I used mostly my ears

a blog about music by Marc Haegeman


Leave a comment

Transcendental Liszt in double

Franz Liszt: Etudes d’exécution transcendante, S.139
Kirill Gerstein, piano
Myrios MYR019, SACD hybrid (64 min)

“Transcendental”
Franz Liszt: Etudes d’exécution transcendante, S.139; Two Concert Etudes, S.145; Three Concert Etudes, S.144; Grandes Etudes de Paganini, S.141

Daniil Trifonov, piano
Deutsche Grammophon 0289 479 5529 0 – 2 CD (66:04 & 51:24 min)

Franz Liszt most likely had his bit of fun when he published his Etudes d’exécution transcendante. Although his final edition from 1852 may be more accessible than its earlier incarnation, as is well known even these aren’t studies for the beginner or the advanced amateur, but fiendishly difficult pieces (Daniil Trifonov describes them as “technically challenging poems” or “existential meditations”) for virtuoso pianists at the top of their game, and then some. Performing all 12 Etudes live in concert has long remained a rare feat, still both pianists considered here have successfully accomplished this several times. It wasn’t so long ago that the Etudes were the exclusive domain of mature Liszt specialists who tackled them on disc as the crowning achievement in this repertoire. Yet, Kirill Gerstein is 36, Daniil Trifonov is barely 25, and these are their first Liszt-only discs. Times are changing.

These new discs recorded in the studio are superb achievements by any means and can be recommended wholeheartedly. Both Russian pianists share an irresistible joy of performing. They traverse the Etudes with seemingly effortless ease and find a convincing balance between jaw-dropping virtuosity and inspired musicality, drawing attention to the lasting value of Liszt’s oeuvre as the invention of the modern piano. Needless to say, there are differences too. Moreover, Trifonov’s generous “Transcendental” set for DG also gives us the 5 Concert Etudes and the Grandes Etudes de Paganini on a second disc.

Transcendental etudes

Gerstein performs Liszt

Kirill Gerstein is an intelligent, inquisitive musician. (He recently also set the record straight regarding the score of Tchaikovsky’s famous First Piano Concerto.) Gerstein clearly sees the Etudes as a coherent cycle to be played as a complete set, starting with the virtuosic try-out of the keyboard in the Preludio and culminating in the truly transcendental, modernist sonorities created in Chasse-Neige. Gerstein’s structural grip is obvious when considering the pieces individually, especially the more elaborate ones like Mazeppa, Ricordanza (in a terrific rendering), Harmonies du soir and Chasse-Neige, but is even more impressive when the cycle is heard in its entirety. As he explains in the informative interview published in the booklet of this Myrios release, it helps coming to grips with the Etudes by thinking of them as a collection of pairs, not just tonally but also by character. This approach sheds new light on the cycle, creating extra dramatic contrast.

Transcendental

Transcendental by Daniil Trifonov

While Daniil Trifonov also performs the complete Etudes d’exécution transcendante in concert, in this recording I was less struck by the coherence of the cycle than in Gerstein’s hands. Arguably most listeners won’t be bothered by this, because Trifonov’s pianism is such a stunner (he is more controlled and above all more accurate in the studio than live, and is also slightly better served by the engineers than Gerstein). His remains a tremendously exciting journey, always articulate and brilliantly colorful, but by his seemingly impromptu approach the individual character of the pieces tends to dominate the bigger architecture. Trifonov can be very theatrical, allying telling silences with fierce attacks or dazzling fusées, but I missed some of the gravitas that Gerstein sensitively conveys in the more melancholic passages. However, where Trifonov remains unequalled is by the lightness and transparency of his textures, weaving these ultra-delicate but flexible tapestries of sound in notably Paysage and Feux follets, as well as in the lyrical Concert Etudes La Leggierezza and Il Sospiro, and the impressionistic Waldesrauschen and Gnomenreigen. He also makes a very strong case for the underrated Paganini Etudes, including a very refined rendition of La Campanella, a marvelously handled Arpeggio and an eloquent La Chasse.

In short, these are utterly rewarding releases, new frontrunners in this repertoire that deserve a place in every serious Liszt or piano collection.

Copyright © 2016, Marc Haegeman


Leave a comment

Scandale

Francesco Tristano: A Soft Shell Groove
Igor Stravinsky: Le Sacre du printemps
Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakoff: The Story of the Kalendar Prince from “Scheherazade”
Maurice Ravel: La Valse

Alice Sara Ott & Francesco Tristano, piano
Deutsche Grammophon 4793541 DDD TT 61:56

Scandale from Ott and Tristano

Scandale from Ott and Tristano

The “Scandale” popping up in pink font on the cover of this CD refers to the 1913 premiere of Igor Stravinsky’s ballet The Rite of Spring in Paris, performed here in the composer’s version for piano duet. Never mind that the scandal – adroitly masterminded by impresario Sergei Diaghilev – had in fact more to do with Vaslav Nijinsky’s unconventional choreography than with Stravinsky’s music – the score survived unscathed, yet Nijinsky’s choreography was never seen again, until its resurrection in 1987 for the Joffrey Ballet. Pianists Alice Sara Ott and Francesco Tristano team up in what primarily looks like an homage to the visionary genius of Diaghilev and an extraordinary group of creative artists, who caused a hundred years ago with the Ballets Russes a shockwave in the arts world – one that clearly still ripples on.
Read the full review on Classical Net


Leave a comment

Abbado turns to Schumann

Robert Schumann: Symphony #2 in C Major, Op. 61; Overture “Manfred”, Op. 115; Overture “Genoveva”, Op. 81
Orchestra Mozart/Claudio Abbado
Deutsche Grammophon 4791061 DDD 59m

Schumann

Claudio Abbado plays Schumann

In the autumn of his career Claudio Abbado turns to Robert Schumann’s Second Symphony. Interestingly, this is a first for the 80-year old Italian maestro in spite of his profuse recorded legacy. Although he focused on Schumann repeatedly (the Piano and Cello Concerto, as well as lesser-known pages like the Scenes from Goethe’s Faust and the complete incidental music to Manfred), until now he never committed any of the Symphonies to disc.
Read the full review on Classical Net


Leave a comment

Pictures from Alice Sara Ott

Modest Mussorgsky: Pictures at an Exhibition
Franz Schubert: Piano Sonata in D Major, D. 850 (Op. 53)

Alice Sara Ott, piano
Deutsche Grammophon 4790088 DDD

Alice Sara Ott

Pictures from Alice Sara Ott

For Alice Sara Ott playing Mussorgsky’s Pictures of an Exhibition is like visiting an old friend. In the liner notes of her new CD called “Pictures”, she recalls how she was able to familiarize herself with the work during her student years at the Salzburg Mozarteum. I have heard her perform the Pictures on a couple of occasions in concert and there is no doubt she inhabits Mussorgsky’s various tableaux with confidence as well as insight. The current CD was recorded live during the White Night’s Festival in St. Petersburg in July 2012, where the sense of occasion was undoubtedly enhanced by the challenge to perform this quintessential Russian work before a Russian audience.
Read the full review on Classical Net


Leave a comment

Yundi is Back

Ludwig van Beethoven:
Piano Sonata #8 in C minor “Pathétique”, Op. 13
Piano Sonata #14 in C Sharp minor “Moonlight”, Op. 27 #2
Piano Sonata #23 in F minor “Appassionata”, Op. 57

Yundi Li, piano
Deutsche Grammophon 4765049 DDD 57m

cover of Yundi's Beethoven CD

Yundi – Beethoven

“YUNDI is back”. Some rock stars every now and then accomplish a comeback. So can classical pianists it seems. For the 30-year-old Chinese superstar Yundi Li the comeback might refer to a couple of things. First of all, a return to his first label, but also, one hopes, a return to his initial form and inspiration. This new Beethoven disc aims at both. Deutsche Grammophon was the label that originally signed him after his grand victory at the XIVth Chopin International Piano Competition in 2000 as a mere 18-year-old. Yet the road to massive international success, the rivalry with his flamboyant compatriot Lang Lang, also brought its setbacks and disappointments. From 2010 Yundi Li spent a couple of years with EMI Classics. He would henceforth go by the name of Yundi, yet the scheduled complete Chopin recordings never really took flight and he eventually retreated to China. But now he is back touring again, back with the yellow label and there is no way to miss it. DG publicity and the liner notes of the new CD spell his first name only in capital fonts, and of course YUNDI dwarfs little Beethoven on the cover of the disc.
Read the full review on Classical Net


Leave a comment

Batiashvili’s Brahms

Johannes Brahms: Concerto for Violin in D Major, Op. 77
Clara Schumann: 3 Romances for Violin & Piano, Op. 22

Lisa Batiashvili, violin
Alice Sara Ott, piano
Staatskapelle Dresden/Christian Thielemann
Deutsche Grammophon 4790086 DDD 48m

Lisa Batiashvili

Lisa Batiashvili plays Brahms

The Georgian violinist Lisa Batiashvili teams up for her second Deutsche Grammophon disc with the Staatskapelle Dresden and its principal conductor Christian Thielemann in this new recording of the Brahms Violin Concerto. The 33-year-old Batiashvili has quickly established herself as one of the most acclaimed and sought-after violinists of the day. She holds the position of “Capell-Virtuosin” in Dresden for the 2012/13 season, emphasizing her special relationship with the reputed orchestra and while falling short of being revelatory, her Brahms nonetheless makes a fine stand among the many reference recordings available.
Read the full review on Classical Net


Leave a comment

Blechacz pairs Debussy and Szymanowski

Claude Debussy:
Pour le piano
Estampes
L’Isle joyeuse
Karol Szymanowski:
Prelude & Fugue in C Sharp minor
Sonata in C minor, Op. 8

Rafał Blechacz, piano
Deutsche Grammophon 4779548 DDD

Rafal Blechacz

Blechacz pairs Debussy and Szymanowski

2005 Warsaw Competition winner Rafał Blechacz is mainly thought of as an outstanding interpreter of Chopin and the Viennese Classical School, yet anybody familiar with the concert performances of the young Polish pianist may have noticed his predilection for two other composers: Claude Debussy and Karol Szymanowski. Blechacz’ new Deutsche Grammophon CD isn’t perhaps so much of a surprise, but with playing of such constant quality, it’s no less welcome.
Read the full review on Classical Net