not the Pianoforte, it sound outdone to my ears.

Todd_A

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Re: Schubertiade
« Reply #3 on: 7 Feb 2016, 03:55 pm »




This disc represents my first exposure to David Fray's playing.  I've seen Mr Fray described as this century's Ivo Pogorelich.  I took that to mean that he's a young, handsome fella with luxurious and stylish hair who plays idiosyncratically.  I'll leave it to gentle readers to assess his looks, but I will say that his playing is idiosyncratic.  As I have not heard Pogorelich play any Schubert, I would say that a better comparison would be Tzimon Barto, but only to an extent.  Fray very much appears to belong to the Slow Is Profound school of interpretation, at least for this disc.  Every piece is slower than normal.  Noticeably slower.  Rather like Mr Barto, Fray stretches some passages way out, but unlike Mr Barto, Fray never breaks the musical line.  In addition to playing slow, Fray also revels in playing quietly.  Very quietly at times.  His pianissimos are delicate yet colorful, and his dynamic gradation from piano to pianissimo is at least the equal of any other pianist I've heard. 

Fray also has two more tricks up his sleeve.  First is his ability to play slow and loud.  Maybe not fortissimo, but definitely forte.  Often, pianists speed up when playing loud, but Fray can maintain a proper Adagio tempo and still play loud.  That written, it's more impressive than effective.  Second, even when playing slow, Fray can impart forward momentum and notable rhythmic flair.  This is both impressive and effective. 

The set includes the Moments Musicaux, and coming right after Andras Schiff's new recording, it offers quite a contrast.  This is an unabashedly pianistic take.  Fray deploys the resources of a modern grand without hesitation, and to good effect.  I prefer Schiff, though not by a huge margin.  It also offers a repeatless Allegretto D915, and here it's a toss up.  The D899 Impromptus are well played, but here the idiosyncratic nature of Fray's playing is not as effective.  Nothing is bad, and I will absolutely be listening again multiple times – playing with this many ideas is hard to resist for a few reasons – but, at the current time, I can't say that this work or the others are the best out there.  But I feel compelled to hear more from Mr Fray.  As it happens, his newest Schubert disc is in my queue.

Todd_A

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Re: Schubertiade
« Reply #4 on: 10 Feb 2016, 03:13 am »



Hanna Shybayeva is a name new to me.  She's a Belarusian pianist now based in Germany.  She has won various awards, performed with various second- and third-tier orchestras and conductors, and made a few recordings.  I decided to give her Schubert a try.

The disc opens with D959 and closes with D784.  Shybayeva appears to belong to the Slow Is Profound school of interpretation.  This is especially true during quieter passages, where she stretches out phrases and sections to a notable but not exceptional degree.  During louder passages, she tends to speed up.  Her dynamic range is decent but not great, her quiet playing is decent but not great, her tonal palette is limited but not bad.  She doesn't botch any passages, but she doesn't bring anything particularly memorable to them, either.  Her Schubert sounds nice, but it is not gorgeous, it is not aggressive (or not enough, especially in the opening of D784), it is not lyrical, it is not deep, it is not dark.  It is just sort of there. 

Todd_A

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Re: Schubertiade
« Reply #5 on: 13 Feb 2016, 03:36 pm »



Alright, I'll 'fess up: Sometimes I do judge a book by its cover, as it were, and I buy recordings based on what can be faulty assumptions.  A case in point: Hideyo Harada's Schubert.  I saw a shot of a diminutive, female Japanese pianist, and I thought she would play in a measured, tonally lovely, and refined way.  In other words, I was expecting Ikuyo Nakamichi.  That is not what I got.  The disc opens with the Wanderer Fantisie, and Harada's playing is fast(-ish), strident, and intense.  This is muscular Schubert, punching its way forward.  Harada does slow down in the Adagio quite a bit, but perhaps just to catch her breath.  For all the loud, bright, and clangorous playing, the dynamic range isn't huge, and the playing is not exactly the height of subtlety, nor of clarity.  At the start of the year, I picked up Jean-Rodolphe Kars' version, which is almost otherwordly and is pretty much the polar opposite of this.  His version is one of the greatest I've heard.  This one is not.  It could work in lieu of a triple espresso to wake a tired listener, though.

The second work is the big D960.  By big, I mean long.  Forty-six big ones long, starting off with an over twenty-two minute Molto moderato.  To Harada's credit, the movement does not drag, and she can and does hammer home the loudest passages to good effect.  Unfortunately, the playing lacks subtlety much of the time, and more important yet, depth.  Despite the great length of the opener, the second movement seems to be the heart of the work for Ms Harada.  Her playing is more focussed and she seems to deliver the big picture of the movement, if perhaps not the piece.  It has some searching, effective, moments, too.  The Scherzo is likewise very good, though coming so soon after Andras Schiff's near-paradigm shifting take, it is clear how much better can be had.  The final Allegro is peppy and energetic, with an assertive, biting coda.  Not bad.  Not great.

Ms Harada is certainly a talented pianist, and for those who want their Schubert hard and steely, this could be the ticket.  I'm not averse to this style – Kovacevich's recorded Schubert is hardly dainty and is among the greatest of all – but Harada has waded into territory where the heaviest of heavyweights rule, and while she has a heavyweight sound, I prefer quite a few others in both works.

Audite's 24/44.1 PCM to DSD transfer sound is bright and clear in the SACD layer and has good dynamic range, but it is not as good as the best redbook piano recordings I own. 

Todd_A

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Re: Schubertiade
« Reply #6 on: 16 Feb 2016, 06:14 pm »




So light, so clean.  That's the first thing that came to my mind listening to D664 as played by George Emmanuel Lazaridis, and I kept thinking it.  The delightful little sonata here is more light than delight.  Lazaridis keeps it lyrical, and he doesn't perfume the playing with lots of sustain.  That can be good or not so good, depending on taste, and for me, the piece doesn't produce a beautiful sound that I can luxuriate in.

The Wanderer Fantasie is a bit heftier, but still light, and man does Lazaridis take the opening movement fast.  His playing remains a model of clarity, and the energy level stays high (but not Hideyo Harada high) througout.  He slows down for the Adagio, and plays in most appealing, if again relatively lightly pedaled fashion.  His climaxes sound undernourished, though, which seems to be due to the recording.  As he plays the last two movements, Lazaridis' clarity remains exceptionally good, and one can follow the left hand playing with ease, and the repeated right hand figurations near the end are sharp and oh so clean. 

D960 closes the disc out.  Lazaridis' tempo choices are pretty conventional, and the light sound doesn't do much to make the opening movement dark.  With the remarkable independence of hands displayed here, the left hand is as easy to follow as the right, which at times may be too much of a good thing.  In Schubert, melody is ultimately the thing for me.  I will say that his rubato is tasteful and effective, but his bass trills are (perhaps) too light, and the movement as whole never transcends its best moments.   Lazaridis makes the Andante sostenuto the centerpiece of the work, and here it is downright lovely and at times nearly hypnotically serene.  This is some great playing.  The Scherzo is light and fleet (but it has the bad luck to be heard so soon after Schiff's version), as is, for the most part, the Allegro.  Lazaridis' Schubert overall is light and classical, though individual, in nature.  I can enjoy this style, but, the Andante of D960 aside, the disc never really tickled my fancy.

About that recording, on my system, and in my room, the piano sounds small and light in the lower registers most of the time, and climaxes never really achieve a satisfying sense of scale.  While I doubt Lazaridis plays with a huge, rich sonority in person, I get the feeling he doesn't sound quite like what I heard on the disc. 

rpf

Re: Schubertiade
« Reply #7 on: 16 Feb 2016, 06:39 pm »
Nice reviews, thanks. I'll have to explore some of these discs to add to my favorites: Kempf, Brendel, Lewis, Lupu, Schiff, and Fiorentino.

Todd_A

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Re: Schubertiade
« Reply #8 on: 18 Feb 2016, 02:46 am »




Hot damn!  I had reservations about David Fray’s prior Schubert disc, but I have no reservations here.  The best analogy I can think of is to proper exposures in photography.  Sometimes, even slightly under- or overexposed images can take away some of the impact of a photo, but when the exposure is perfect, the photo is perfect.  If perhaps Fray’s playing on the prior disc was slightly underexposed, here it is properly exposed, and with the Zeiss-like perfection of his playing, this disc is a keeper, and then some.

The disc opens with D894.  Fray's tempo is just a bit slow, but rarely have I heard the first movement flow so perfectly.  Fray's emphasis throughout is on melody.  The left hand playing, while clear and perfectly controlled, is subdued.  Whether that's the playing or the piano or the recording, or some combination of all three, I don't know, and while it ultimately constrains the loudness of the climaxes, it does not in any way hinder the music.  If anything, it creates a self-contained sonic world where everything is proportioned just right, and beauty reigns supreme.  The Andante flows along much the same way, and Fray does put a bit more oomph into the loudest passages.  The Menuetto likewise flows smoothly and beautifully.  The Allegretto is astoundingly good.  Brisk, crisp, and beautiful the whole time, Fray snaps out some chords with a simultaneously firm and gentle touch, imparting what I can only describe as charming wit.  This D894 is right up there with the very best.

Fray follows this up with a Hungarian Melody D817 that is essentially perfect.  It far transcends Andras Schiff's new recording, not least because of Fray's almost unlimited nuance in the right hand playing. 

The next two works are for piano four hands, and here Fray is joined by one if his teachers, and Debussyan of note, Jacques Rouvier.  The D940 Fantasie remains somewhat small in scale, as well as generally light in tone, with a lively Scherzo.  Fray and Rouvier can and do build up tension and scale nicely on occasion, as in the fugue near the end.  The Allegro D947 concludes the disc.  It's a piece I've only listened to a few times before from the Pires/Castro duo.  Fray and Rouvier impart liveliness and intensity in equal measure, and the textures sound comparatively thick, but the Schubertian melodiousness remains.  It's a strong closer.  (The duo pieces are good enough, D940 especially, that I wish more versions were out there.  I've got a few other versions – Lupu/Perahia, a couple with Pires – but these are good enough to warrant more recordings for obsessive collectors.  Maybe Mr and Mrs Herbert Schuch will get around to recording these, and other, works.)

This is a superb disc, one of the best I've bought this year, and proof that the erstwhile majors can, on occasion, still crank out tip-top shelf stuff.  I will be exploring more of Fray's recordings.  Now, when will he record with his father-in-law?

mresseguie

Re: Schubertiade
« Reply #9 on: 25 Feb 2016, 03:10 pm »
Todd,

Thank you. I'm learning - ever so slowly.  :thumb:

Michael

Todd_A

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Re: Schubertiade
« Reply #10 on: 26 Feb 2016, 02:54 am »




Jean-Claude Pennetier's twofer.  The first disc is given over to a 48 minute take on the G Major sonata, the longest of the versions in this glob of Schubert discs.  That's as long as Richter, but whereas Richter's overall duration is due mostly to the crazy long opening movement, Pennetier plays a longer than normal opening movement, and then plays every other movement noticeably slower than normal, too.  So, if you like slow for the sake of being slow, this recording should be short-listed.  The slowness is so pervasive that it begins to distract at times.  The opening movement does have some lovely and serene passages, but it also introduces Pennetier's mannerism of dynamic extremes.  The loudest passages are extremely loud, and most of the surrounding music is notably quiet.  This reaches its apex in the often hammered out Menuetto, where the constantly vocalising Pennetier also exaggerates right hand playing.  The final movement is oddly stilted much of the time.  This is an idiosyncratic and not particularly satisfying recording.

The second disc contains a longer than normal D959.  Here, the slower tempi aren't as pronounced, and the effect less deleterious.  In fact, the tempi don't cause any harm.  The first movement unfolds at a nice pace, though the extreme dynamic contrasts detract as in D894, but not nearly as much.  The overall feel, the overall mood sounds righter to my ears.  The Andantino is fantastic.  Here, Pennetier's dynamic contrasts do work, and his phrasing, his rubato, his balance of voices, his everything really works.  The playing is still mannered, but everything jells.  Likewise, the Scherzo works well.  The outer sections have nice rhythmic flair, and the trio is slow and introspective.  The occasionally liesurely Rondo flows along nicely, with nicely lyrical playing much of the time, but Pennetier plays some of right hand playing with a not unappealing flintiness at times.  This is definitely the more succesful of the two works in this twofer, and it has some real high points, but I can't say that it matches my favorites.  Sound is good but not SOTA.  A mixed bag.

MickeyBoy

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Re: Schubertiade
« Reply #11 on: 26 Feb 2016, 11:44 pm »

Hi Todd,

Like you I have become enchanted by Schubert's solo keyboard music. Last night, sleepy & after a few drinks I laid down to listen to Radu Lupu's D.845, the A minor sonata. A great admirer of M. Lupu I thought everything was done to as close to perfection as we can hear. If music has a story-line or  a coherent rhetoric, that was what I heard. I am not a pianist like you, but music is music. A wonderful experience. then I opened the disk tray and saw...that the pianist was Wilhelm Kempff in a 1965 DG recording. Terrific,always excited to hear something wonderful. FWIW.

Randy

Re: Schubertiade
« Reply #12 on: 6 Mar 2016, 04:01 am »



Have a dozen other Schubert sonata discs, but was never really able to get into it until I picked this set up.

Todd_A

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Re: Schubertiade
« Reply #13 on: 20 Mar 2016, 06:44 pm »
Lupu and Kempff, though decidedly different, are among the greatest of all Schubert performers.  I've long admired their work, and now I am on the lookout for someone else to match them.

Todd_A

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Re: Schubertiade
« Reply #14 on: 20 Mar 2016, 06:45 pm »




As if to offer a respite from slow Schubert, the lovely young Weiyin Chen offers a nicely brisk opening movement – or as brisk as a 17'39'' Molto moderao e cantabile can offer.  The slow passages are fairly conventional and quite lovely, but the faster playing is notably faster than the versions I've listened to the last couple weeks, and most other versions, too.  This quicker playing results in a less lovely tone and hints of metal, but that isn't make or break.  It would definitely be more of a make if the tension were ratcheted up even more.  The rest of the sonata is fairly conventional in terms of timing, and the approach is ever so slightly on the harder side, though never harsh or ugly.  There's some zest to the playing, the Allegretto, in particular.  I can't say that it matches Fray or Lifits or Schiff from this batch, nor does it match up to older established favorites.

Since this thread is all about Schubert, all I'll say about her Schumann is that it is quick, well played, and entertaining.  It can't really compare to Argerich or Levitzki, but that's a pretty tall order. 

Todd_A

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Re: Schubertiade
« Reply #15 on: 2 Apr 2016, 08:59 pm »



It's been years since last I listened to David Korevaar's LvB sonata disc, and my faded memory was of a talented pianist with a big sound and unique ideas.  If he didn't crack the top ten in any of the sonatas I listened to, he didn't need to.  Fast forward to 2015, and his nearly hot off the press recording of D894 and D959 on MSR caught my eye.  These are the same two sonatas that Pennetier covered, but Korevaar manages to squeeze both onto one disc, with time to spare.

Part of that is achieved through a brisk G Major sonata, without first movement repeat.  Almost everything else is there.  Korevaar makes the piece sing.  He plays with admirable clarity.  He arpeggiates some chords in both the opening and closing movements to good effect.  He plays with larger than average scale – no dainty playing this!  The one thing that is missing, or at least not as pronounced as it can be, is dynamics, particularly on the soft end, and especially in the opening movement.  While Korevaar never thunders unnecessarily, he also never seems to achieve a truly satisfying ppp sound.  Has David Fray spoiled me?  Anyway, this is something of a quibble, because overall the sonata is excellent.

D959 is better yet.  Korevaar's big sound imparts a sense of scale and drama that really works.  The opening movement is swift but not rushed, and turbulent but controlled.  The Andantino has some stark, cool playing in some passages, and Korevaar deploys some rubato that can catch the listener off guard, but it still works.  There are a couple times where some transitions seem a bit stiff, and this also occurs in the Scherzo, but in that movement, the energy, and sparkle up high and heft down low far more than offset a second or two that I wish were different.  The final movement largely alternates between really large scaled yet lyrical playing, and more subdued but admirably dextrous playing, especially in the melodies.  The whole thing is extremely fine.   

Sound for the disc is superb, and Korevaar's Shigeru Kawai sounds grand indeed.  This disc trounces Pennetier's twofer.  Perhaps neither performance here is a top five performance, or maybe even a top ten performance, but then, they do not need to be.  I must say after listening to this, I would really love to hear Korevaar take on the Brahms concertos. 

One additional quibble: movement timings are swapped for the two sonatas.  How hard is that to get right?
 

Todd_A

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Re: Schubertiade
« Reply #16 on: 24 Apr 2016, 07:35 pm »



I decided to try another "complete" set of Schubert's piano sonatas, and from among the few remaining near-complete and complete sets I have yet to hear, I opted for Martino Tirimo's because, well, because it is cheap.  And it's of the more complete than normal variety, spread out over eight discs and including incomplete sonatas, fragments, and the like.  My only prior exposure to Tirimo was his Debussy, which is probably the softest edged Debussy I've heard.  It's attractive but rather dull.  His Schubert, it turns out, kind of is, too.  There's not one bad performance in the lot.  There are even a couple really good ones: D894 is probably the highlight of the set, lyrical and dramatic in proper measure, and D960 is comparatively intense.  Throughout, everything is sensibly paced, dynamics and clarity are good, the music sings when it should, and so on.  But with the two exceptions mentioned, and maybe a movement here or there, the playing rarely held my attention.  It's another set where there's nothing exceptionable but nothing exceptional, either.

Not really helping matters is sound: it sounds as though the set was recorded in an airplane hangar.

CanadianMaestro

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Re: Schubertiade
« Reply #17 on: 26 Apr 2016, 11:04 am »
The D.960 is my fav piano sonata of all time. I must have 15 recordings, from Kempff, Goode, Brendel, Lupu, Schiiff, Pires, Buchbinder, etc. The deep bass left hand rumble in the first mvt, is key to the piece's darkness. Schubert knew he was dying when he wrote this. The rumble symbolizes Death approaching from a distance. A bit like Beethoven's Fate Knocking motif in his 5th symphony.

Anyways, here is an album that is absolutely divine -- some Schubert songs and sonatas, adapted for guitar and strings (vocals too).

(I can't seem to insert images here. Sorry).