17 September, 2021

Streaming Classical 21-4 Ladies II

Streaming Classical (21-4): Ladies Under the Radar, Part II, Pianists

For Part II, I shall focus mostly on lesser known ladies, past and present. Since many current players have made new recordings, they do have some press exposure. However, I do think most of them deserve to be better known.

Given my long held preference for Russian pianists, I shall start with them. Tatiana Nikolayeva, Maria Grinburg and Maria Yudina are veritable legends who need no mention (For the latter, who survived Stalin against all odds, here is an incredible expose that will bring you to tears) . For those living, this blog has long sung praise of the great Elizabeth Leonskaja, who was highly regarded by no less a piano great than Sviatoslav Richter, has a vast repertoire and amassed quite a discography (on various labels) and there are virtually no duds among them. If I have to single out favorites, it'd be her Schubert (earlier on Teldec; now on eaSonus). Another whom I worship is Eliso Virsaladze, whose recordings are hard to find even on regular streaming platforms (youtube is best). She is very old now and and I am very happy to have heard her in Hong Kong.

Among the younger generation, there are quite a few that I avidly follow. Foremost is Zlata Chochieva. After hearing her magnificent album of transcriptions, some rarely heard, (re)creation (Accentus), I streamed her excellent recordings on Piano Classics, even dug out the few in big boxes (Brilliant Classics). Anna Vinnitskaya, whose wide affinities don't prevent her from making everything sound fresh, can be heard in excellent recordings on Alpha, Naive and others. Ditto Ekaterina Litvintseva, whose few recordings on Profil are musically solid and sonically fabulous. This excellent label also records Ekaterina Derzhavina, whose Bach, Haydn and Medtner are pristine. It is a shame Dina Ugorskaja, daughter of famous pianist Anatole, had passed away from cancer. Her unremittingly dark Schubert D.960 (CAvi-music) was her last testament. She has recorded a lot of Bach and Beethoven; while she interpretations can sometimes be wayward, I find a probing intellect, rather removed from the wanton distortions practiced by the likes of Kathia Buniatishvili. A bit off the beaten track is Olga Paschenko, whose brilliant recordings of Beethoven and Mozart (Alpha) on fortepiano are ear-openers, not a wee bit less interesting than her many male predecessors, like Badura-Skoda, Demus, Schiff and her own teacher, Lubimov. In fact, I like hers more, especially given the quality of her piano and the usual sonic excellence of Alpha.

If there is one thing many of these ladies have in common, it is that, though trained in Russia, they are all not based there now, rather in Western Europe, particularly Germany. That says a lot about state of the arts (and economy) in Russia. It also says a lot about state of the arts in Western Europe, as it seems there are now not that many German and French women pianists (other countries like Italy have always produced even fewer) of note (perhaps eclipsed by the Russian influx). It's interesting to note that Natalia Trull, who is a teacher in Leningrad, made only a set of highly acclaimed Prokofiev sonatas (Sorel). Perhaps if she had been based in the west, we'd have heard more of her.

While we are on Europe, quite a few outstanding pianists of Asian origin are based there. I'd like to recommend to you Germany trained and based Taiwanese Pi-Hsien Chen, who is an acknowledged modern music stalwart. But her Bach is valedictory, which I prefer to the well reviewed (and good) France-based Chinese-born Zhu Xiao Mei (I never take to Angela Hewitt, not to mention Rosalyn Tureck). Chen's first Goldberg Variations (Naxos) garnered much praise, her second (phil.harmonie) a little less, though I surely prefer the latter. Both are highly worthwhile renditions that I prefer to most, and that says a lot, as I never give up an opportunity to hear this piece, on any instrument or by any ensemble! Among the younger generation, my heart belongs to Chinese American Claire Huangci, whose wide repertoire is well recorded (Berlin Classics). Her Scarlatti is stunning, second to none (other than those 4 ancient EMI recordings by Horowitz). Regarding Chopin, her Concerto No. 1 is the best of its class, and I have heard them all. Her well-reviewed Nocturnes are very different from any other (this musicweb review goes into technical aspects) and demands attention: those looking for expansive romanticism may demur but those with an open mind may find it challenging. Very different from the Engerer mentioned below. Her Scene by the Brooks in Beethoven/Liszt is mesmerizing. I will follow this pianist as closely as I can. Finally, I am impressed by the pianism of Chinese Zuo Zhang, pianist of the formidable Z.E.N. Trio (DG); I hope the pandemic shall not fracture these precious alliances. She does not have many solo recordings but I am going to hear her solo concert in Shenzhen in a few weeks.

The odd woman out here is nominally French Bridgette Engerer, who passed away too early due to cancer. Born in colonial Algeria, educated in France; BUT, in 1969, at the height of the cold war, when she was 17, already quite accomplished, she went to Moscow to study with the likes of Henryk Neuhaus. She was a sensation in Moscow, where everyone wanted to get out, not in. Needless to say, her style was not the venerated French Jeu Perle of Jean-Marie Darre, but rather much fuller sounding. Neuhaus had high regards for her, and she should be considered in the Russian tradition. She made many recordings for many labels and most are excellent. Sample her Chopin and Schubert transcriptions to start. I cannot but help to quote an Amazon reader who gave 5 stars for her "Transcendant pianism" in her  wonderful set of Chopin Nocturnes (Harmonia Mundi): "...While browsing youtube snippets of Chopin and Rachmaninov I often come across their famous compatriots, Frederik Chopping and Surge Toomuchof - even in the hands of acclaimed interpreters! What a relief, then, to come across Brigitte Engerer's wonderfully played accounts of the Chopin Nocturnes. No unwanted chopping or surging here! why cannot so many fine pianists retain their rhythmic discipline when it comes to a repeat - enter the great Surge! Or when they embark on fast runs up and down the keyboard - enter the mighty Chopping! Here, with the first notes of the first nocturne, you know you are in safe hands. There is a wonderful lyricism tempered by gravitas; a weight of utterance that yet never drags the music down. Surely a good sign is when you feel the pianist has taken you on a significant journey, even if only a couple of minutes long. Brigitte achieves this again and again, leaving me with a sense of having visited another world. Have Rubinstein et al achieved better than this?..." Incidentally, her sister-in-law is Anne Queffelec, a very good pianist (Erato and Virgin).

And now back to the legion of accomplished ladies of the "French school" (classification of ephemeral nature; just consider how different Cortot is from Nat, and they were both major pedagogues; and neither play in jeu perle fashion). Legends include Yvonne Lefebure, Jean-Marrie Darre (who US listeners are more familiar with as many of her recordings were issued on Vanguard LPs,) Youra Guller (Nimbus did musical heritage a great service in recording 2 jewels late in her life, as they did for the incomparable Vlado Perlemuter) and Marcelle Meyer. The latter is one of my favorites and I have long treasured her Les Introuvables EMI boxes (incidentally, French EMI had done very good work all around in re-issuing their Pathe vaults). You only need to compare her non-pareil Rameau and Couperin with that of the more recent and rave-reviewed Alexandre Tharaud and you will hear the great divide, not to the latter's favor. Moving on some decades, DG recorded the wonderful Monique Haas in excellent sound (now in a box; you may want to begin with Ravel's concertos, conducted by the great Paul Paray) and there are other wonderful live recordings on SWR Classics. Another great, Monique de la Bruchollerie, who commanded a vast repertoire, had mostly been forgotten until recently (the bargain 9 CD MELO Calssics box is a must for collectors). And then, 2 pianists unfortunately shadowed by their husbands. Yvonne Loriod had always been a formidable pianist (and pedagogue), known for a wide repertoire, but she later devoted more and more time to playing modern music, particularly those of her husband. Fortunately, many of her piano recordings on European Vega have been gathered into a highly valuable megabox (Universal). Many items have long been out of print. Her Mozart, Chopin and Albeniz are all in technicolor, though the solo recordings are somewhat tubby in the bass (you may want to start with the wonderfully evocative Nights in the Gardens of Spain, under the great Manuel Rosenthal). Even if she recorded little under her own name, the same needs to be done for Gaby Casadesus, who most know only as wife of Robert and his piano duo partner (sometimes triple piano with son Jean). Theirs is one of the best duo partnerships ever (move way over, Labeque sisters) and their Schubert Fantasie in F (Sony; excellent mono) is desert island material for me, having listened to its indescribable beauties since the 80's (so far, I have listened to every version, but none, including big names like Perahia/Lupu, can come remotely close to supplant this one). I have an old LP of hers in Mozart Piano Concerto No. 25 (Polydor; Lamoureux, Bigot), which I think is Mozart playing at least as good as her husband! Another forgotten figure, Germaine Thyssens-Valentin, fortunately had her unsurpassed artistry in Faure (rare in my opinion for this most difficult of composers) preserved for posterity (Testament; the original Ducretet-Thomson's fetch astronomical sums)) and one can find more of her in the composer's chamber music with strings (Edition Andre Charlin). Equally forgotten is Jacqueline Blancard, of whom I became a fan after I bought a dollar London LP of her Schumann. She made the first recording of Ravel's Left-hand concerto with Munch, and then 2 remakes. She needs to have a megabox as too few of her recordings are available. So little info is available; imagine my surprise when I hit on this Swiss siteAs I read some French it is a delight. Bravo! Then there is the younger, and under-sung Annie d'Arco, who is just as neglected as those above and in need for re-issue (her available Calliope recordings don't sound very good; and she made many recordings for other labels, like the excellent Weber sonatas for L'Oiseau Lyre). Compared to string players, among the younger generations, there are fewer prominent French women pianists. Lise de la Salle is one, and her recordings mostly please (I have heard her in NYC once and she was as good live).

On a recent Eloquence release (part of its Ansermet series), coupled to Blancard is Canadian Ellen Ballon, whom I have never heard of, in a good Chopin Piano Concerto No. 2. An early prodigy who eased out of the circle.

When it comes to Americans, meaning those raised and educated in the US, their emergence began only after the Great Wars. The first generations were largely forgotten. In Part I we rediscovered the great Ruth Slenzynska. Contemporaneous with her is Constance Keene, who was once a famous performer admired by even Horowitz and Rubinstein. though she later concentrated on teaching and judging competitions. Her most famous recording was 1969 Rachmaninov Preludes (ironically seemingly out of print), but late in her career she recorded a lot of discs for Protone (now on Newport Classic) but those have fallen into oblivion. While the Weber sonatas (also Hummel) and Bach Italian Concerto are scintillating, the Chopin Preludes are slow and rather grave, even gray. She was for sure past her prime, so take your pick. A little older is Rosalyn Tureck, who we know only as a Bach specialist, but I don't take to her numerous recordings of the Goldberg. Later generations include Ruth Laredo, who helped revive Scriabin; and Ursula Oppens, known for her promotion of new music. Among the current players, I like Ann-Marie McDermott, who has a large repertoire. Aside from being known as a modern music champion, her Prokofiev (Bridge Records) is well reviewed. For the label she is also in the middle of a Mozart concerto cycle with the Odense Symphony. What I have heard have all been excellent. Young Simone Dinnerstein is already a star, and more of her recordings (Sony) give pleasure. Though in most I wish for more details, her heart is in the right place and I am sure she will mature with age.

There are surely many more women pianists worth promoting, but this is it for a while. Next will be women string players and more.

15 September, 2021

Gotham GAC4 vs Grimm Audio TPR

Letter from Hong Kong (21-5): Eric L on Gotham GAC4 vs Grimm TPR

Lately I haven't been posting much since I have been quite content with my current setup and understand the virtues and limitations of it. As long as it has all the essential elements that l want and only limitations that I can live with, I'm perfectly fine!

Recently, I bought a pair of Grimm Audio TPR, which for many years has been raved by a lot of pro studios as being neutral and dynamic. A very nice DIY guy prepared a pair for me.

I will skip the initial impressions. For 3 months I used it sparingly to let it run in. Finally one day I decided to replace my Gotham GAC4 with the TPR and have a prolonged listening for a week.

The different was not that obvious initially but I sensed a reduction in bass quality and quantity, which GAC4 has in abundance.

Putting the Symposium Rollerblocks under my iCon4 did help with clarity and separation. Music played through the TRW was neutral but I kind of sensed something had been missing from the get go and I thought maybe it was the Emerson's Swiss sound that was the culprit. My feet hardly tapped...

After more than a week had passed by, I decided to change back to GAC4 and, voila, everything was back!! How I had missed the sound. The difference, so subtle on initial AB tests, had become much more pronounced now. I would say the music had woken up again!

Timing, rhythmic progression , musicality were back totally and the ripe, taut and sinewy bass resurfaced! GAC4 wins hands down which I had not expected at all!

I also ordered a pair of speaker wire 54240 from Gotham and would try to replace my most reliable Mogami cable for comparison. Brought it home and connected it to my system. First impression shows that it's very comparable to my Mogami, which is a good sign! Shall let it run in for a few weeks and see how it will develop! Eager to see who's the winner!!

Ed: Your experience mirrors that of mine! For me, it was the Belden 8402, so championed by Jeff Day et al. It is just plain boring, and slow at the leading edge. My theory is that these kinds of cables are suitable for people whose systems are already too sharp or edgy, or just plain like music to sound slow (here). These days, I'd take anything that crowd says (including Positive Feedback) with a big grain of salt.

Eric L: Please also visit my IG @ericlovesfuji  for my photography works!! 

13 September, 2021