Do you know Valentina Lisitsa? If you don't, a brief introduction:
A force of nature. Largely a YouTube phenomenon, she plays somewhat mechanically but ferociously and at breakneck speed, which is exciting and amazing. Set this at full screen and gaze intently at her hands.
She seems Gouldian to me, not in her musical choices so much as her intensity of focus and idiosyncrasy. There's something almost savant-like about her, hunched over the keyboard, neck forward, fingers flying. Echoes of the younger Horowitz as well—he also used to thrill audiences in a similar way, so they say.
She's unconventional in her ways—one video shows her playing Liszt on an old upright on a public street dressed in an old army jacket. Sort of a Vivian Maier of classical piano?
It might actually be a little closer to the way Beethoven himself played—there's some argument that he might have played at somewhat faster tempos and with more ferocity than the way interpreters today reverentially and lovingly caress his phrases.
(But I'm no expert, just an average listener who reads.)
Enjoy this, and have a very pleasant Spring weekend! See you Monday.
Original contents copyright 2017 by Michael C. Johnston and/or the bylined author. All Rights Reserved. Links in this post may be to our affiliates; sales through affiliate links may benefit this site.
ADDENDUM, Sunday: For those of you who don't listen to classical music, I should point out that among aficionados, it's conventional to either flagrantly love something or flagrantly hate it...even between performances most people can't tell apart. Beethoven is tough anyway; not only is he a "sacred cow" (a bovine epithet for Beethoven?!—sacré bleu!) but his music is "better than it can be played."
I don't think Lisitsa is a paragon of a Beethoven interpreter by any means. Exciting and interesting, though. If you want paragons, well, as I say I'm no expert, and I have different favorites in a number of sonatas, as I think no one pianist really "gets" all the different sonatas, but if you want to try a few great performances with modern sound you might start with Brendel's Pathetique on Phillips (here's the first movement), Gilels' Waldstein on Deutsche Grammophon, and Murray Perahia's Les Adieux on CBS Masterworks.
And while we're still on YouTube and classical pianists, I found this very nice thing the other day. These are students, or at least young musicians (at the Tchaikovsky Competition in 2011), but I think the playing is beautiful and the sound, on my setup anyway, is excellent. Yeol Eum Son of South Korea at the piano.
Note that the conductor's baton is a pencil. There even seems to be a bit of personal dynamics discernible in the young orchestra, but you be the judge!
(To see all the comments, click on the "Comments" link below.)
Featured Comments from:
robert e: "Remarkable. I'm not sure yet whether I like the hyper-precision. I believe Gould was criticized for ignoring Beethoven's tempo markings in both directions, playing some movements too slow and others too fast. (But of course he would.) Radiolab did a fascinating piece on Beethoven's tempos. The metronome was invented toward the end of his career, and he retroactively added metronome tempos to many pieces, most notably the symphonies. They discuss the theories casting doubt on his numbers. One of my favorite YouTube finds: The wonderful Benjamin Zander makes an exhilarating, and typically humorous, case for Beethoven's marked tempo in the Fifth Symphony (wish the audio was better)."
Del Bomberger: "Made it to the 48 second mark. Then went back inside from the veranda and turned on the Dead to heal myself."
Yonatan K: "Thank you for that! It was a bit tension-inducing at first, but I think that this was due in large part to my expectations (having listened to the Moonlight Sonata many times). I very much enjoyed it once I got used to the tempo. I would be curious to hear her play Mozart (I'll have to look around for that). Listening to Gould play Mozart was...not fun. But he was amazing when playing Bach. Watching her hands was also fascinating—they are a bit Rachmaninov-like. And the look on her face...I can imagine her early piano teacher(s) trying to slow her down, and her responding with one of those looks."
Mike replies: Haydn isn't Mozart, but a pianist who has successfully played Haydn sonatas at much faster than conventional tempi is Leif Ove Andsnes. Try his Haydn Sonata in D, No. 33 for example. It's not my favorite way to hear Haydn (I like fortepiano performances), but I think he makes it work well and his playing justifies his choices.
The great Martha Argerich of Argentina as a young woman.
Photo by Lise Buhs.
Nic M: "Yes, VL is a YouTube phenom. Arguably, the finest living female pianist of our times is Martha Argerich. Have fun listening to some favorites on youtube. First example, with fine company. Cheers."
Mike replies: I agree she's wonderful, but I'm not sure superlatives entirely work with pianists. Many have gifts to give. Pires and Uchida are alive, among others. Consider Artur Rubinstein's comments on the issue....
Pak Ming Wan: "Most people think that the Moonlight is hard to play, but it isn't. The arpeggios are written to sit nicely under the hand, so it sounds a lot more difficult than it is to play. (I play piano to a quite a high level and can play this piece—probably would need to practice again to get up to level though).
"Firstly, the technical side. That wasn't a bad interpretation—but it wasn't flawless. There were technical mistakes (e.g. around 0:47 on her trills and her scales). She doesn't use much pedal but the acoustic helps her a lot (this is a good thing).
"On interpretation. there's more there than you think. There's two areas where I think she misses a little: her tempo (in-) stability and her line phrasing. She tends to pull and push the tempi a little too much and it seems too unnatural (it sometimes doesn't follow the phrasing). Her line phrasing is just missing—especially her left hand. There's a lot of lines and counterpoint that Beethoven wrote in there, it's mostly missing (although this could be the recording). A shame.
"I still think on balance Wilhelm Kempff's recordings are the best Beethoven recordings out there. His early ones that he had to cross the wall to make in 3–4 day stints, and his late ones (when he was pushing 60–70 years old) are just gems."
Mike replies: Thanks for adding some musical expertise here, Pak.