Piano Recital Yulianna Avdeeva
Schubert / Liszt /Chopin
Druckerei Baden / CH, 2014-03-08
2014-03-12 — Original posting (on Blogger)
2014-03-21 — Encore information corrected
2014-03-22 — Corrections regarding the instrument / tuning / acoustics
2014-11-11 — Re-posting as is (WordPress)
2015-06-18 — Addendum pointing to newly released CD
2016-07-19 — Brushed up for better readability
- The Venue
- Setup, Atmosphere
- The Program
- Franz Schubert (1797 — 1828): 3 Klavierstücke, D.946
- Franz Liszt (1811 — 1886): Années de Pèlerinage, Deuxième Année: Italie — 7. Après une lecture du Dante, Fantasia quasi Sonata (S.161/7)
- A Look at Existing Recordings
- Now, how / where does Yulianna Avdeeva’s concert performance fit into this picture?
- Frédéric Chopin (1810 — 1849): 24 Préludes, op.28
- A Comparison Table
- Agitato (2/8)
- Lento (2/2)
- Vivace (2/2)
- Largo (2/2)
- Allegro molto (3/8)
- Lento assai (3/4)
- Andantino (3/4)
- Molto agitato (4/4)
- Largo (4/4)
- Allegro molto (3/4)
- Vivace (6/8)
- Presto (3/4)
- Lento (6/4)
- Allegro (2/2)
- Sostenuto (4/4)
- Presto con fuoco (2/2)
- Allegretto (6/8)
- Allegro molto (2/2)
- Vivace (3/4)
- Largo (4/4)
- Cantabile (3/4)
- Molto agitato (6/8)
- Moderato (4/4)
- Allegro appassionato (6/8)
- A General Remark
- A Comparison Table
- Applause, Encore
- The Interview after the Concert
- Other postings on Yulianna Avdeeva in my blog
- Addendum — New CD Release (2015-06-17)
I could not leave out this opportunity to hear Yulianna Avdeeva again! The information on this concert might have passed by without me noticing, had there not been the attentive group of Yulianna Avdeeva fans on Facebook. Thanks for keeping an open eye on upcoming concerts!
This event is part of a newly started series “Piano District” in the Swiss Canton of Aargau, featuring unusual venues and a somewhat unconventional format. The concert actually was held in the underground, in the basement of a commercial building in Baden. It’s easily reached, just 3 minutes walking distance from the train station. That space was originally holding the printing machinery for the local newspaper. The walls have been painted dark gray, except for a wall with posters and the name of the newspaper in huge letters. Concert lighting is installed in the ceiling, which also still holds the original crane, presumably used for servicing the print machine and the paper rolls:
The hall now holds about 240 seats. There are 132 numbered seats on the concert floor, 28 on the balcony, unnumbered seats on and under the gallery on the left. The venue provides an unusual, yet excellent concert atmosphere and amazingly good acoustics. Sure, there is not a lot of reverberation, but excellent audibility, at least for a piano recital. The instrument is placed on a podium, some 80 cm off the ground, in order to provide reasonable visibility for listeners on the ground floor. The only (minor and selfish) criticism I have is that the lighting on the podium could have been a bit brighter (my iPhone had troubles taking a reasonable shot during the applause after the concert). I would not want to take my big camera along, let alone use a flash light.
The concerts start at 7:30 p.m. and are meant to be without intermission. This time, Yulianna asked for a 10 minutes break after the Liszt. Before and after the concert drinks and snacks are served in the bar up on the gallery. The concerts in this piano series are followed by a short, public interview with the artist, see below.
The concert program featured three (sets of) compositions:
- Franz Schubert: 3 Klavierstücke, D.946
- Franz Liszt: from the “Années de Pélérinage, II”: 7. “Après une Lecture de Dante / Fantasia quasi Sonata” (a.k.a. “Dante Sonata”)
- Frédéric Chopin: 24 Préludes, op.28
And here are my brief notes about Yulianna’s performance:
Franz Schubert (1797 — 1828): 3 Klavierstücke, D.946
I can keep this relatively short: there is an excellent YouTube live recording with Yulianna Avdeeva playing Schubert’s D.946 at the Annecy Classic festival on 2013-08-26. Her performance has not changed substantially since last summer, as one can tell from the timing alone, see below. As already in Annecy, Yulianna’s playing was wonderfully emotional, expressive, rich in agogics and detailed articulation. These “Pieces” (Impromptus, really) are a very touching legacy by the composer, indeed. They were written just 6 months before the composer died, in 1828.
The instrument was a Steinway B-211 (the model D-274 would not fit into the elevator). The organizer assured that the instrument was tuned by an experienced technician. However, both my wife and I noted limitations in the tuning: my wife in the initial Schubert pieces, I mostly noted limitations in the Liszt. Maybe we are particularly picky, but I have definitely heard better tuning before (see also “Encounters with Yulianna Avdeeva“).
In reference to the above YouTube recording, I have already written up a posting “Observations on Yulianna Avdeeva’s Playing“. I will not re-iterate this here. Instead, I’m adding a couple, more technical notes:
1. (E♭ minor) Allegro assai — Andante — Allegro assai — Andantino — Allegro assai
Annecy: 13’06”, Baden: 12’40”
Schubert apparently crossed out the second “intermezzo” / Trio — Yulianna plays the full piece, as indicated above:
- the Allegro assai (2/4) is played with approx. 1/4 = 90
- the Andante (2/2 / alla breve) is played with 1/2 = 76
- the Andantino (2/4) has about 1/4 = 72
One only really realizes how much rubato / agogics Yulianna is using when one tries tapping the beat. The metronome readings aren’t more than rough estimates: the small differences in timing are more than overshadowed by the tempo variations!
2. (E♭ major) Allegretto
Annecy: 12’28”, Baden: 13’08”
This is a Rondo:
- The lyrical ritornello part with two repeated sections (AABB, 9 + 16 bars, Allegretto, 6/8), followed by a transition (6 bars)
- a more dramatic intermezzo, again with two repeated sections (AABB, 14 + 30 bars), dominated by semiquaver tremoli
- the ritornello (25 bars without repeats, 9 bars transition),
- a second intermezzo, again with two repeated sections (AABB, 28 + 49 bars, L’istesso tempo, 2/2 / alla breve), 6 bars transition
- the ritornello (25 bars without repeats, 7 bars conclusion)
Yulianna plays the ritornello with approx. 3/8 = 56, in the first intermezzo, she reaches around 3/8 = 74-78. In the second intermezzo she starts with approx. 1/2 = 66-70. This appears to contradict the “istesso tempo” annotation. However, the alteration is not noticeable, given the preceding ritardando and the subtle transition to the tempo in the alla breve part.
3. (C major) Allegro
Annecy: 4’38”, Baden: 4’47”
This is the shortest of the three compositions, featuring three parts. An Allegro section in 2/4 (played approx. 1/4 = 136), with lots of syncopes and sforzati, is followed a middle section in 3/2 (played approx. 1/2 = 120). This starts off pensively, then becomes more and more emotional, with growing unrest. It finally returns to the initial, syncopated part, with a longer, again syncopated Coda.
Franz Liszt (1811 — 1886): Années de Pèlerinage, Deuxième Année: Italie —
7. Après une lecture du Dante, Fantasia quasi Sonata (S.161/7)
A Look at Existing Recordings
As I did not have lots of exposure to Liszt’s “Dante Sonata” I spent some time on YouTube, trying to get acquainted with this composition by listening to a variety of recordings. I hoped to get a feel for Yulianna’s standing in the interpretation of this music. I did not try measuring metronome rates: a hopeless undertaking with Liszt’s frequent tempo changes, let alone the artist’s rubato. Instead, I’m just giving the overall durations for the various recordings (excluding applause / trailers). Note that I did not try a comprehensive search. I was merely looking for a set of different views on this piece. At this point I’m not looking for the “best” interpretation.
Stephen Hough, recorded in 1992
For me, the prominent features in Stephen Hough‘s interpretation are clarity, transparency, overall smoothness (avoiding “hard edges”). It’s definitely virtuosic. I have experienced his iPad app featuring Liszt’s B minor sonata. This permits seeing the artist from various perspectives, the score, and/or a MIDI representation. It also includes an extensive discussion on the history and the structure of the sonata. This helped me appreciating his approach. The articulation is detailed and accurate to the extreme, almost like a teaching exercise / demonstration. A good, well-rounded and well-articulated interpretation, but almost devoid of emotional outbursts (too tamed). It could use much more agogics.
Alfred Brendel, recorded in 1986
For me, this is the ultimate anti-thesis to the super-virtuoso approach (see below). Alfred Brendel avoids brilliance, extroversion, even virtuosity (hard to do in this composition!). Where Liszt gives alternatives, he selects the simpler version, e.g.: avoiding the extra octave parallels prior to the Allegro moderato. In another place (bars 76ff.) he deliberately simplifies the text. Is it just my impression that he exerts intellectual control, also avoiding excess emotionality in the lyrical sections? Overall, he plays this as tamed as if it were a late Beethoven movement. To me, it’s clearly the weakest interpretation in the lot discussed here. I remember having problems understanding Brendel’s Schubert, and I seem to have the same problem here. Unspectacular at best, in my opinion (at least in comparison with others).
György Cziffra, recorded live, in 1959
For me, this is extreme virtuosity beyond aesthetics. György Cziffra exposes his stupendous, rapid, “steely” ff octaves, completely ignoring clanging strings. With the exception of Vladimir Horowitz (who apparently did not record the Dante Sonata), I haven’t heard other pianists regularly going to such extremes. A true piano thunderer! One could claim that he ignores pp / ppp, his dynamic span appears to range from mf to fffff. In his phrasing, the climax is often dramatic, if not orgiastic, sometimes exhausting (for the listener). In lyrical sections he makes the main melody voice sing nicely (possibly ignoring hidden polyphony). Still, I would state that he is never subtle, truly lyrical. Amazing, olympic, artistic — but missing out on the lyrical aspects, I think.
Arcadi Volodos, recorded live, 2009-03-01
Arcadi Volodos is one of today’s top virtuosi, technically probably close to Cziffra. He avoids surpassing the abilities of the instrument, keeping the dynamics under control. Also, he can be very emotional in the lyrical sections, but monumental in the fff outbreaks. But he does not stick to the text, though. Where he sees fit, he takes the freedom to make the text more complex (e.g., adding extra bass tremoli for a fuller sound). Maybe he uses a different version of that piece than everybody else? To me, it sounds like a Busoni arrangement, but it’s probably just Liszt/Volodos). Virtuosic, monumental, often overpowered, too monumental, overdoing it, interesting, though more Volodos than Liszt.
Marc-André Hamelin, recorded live, in 2004
This is a video with sheet music display. Hamelin is another one of today’s top virtuosi. Unfortunately this is a rather modest (private) concert recording, with a sound like through a thick curtain, lacking detail, definition and acoustics. It often sounds like being over-pedaled. Marc-André Hamelin (as expected) does not appear to have any technical issues. The piece sounds smooth, too smooth maybe.
Knowing the difficulty of the text, this is an amazing performance. However, to me it is lacking brilliance, the extroverted virtuosity that is inherent to Liszt’s writing. Liszt knew how to make a piece sound brilliant / virtuosic, where he wanted it! But Hamelin does stand out in the lyrical, soft passages, where he plays true pp / ppp with the appropriate, soft articulation. Unlike Volodos he does read the score accurately. Not my top favorite for this piece, though I would not want to make a final judgement based on this recording.
Now, how / where does Yulianna Avdeeva’s concert performance fit into this picture?
I don’t want this to be seen as the ultimate review of Yulianna’s interpretation of this Liszt composition:
- This is (I think) a new addition to her repertoire, hence can be expected to evolve over the coming months, and
- there were limitations with the instrument / acoustics at this concert (at my seating position, maybe): with its countless parallel octaves, this composition is more dependent on good tuning than others.
Also, I had the impression that the instrument, or the instrument in the current acoustic setting, was too limited for Liszt’s music. One could argue that a period instrument (such as an Érard from Liszt’s time) didn’t have more volume than this Steinway — but that doesn’t cover the issue. The instrument appeared to lack dynamic range, the bass sound was badly defined. It is possible that the tuning made this worse, or that the acoustics played a major role in this.
But let’s turn to the pianist: despite the limitations with the instrument / acoustics, Yulianna’s playing was excellent! She is very virtuosic and very expressive! Where the tempo permits, she is nearly as clear in the articulation as Steven Hough. Howewver, she is way more expressive. Unlike Volodos, she follows the score. She is not overpowering the music like the latter, but has more agility than her Russian colleague. And avoids his unnecessary additions, I should say. She is often almost as fast and eruptive as Cziffra in the virtuosic octave passages, but in general keeps her articulation under control: for the most part, she avoids clanging strings etc.
In the last third, especially towards the end she started ignoring the limitations of the instrument in favor of the expression / emotions: even though she did not employ Cziffra’s “steel power” in that final part, the response of the instrument was similar to the one in Cziffra’s recording. On the other hand, she also explores and exposes the lyrical passages — without Volodos’ larmoyant exaggeration. And her playing is definitely not as smooth and polished as Hamelin’s — luckily!
Overall: not a performance that I would like to see recorded as is (especially because of the instrument / acoustics) — but an excellent interpretation nevertheless, congratulations!
Interestingly, Yulianna was even a tad faster than Hamelin, with an overall duration of 15’06”.
Frédéric Chopin (1810 — 1849): 24 Préludes, op.28
For Chopin’s op.28 I dug out the table I made for my “Listening Diary 2012-11-21“, featuring a comparison of the recordings of the Chopin Préludes in my CD collection, i.e., covering Martha Argerich (1977), Stefan Askenase (1953), Daniel Barenboim (1976), Maurizio Pollini (1974), and Grigory Sokolov (live, 1990). See the above link for details. In preparation for this concert I have updated that table to my current standard, with color coding for the rating, and separate color coding indicating fast and slow execution times (there are no repeats in these Préludes, so execution times can be compared directly, which is far easier than measuring metronome numbers).
A Comparison Table
In addition, I have included a review of Yulianna Avdeeva’s performance of these Préludes on YouTube, recorded in Munich, on 2013-11-19. Note that the table strictly refers to that studio recording, not to last week’s concert. In the notes below, I’m also referring to the YouTube recording, unless I’m mentioning the concert explicitly. From an interpretation point-of-view — excluding instrument aspects / limitations — the YouTube recording and last week’s concert are absolutely comparable. The addition of Yulianna into this comparison caused some adjustments in the ratings for some of the other artists. For sporadic remarks on Barenboim and Askenase please see my earlier posting. For the rest, I think the rating numbers speak for themselves!
Comments on the above table, with focus on Yulianna’s recording and her closest contenders, by Prélude number. In case you wonder why the sequence of the comments changes: in order to avoid being underwhelmed by a performance being slower than the preceding one, I try starting with the slowest interpretation, then moving on to faster ones…
1. Agitato (2/8):
Excellent performance by Yulianna, more impulsive, using more agogics than Sokolov.
2. Lento (2/2):
Sokolov is very slow, vastly over-stretching the melody, but expressive in the left hand. Yulianna is much faster, but using the proper tempo, I think, considering the alla breve notation. Her playing is cantabile in the melody, expressive, with excellent balance between the two hands, using slight arpeggiando in order to maintain transparency. Pollini is less expressive, but good in general. To me, he exposes a bit too much “thick”, modern concert grand sound. Argerich is sounding rather blurry (too much pedal?), more dramatic than cantabile.
3. Vivace (2/2):
Sokolov is excellent in the left hand, Pollini is OK, Argerich is excellent, virtuosic, very fast, expressive. Yulianna is expressive, superb on YouTube, more detailed, using more agogics than Argerich. In the concert, (in my opinion) this Prélude suffered from limitations of the instrument, in that the melody in the right hand didn’t really sing, sounded forced sometimes. On a smaller instrument it may be harder to maintain the balance in this piece.
4. Largo (2/2):
Pollini‘s stretto is too tamed. Argerich is dramatic. Sokolov is very expressive, by adding rhythmic tension to every single bar — excellent! Here, Yulianna is rather fast, creating expression by shaping the the melody line. Is this still a Largo? In the concert, the melody often reached the volume limitations of the piano, with the strings occasionally at the fringe of twanging…
5. Allegro molto (3/8):
Sokolov is extremely light, transparent, yet expressive, excellent! Yulianna is more eruptive, very expressive, almost wild — also excellent!
6. Lento assai (3/4):
Sokolov is very slow, extremely expressive in the bass melody, and very carefully articulating the accompaniment. Yulianna is very expressive, too, but faster, while allowing for intimate, lyrical moments.
7. Andantino (3/4):
The top four artists in the comparison (Yulianna included) are very similar, tempo-wise. Sokolov really makes the piano sing by following the pedaling annotation. So does Yulianna, even though she is slightly faster, and she even manages that on the limited concert instrument. Argerich is similar, as is Pollini, though his playing is somewhat dry.
8. Molto agitato (4/4):
The art in this Prélude is to find the balance between the central, punctuated melody and the rapid demisemiquaver garland, both in the right hand. Sokolov takes the agitato for the fast notes, wonderfully playing out the punctuated melody, at a rather calm pace. The overall balance in his playing is hard to beat. Hiowever, is this really the composer’s intent?
Yulianna rather takes the agitato for the punctuated melody, keeping the garlands as accompaniment. This makes sense to me. The demisemiquavers can’t be more than accompaniment: after all, they are written in smallprint! In the concert, Yulianna reached the limitations of the instrument in this piece. Pollini uses almost the same tempo as Yulianna, in a smoother, maybe less emotional interpretation, but still very balanced. Argerich is very fast, very virtuosic, really molto agitato. She is brilliant, pianistically, though focusing on the big phrase, paying less attention on the expression in the small-scale phrasing of the central melody.
9. Largo (4/4):
This piece lives from the tension between the continuous triplets in the center, the punctuated melody in the top voice, and the double-punctuations in the bass line. Yulianna gives this a truly great interpretation! In the concert, though, she reached the dynamic limits of the instrument. She played slightly faster than in the YouTube recording, and some of the punctuations in the top voice were broadened to coincide with the triplets. Sokolov may occasionally make single and double punctuations almost the same, but he shows this wonderful dialog between the outer two voices, like rarely anybody else! Argerich keeps the focus on the top melody. She is rhythmically accurate, expressive, but no match for Sokolov! Pollini consequently turns the single punctuations in the top voice to triplets. That defeats a lot of the tension in this piece!
10. Allegro molto (3/4):
Here, Sokolov does not appear to feel comfortable with the rapid semiquaver triplet + doublet figures in the right hand. He fails to convince me. Pollini is much better, more balanced. Yulianna is excellent, too — and for once, I find her playing in the concert even better, more dramatic: maybe profiting from the additional agility of the smaller instrument? Argerich is extremely fast — too fast, indeed. Rhythmic details are lost, there is no time for agogics.
11. Vivace (6/8):
Sokolov is wonderfully detailed and careful — but the piece feels like an Andante at best. Yulianna has the proper tempo, plays with agogics and expression. The YouTube recording feels a bit more tamed / controlled than her concert performance. Pollini and Argerich are very close in the tempo, the latter is a bit more eruptive, extroverted.
12. Presto (3/4):
A wonderful, expressive, even dramatic interpretation by Sokolov. Pollini is close. Yulianna is slightly faster, maybe slightly less expansive. In the concert performance, she appeared even a tad faster, more agile, the accents in the accompaniment more pronounced (again, maybe slightly better than on YouTube, if there weren’t the limitations of the instrument). Argerich is exaggerating the tempo here. She loses details in the articulation.
13. Lento (6/4):
Sokolov takes this Lento to the extreme, wonderfully playing out every half-bar bass figure: very impressive. However, the “melody” in chords in the right hand gets completely over-stretched (and the left hand can’t be understood as a melody, for sure!). In Yulianna‘s interpretation, this is a wonderfully lyrical piece, with the left hand kept as accompaniment, and with the quintuplet and the two triplets in the right hand sounding more natural. Argerich is again faster, to lacking a bit in depth / lyrical mood, the transition to the Più lento sounds a bit forced / extreme. Pollini is another tad faster, feeling more natural than Argerich, and not reaching the depth in Sokolov’s and Yulianna’s interpretations.
14. Allegro (2/2):
Here, Sokolov is strong, almost monumental, really pesante. Yulianna takes this faster, this doesn’t really feel pesante, but she carefully observes the dynamics, makes the “inner melodies” stand out nicely. The same can be said about Pollini‘s interpretation, and for Argerich, who offers the most eruptive interpretation here.
15. Sostenuto (4/4):
As I almost expected, Sokolow takes this extremely slowly. It’s very impressive how he can build and keep up the tension, make big phrases, with slow, gradual crescendo, building up to a broad climax: very impressive. The one drawback, though, is that this vastly overstretches the melody. It is no longer singable by any means, probably hard to perceive in complete phrases by the listener. Pollini is expressive, faster (more singable), but seems to avoid an excess in sweetness / lyricism in the p sections. For me, Argerich exaggerates the arpeggiando playing in the lyrical sections, and also the ff culmination is a bit too forceful. Yulianna offers the fastest interpretation: definitely advantageous for the melody. Plus, she adds her excellent agogics, and at that tempo she can risk to be lyrical and expressive. The tempo avoids an excess in sweetness—excellent!
16. Presto con fuoco (2/2):
Pollini is brilliant and virtuosic, but he ignores parts of the pedaling instructions: Chopin wanted the sustain pedal down for most of this piece (just lifting it when the harmony changes). Yulianna is less brilliant and perfect, pianistically, and she observes the score much more. It is not true that a modern Steinway requires changing the use of the pedal! Sokolov proves her right: he is as brilliant and virtuosic as Pollini, yet also accurate in reading the score. Argerich is overdoing the tempo. She also does not follow the score in the use of the sustain pedal.
17. Allegretto (6/8):
A very impressive interpretation by Sokolov, expressive, following the score (pedal instructions again!). However, is this really Allegretto 6/8? Here, Pollini is using the sustain pedal correctly, his tempo is more appropriate than Sokolov’s. The same can be said about Argerich, though she is more expressive and expansive, nicely shaping the melodies. Yulianna is faster than the others, playing a true Allegretto tempo (in 6/8, i.e., 2 x 3/8). This makes the blurring effect from the sustain pedal even stronger, likely closer to the sound of a period instrument: very nice!
18. Allegro molto (2/2):
Sokolov is brilliant, yet controlled, with very “sharp” staccati: very good. Pollini is very close. Argerich is extremely fast, extremely virtuosic, expressive, eruptive — astounding! I don’t quite understand why Yulianna plays the pedaled chords in bars 1, 2, 5 and 6 asynchronously. Apart from that, her performance is not bad at all, but not the best one in this series. In the concert, only the chords in bars 5 and 6 were asynchronous.
19. Vivace (3/4):
Pollini is clear, correct — but not really vivace. A little more agogics and expression would not have hurt, either. Sokolov is both more fluent and more expressive. Yulianna takes this a step further, towards vivace, and adding more emotionality and agogics. The “most vivace” here is Argerich — maybe almost too fast? After all, this is not a Presto!
20. Largo (4/4):
In Sokolov‘s interpretation, the beginning is Maestoso at least, very broad. The second (p / pp) part is solemn, almost “religious”. In the ff part, Argerich is more extroverted than Pollini, the latter is more subtle in the second part. Yulianna selects the most fluent tempo. For the second, intimate / introverted part, this is perfect, but in the initial section, on YouTube she plays neither Largo nor ff. In the concert there was more volume in the first 4 bars — though the bad tuning was apparent here.
21. Cantabile (3/4):
Sokolov is expressive, but extremely slow here, to a point where the melody is hardly recognizable as such, contradicting the Cantabile annotation. Too bad: the quaver figures are really not meant to be taken as melody! Pollini is much closer on the score: very good overall, though I’m not sure whether he really keeps the sustain pedal down as indicated in the f part. Argerich is close to Pollini in the tempo (a little faster), but much more expressive, with more dynamic differentiation, and producing the intended “blurring” effect with the sustain pedal.
Yulianna to me offers the best interpretation here: a very nice, enchanting song without words, not enforcing / overpowering the piece, subtle and lyrical, with agogic differentiation: marvelous! Maybe in the concert she did not quite match her YouTube performance, but it was still excellent.
22. Molto agitato (6/8):
Sokolov is not very fast, the agitato is done via emphasis of the small motifs. It’s excellent playing, maybe almost too forceful rather than Molto agitato? Pollini is faster, technically excellent / brilliant, very clear — maybe a bit dry, technical? Yulianna uses the same tempo, avoids excess volume. Yet, the piece sounds more agitated, vivid. Argerich is storming into this piece with unmatched power, temperament, expression and virtuosity. Here, she really is in her element!
23. Moderato (4/4):
Sokolov plays this with heavenly, almost divine lightness and subtlety. Pollini is considerably faster, but equally light and subtle, pianistically excellent, though on the border of leaving the Moderato terrain. Argerich is definitely no longer playing Moderato (this is almost like Liszt’s “Les Jeux d’Eau à la Villa d’Este”!).
As for Yulianna: this piece falls out of the pattern insofar as in all other Préludes she is barely ever slower than the average. Here she plays half as fast as Argerich, Askenase and Pollini, and slower than Sokolov! Moderato is of course not a very specific tempo annotation. But the piece is in 4/4, and in her interpretation, the accompaniment sounds too stretched out (adagio, if not lento if read in 4/4). The semiquaver garlands sound as if they were played in quavers (8 beats per bar). She must have her reason for this tempo (she usually carefully checks the available sources), but I don’t think that this tempo is adding value to the piece.
24. Allegro appassionato (6/8):
A piece as stirring, wild, emotional as the two Études in C minor, in a thrilling interpretation by Sokolov! Pollini is slightly more controlled, but also technically, pianistically excellent. As expected, Argerich is most eruptive, wild, emotional, reaching out for whatever a concert grand can deliver! Yulianna gives an excellent interpretation, too. She does not overpower the first part: after all, that part is f only, and in the middle part, there is even a p! Her playing is excellent, particularly in the YouTube recording! In this concert, she appeared to apply more power also in the first part, the p was maybe only a mf. That was maybe a sign of exhaustion at the end of this concert? In any case, the piano was once more beyond its limits in this piece.
An interesting detail: 12 bars from the end, Chopin writes sempre ff, but starting a decrescendo in the same location. Here, Sokolov takes the volume back to pp four bars later, then does a crescendo to the final fff. That’s not quite what the score states: overall, that section should remain ff, as I read it — but it’s an interesting idea nevertheless.
A General Remark
Finally, an overall remark: according to some sources, Chopin never played more than four of these Préludes in any single concert. Still, integral performances now have become commonplace. Yet, this leaves the question whether one should play these pieces attacca or with small breaks in-between. Yulianna tends to play most Préludes attacca, except for a short break after #12, to a degree that the next prelude starts with the end of the last note of the previous one. As a listener, this sometimes makes me feel a bit breathless, as I’m not given any time to “digest” / “swallow” the piece that just ended. My personal preference would be for short breaks (only a couple seconds, maybe with the hands not even leaving the keyboard?).
Note: Yulianna Avdeeva‘s interpretation of the Chopin Préludes has since become available on CD — see the addendum below.
Overall, I rate Yulianna’s performance of Chopin’s op.28 as excellent. Had there not been the limitations with the instrument, its tuning and the acoustics, the experience would have been truly outstanding! The artist received a warm, long applause …
… and she rewarded the audience with an encore. She played the Nocturne in F major, op.15/1 by Frédéric Chopin (thanks to Oliver Schnyder for the information!).
The Interview after the Concert
After a short intermission, the artist participated in a public interview, answering a number of questions by the author Alain Claude Sulzer. Not all of them really world-moving: I had to calm down my wife when the question was “What would you have done if Chopin had written for the recorder only?”. That was an insult to the serious recorder community!
Other postings on Yulianna Avdeeva in my blog:
- 2011-10-08: Encounters with Yulianna Avdeeva
- 2011-10-09: Yulianna Avdeeva in Warsaw, 2010
- 2011-10-09: Yulianna Avdeeva in Zurich 2011-09-26
- 2013-12-19: Observations on Yulianna Avdeeva’s Playing
Addendum — New CD Release (2015-06-17):
As mentioned above, Yulianna Avdeeva’s interpretation of the Chopin Préludes op.28 is now available on CD:
Schubert: 3 Klavierstücke D.946 — Prokofiev: Piano Sonata No.7 op.83 —
Chopin: 28 Préludes, op.28
Yulianna Avdeeva, piano
Mirare MIR 252 (2 CDs, stereo); ℗ / © 2014
These recordings were made on February 10th – 14th, 2014, in Tours, in connection with Yulianna Avdeeva performing these pieces at the Festival de la Grange de Meslay. That festival has supported this recording on the occasion of its 50th anniversary in 2014. The festival “Fêtes musicales en Touraine” was founded in 1964, through the initiative of Sviatoslav Richter.
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