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Saturday, 08 April 2017


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Thanks for the reminder. I'm contemplating a thousand dollar camera purchase, and unless I talk myself out of it, I'll use your site.

Girl needs to cut back on her meds. Young folks or their teachers feel the need to mess with something that has stood the test of time. I heard a band piece of "amazing grace" my grandson's school band did by some arranger who should get capital punishment for the way he wrecked the arrangement.
Ok I feel better now.

Playing piano in the street is weird, of course, because it's a piano, but Joshua Bell famously played his violin outside a subway (I believe) just to see what the reaction of passersby would be, and how much money would be dropped in his hat. As I remember the story, he didn't do that much better than other buskers, although a few people recognized him.

I'm no expert either, but I find myself intrigued by Lisitsa. She's a wonderful technician and fun to watch with languid lifts of the hand and stabbing attacks on the keys.

You've pretty much covered all the descriptives I'd use -- exciting, unconventional, idiosyncratic, intense, ferocious. I, too, thought of Horowitz when I first saw her. The Beethoven performance you linked is somewhat mechanical, but I think this is more a Beethoven-Lisitsa thing than a Lisitsa thing: I think she has her favorites.

For example, look at her performance of Rachmaninoff's Rhapsody, especially her demeanor through the end of the 17th variation into the beautiful 18th (about 15:30) and then on to the end:


It looks like she's having the time of her life, even through the 24th variation, which even intimidated Rachmaninoff.

Nice OT post, thanks.

Her political views are controversial.

[Yes. --Mike]

Glenn Gould was also criticized for his lower than normal (custom) piano bench, playing in a "praying mantis" style, with his hands and arms in an unnatural configuration for the classical style.. whatever that is; and, for accurately predicting the exact date of his death.

He was a wiz at stock picking and left a huge fortune to the Canadian music community.

I read that he quit performing publicly because of the critics disliking his physical appearance on stage.

Oh, and the singing and humming that went along with his keyboard work. I always thought he was just having a good time. Sing along with Glenn!

Update: She is amazing, and if you like watching her hands, have a look at this video - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LdH1hSWGFGU - Liszt's Hungarian rhapsody #2.

I'm not sure why that clip should elicit such negative reactions.
It perhaps lack the expressivity of some of the great Beethoven interpreters like Kempff (and maybe she is overdoing the relentless spirit of the piece), but your fingers really ought to be flying in that movement.

Oh puleeze. This is easily the worst piano performance I have heard, and that includes by students. It is utterly devoid of musicianship, of any human element. If you prefer a more "powerful" take on Beethoven sonatas, listen to Ivan Moravec. That's power, but well-judged, not at the expense of of the music.

And to mention Gould in the same breath? I am speechless. The problem I have with Gould, notably (both) his Goldbergs, is that I feel slighty uncomfortable, as if I am eavesdropping on his intimacy. I have many Goldbergs, from Landowska to Perahia to Sitkovetsky, and I never miss any live performance of it within 50 miles. But I rarely play Gould's. It is almost too much. The best playing of the best music ever conceived.

It doesn't feel rushed when she performs it at that tempo. I kind of like it.

I don't quite understand how to tell if she plays mechanically. Seems very fluid to me, almost like bubbling water at times. But so fast as to make a more challenging listen. I always hesitate to call someone a good "technician" (I know you didn't) as it seems to imply a somewhat robot like quality as opposed to the reality, a human with tons of practice. I followed Rick's link to watch her play Rachmaninoff's Rhapsody and watched her play with no sheet music (no idea if that's the norm at her level).

"Girl needs to cut back on her meds."
What do you suppose Emil Gilels was on, in 1981?

"A force of nature."
Certainly describes Gilels, in both life and music.

Valentina Lisitsa, above, 6:47
Gilels, DG 400 036-2, 7:05.

OK, it did take him 4% longer. OTOH, his performance, while just as propulsive, is more nuanced in places. Perhaps why he had a larger place in the music world?

Listening, I can hear just where those extra seconds were used. He is just as fast, and at least as fluid, where fast, but does more where it slows a bit.

His has long been my favorite of this movement, balances so perfectly with the first. His first movement of the Waldstein is another that grabs me by the throat, shakes and worries me about, takes me on a wild ride, then drops me at the end, exhausted, drained, happy, ready for that post-C cigarette, figuratively.

Pretty, excellent really, and polite? Kempff. A step down, Barenboim. A bit more muscle, Richter. Horowitz I love, in repertoire he understands; he didn't 'get' the Moonlight, IMO.

Everything repeats.

[Gilels is my favorite too. His "Waldstein" is straight from the gods. --Mike]

"Oh, and the singing and humming that went along with his keyboard work. I always thought he was just having a good time. Sing along with Glenn!"

I had the pleasure of listening to George Lopez play the Goldberg Variations just a few years ago. Beauty, depth, fun to watch the hand/finger work, and no vocalizations while playing. While not playing, affable, interesting and just a little funny*.

I begin to wonder whether GG's intensity and shenanigans were really in service to the music.

*As I understand it, his namesake comedian doesn't play Bach.

After watching a number of her videos, I'm won over by her playfulness, outgoing personality and by her generous sharing of backstage life via video. There's one titled "Keeping Fit for Pianists: Steinway Obstacle Course and Beethoven Squats"--one example of her use of body cams. (I wonder now if that started as a training aid).

Her astonishing virtuosity doesn't hurt, either. ;)

At this early moment in my encounter with her music, my impression is that she plays more like a prodigiously talented and accomplished child than any adult I've heard before. (I mean that as a positive thing; mostly.) Completely understand the comparison to Gould.

Thanks for the tip!

I am reminded of the title of a Leo Kottke composition-"A virtuoso is his own reward".

Presumably you've watched the Art Tatum videos on youtube? Same virtuosity, but he looks like he's sitting on the beach drinking a coke.

Mike; This is for you. I don't know if it's worth a post.

Glenn Gould's Chair..


Now I know what they mean "pounding the keys."
Thanks. It was wonderful

Fast, loud, short on finesse and a master class in pounding a composition into submission. Perfect for the age... over saturated, over sharpened and over shopped. Next.

I think the most amazing performance of that movement I've ever seen is Ji-Yong Kim in the Android "Monotune" commercial. I was amazed at his abilities at the beginning of the commercial. And then he manages to do it on a piano tuned exclusively to Middle C. Incredible.


There must be something in Beethoven's Moonlight Sonata that inspires young virtuosos (or at least Tina S). I was not aware of Valentina Lisistsa performance but watching Tina S's rendition a few days ago left me both impressed and perplexed. https://youtu.be/o6rBK0BqL2w

Watched her facial expressions and thought of the few films done of Glenn Gould and his somewhat different technique. To this day retain Gould's vinyl recordings, compact disc is NOT the same!

One other note which sort of irked me, the overhead views and the herring bone pattern of the floor, also the wandering of the camera over the interior of the instrument; and finally the actual recording was simply not good enough, to my ears which had a pair of Bose headphones...find YouTube audio recordings to be a bit poor for many performances, not just this one.

Beethoven for the hard of hearing. Fortunately Ludwig died stone-deaf, otherwise he would roll over in his grave.

Mike asked, "Do you know Valentina Lisitsa?"

No, but I know of her. While cruising youtube for Paganini-Liszt La Campanella I found this ...

A different kind of artistry and technique than photography.

And now for the low brow comment of the day, "Chico Marx".

You are an erudite host, Mike, and you have attracted erudite readers. My thanks to all for bringing up these pianists, some of whom I was not aware of despite my decades-long enjoyment of classical music. I am especially appreciative of learning about Emil Gilels (born Samuil Hilels), and I am also embarrassed that I had not heard of him before. Thanks for helping to expand my universe. I have ordered some Gilels CDs from Amazon through TOPs link, of course.

I have to agree with Al C, Herb C and Dennis F above. Finesse? Ha! that is for old farts. Admittedly I'm no expert but I know what I like and this is an absurd rendering.

In case you have not already tried this visually-assisted/enhanced experience, I give you Goldberg deconstructed -- illiuminated. I have never tried cannibis. But I can imagine the trip and am, for the first time in my life, tempted.


I'm more of a fan of Jazz rather than Classical music so I'll be listening to Hiromi who is an amazing performer and a master of Jazz improvisation. She's on tour and see her live if you can. Take a listen to: Choux a la Creme

Thanks for this link! I quite enjoyed her interpretation of the 3rd movement--enough so that I sought out the entire piece (here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OsOUcikyGRk). I didn't find it particularly mechanical myself. Her playing on the 1st movement was beautiful, sensitive, and quite expressive. (Still, my favorite version of the 1st movement is this one: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=k7KUYAwI-ig).

Her political view is, well, one may argue Beethoven is Germany but he is on the human side at least.

Anyway, listen to her for awhile when she came out as then not much people playing in youtube. These days youtube has so many talent I am not sure she is that good. But she is early adaptor and use youtube to breakthrough her career.

For Beethoven and for that matter Chopin, I think there is a difference between what I call the Russian stream of pianist. They dominated but I like those more personal, more inner thinking (like the old man on moonlight), more southern not cold ... not fast ... just one human talk to another human ...


It is a bit compare the flying finger Yu (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=j1fgo7hp-Ko) with the original Horowitz one (cannot be found now as it is from DVD and probably illegal). One is just a fast typist and the other one is music delivery, even a Russian one.

Even our HKer (in USA now) try to be better in music delivery:


Anyone in these days it is very hard to be a classical pianist, like photography. Not just one has to perfect (CD level) but one has to compete with the best of best of anyone has a record! And you sell your technique, interpretation cf with ...

BTW, I think Beethoven is more into conflict then just fast ... listen to his 1st (actually 2nd) piano concerto.

Hi Mike. https://www.theguardian.com/music/2017/apr/09/yuja-wang-piano-interview-fiona-maddocks-royal-festival-hall

My son commented a few days ago that the whole "system" for music distribution has changed over the last few decades. Not just changed but totally replaced. No more physical "records" (with a few exceptions) and no more stores. We can now have our music anywhere, any time, often free. And possibly most important the amount and variety have exploded.

The change has made this particular post and its very interesting, astute and additive comments possible.

Technology is great and in the case of music, really great.

Now listen/watch Dudley Moore playing Beethoven.
Google, Youtube.

I can't see this being enjoyed by fans of classical piano very much, but this version of Moonlight Sonata played by 17 year old French teenager Tina S on the electric guitar is just about the most incredible piece of technical playing I have ever seen in my life. Not a fan of super fast playing but needs to be seen at least once to be believed:


Apart from the interpretation on the piece, when I am "murdering" my cello with Haydn in D, Lalo or Piatti [the usual warhorses], there is something my still alive professor told me:
-You are an intepreter. And as such, it is your duty to understand, but to add to the music you are playing.

On that note, we [as in western society] are having the romantic demeanour still: we tend to think that a fiery interpretation is the right one. That specifically is a North American player thing, and very much copied by Asian players, I presume for the legacy USA music schools have played on the second part of the XXth century.

Usually, we still play this kind of music way too slowly, specially Bach, Haydn and Beethoven. Their music is not "designed" or composed to reverb. That didn´t exist. And current instruments have evolved a lot, with amplified sound and projection.

Their music is arpegiated because they had not reverb possibility, and we tend to forget the underlying structure [there are oh so many young Bach murderers].

Speed is not a problem. Saint Saens for cello is not really that difficult. Indeed, Haydn in C can be more challengin than Haydn in D or Dvorak for that matter as it is a very, very tiring piece.

We tend to forget that most of the most difficult music is not based on fireworks, but on unseen technique. And to be able to control technique, a certain degree of roughness is required if you want to survive until the end of the piece.

Regarding the playing, I tend to like the most unromantic players. I´d rather listen to a mechanical Vivaldi [which on itself can be a demon to play] or Bach to a over romanticized version of them. There is a fire behind that ice wall of concentration, but unless you have ever played something relatively long and obscure [Piatti integral, Bach first three one after the other], you can not understand the beauty of the marathon it takes.

Perhaps that is the best analogy: would you rather see the 100 meters, or the marathon? The Mozart sample is the 100 meters, the fast and furious russian is the marathon.

There are way too many "fine dining inspired" musicians out there. Plus, robots happen to have dreams [or do they dream with electric sheeps?].

I saw "A Beethoven Journey" at the Sarasota Film Festival a few years ago and found it to be a great way to spend 90 minutes or so in a theater. Nothing flashy or over-produced. Here's the synopsis:

"Filmed over the course of four years, Phil Grabsky and his Seventh Art team followed leading concert pianist Leif Ove Andsnes’s attempt to understand and interpret one of the greatest sets of works for piano ever written: Beethoven’s five piano concertos."

A late-to-the-party comment that points the thread "on topic" - the photo by Lise Buhs of Martha Argerich is absolutely hypnotic. Her expression is of such poise and confidence. Really a wonderful picture.

I'm no musician but I have heard many interpretations of Beethoven's Sonatas. Valentina Lisitsa is an impressive performer but her tempo is way, way too fast. There's a cadence for every piece, and this is not it.

Hi A. Dias.
I just don´t agree. It is her tempo for that piece, not "the tempo" for her piece.
There are some things that can not discuss. One of them is that she is an interpreter, and therefore has to add a layer of herself there. If her [for any other chance] interpretation is about speed, let that be.

After all, the world would be a much more boring space if everybody will play stuff the same way [and nope, it is not a quote of "the silence of the lambs"].

Same applies to photography.

She so has to love to play Czerny!

Oh... and thanks for posting this! Classical music goes well with photography, namely landscapes. :) Loved the Yeol Eum Son piece.

There was something icking me brain. She reminds me a bit of the Puppet Master Ghost in The Shell [1995] scene.


Perhaps that the robot the Highest Editor of TOP was mentioning?

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