Review: HJ Lim’s Beethoven Piano Sonata Cycle – Do You Get What You Pay For?

Tomorrow sees the release of a set of Beethoven’s complete* piano sonatas by Korean pianist HJ Lim. While it’s going to be released in a week on 8 CDs from EMI, this set is curiously released on the iTunes Store at the astoundingly low price of $9.99. (The CD release is currently priced at around $37 on Amazon, and Amazon has since added an MP3 version for, currently, $9.49.)

I stuck an asterisk in the first paragraph next to the word “complete,” because it is important to point out that this set only contains 30 of Beethoven’s 32 piano sonatas, leaving out sonatas 19 and 20. In the notes to this set, Lim says:

When it came to the sonatinas Op.49 Nos. 1 & 2, educational pieces that were composed to train pupils and published against the composer’s wish and well before the Sonata Op.2 No.1 in F minor which he wanted to be published as his first ever sonata and indeed, here, the Beethovenian signature is strongly impregnated, I chose to respect the latter’s intention by separating them from the main cycle.

This is an interesting choice, as every other pianist does perform these two sonatas, even though they are short works, only two movements each.

In any case, Lim takes an interesting approach to the works. Instead of them being on each CD in more or less chronological order, she has grouped them by “theme,” with groupings such as “Heroic Ideals,” “Nature,” “Assertion of an inflexible personality,” and “Destiny.” (With the download, however, the sonatas are not grouped at all, so listeners will need to consult the liner notes to spot the groupings.) There is much hubris in Lim’s approach, and this is apparent in the notes, where the first few paragraphs mention “the Creator,” “Prometheus,” and “Napoleon.” Lim seems to be one for bombast. Writing about the Op. 106 sonata, the Hammerklavier, she says:

While the aesthetic laws of music are a microcosmic interpretation inspired by the secret laws of the universe, and a musical idea carries a certain universality, the first explosive chords of the first movement could be described as the Big Bang, the creation of the world, the trigger of all sonata movements human conscience…

Lim also plays fast; very fast. She justifies this by the tempo indications of the Hammerklavier, saying that “thanks to these tempo indications given by the composer himself, we can also place the other sonatas, using these works as a reference with their clear tempo markings.” Her tempi are noticeably faster than most pianists, and this gives the music a bit of a virtuosic sound, especially in movements with very fast runs like the scherzo of Sonata no. 10. Whether each listener appreciates these tempi is up to them, but she plays these works in 8 hours and 55 minutes, or about 40 minutes faster than Ronald Brautigam in his set on Bis (the fastest set I have), 1 hour and 40 minutes faster than Paul Lewis’s set on Harmonia Mundi, and 2 hours and 14 minutes faster than Daniel Barenboim’s first set on EMI. (Some of these differences may or may not be due to the inclusion of repeats; I haven’t compared them to that level. Note that I am not including the “missing” sonatas 20 and 21 in the timings of the other sets.)

What I find most disturbing about this set is the sound of the piano. It is a Yamaha CFX, and it sounds like Lin is playing on icicles. This harsh, thin, almost artificial sound, combined with the speed of the playing, makes this set sound very cold and distant. While the technique is there, I hear little emotion, as it seems that the goal here is to be flashy and flamboyant, rather than reflective. Even if the tempi are more “authentic” than what other pianists play, perhaps the tradition of playing more slowly comes from a desire to give the listener more time to appreciate the music. Whether or not it is right or wrong to play this fast is the decades-old debate of “authentic” performance. While playing on a fortepiano, which has less resonance, may justify that speed, playing on a modern piano, in my opinion, does not. (This explains, perhaps, why Ronald Brautigam, who plays on fortepianos, plays these sonatas faster than many other pianists.)

EMI’s approach of selling this set by download so cheaply is interesting. I’m sure that, because of the price, this set will sell well, at least on the iTunes Store. As to whether it’s a set that will last remains to be seen. HJ Lim is a very talented musician, but I would like to hear something more than just flashy playing.

Update: It’s around 2 pm French time, and this set is already #3 on the US iTunes Store. I have to, however, criticize EMI Classics from posting a 5-star review there, especially after EMI, in a post to a classical music newsgroup, stated that the did not post any “fake” reviews of this set on Amazon. I guess using the name EMIClassics for their iTunes review is transparent, but it’s still pretty lame.

Update 2: Just when this article went live on the TechHive web site the set was #1 on the classical charts on the iTunes Store. But it has not broken in to the top 200 overall album sales chart. Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon is, however, #155 on that chart.

Update 3: Someone I know is reporting that at least two of the files – the final movements of sonatas 21 and 26 – are truncated. I got my files before release directly from EMI, so I don’t have this issue. Is anyone else seeing this problem?

Update 4: One day after release, this set is now #62 in the overall albums chart on the iTunes Store. I wonder if it can move higher, getting into the top ten; that would be a real coup for EMI.

Update 5: It’s six hours later, and the set is #52 in the overall chart. My guess is that if it were highlighted on the main Music page, it would be even higher. I’m going to wager that it reaches the top ten, which would be the first time I can remember a classical album reaching that level on the iTunes Store.

Update 6: Well, it looks like this set peaked around #52, and has been dropping since. On May 25, it’s #95 in the overall chart. Still, this is very impressive for a classical album.

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18 replies
  1. Michael P Scott says:

    Kirk et al,

    This is a very interesting review of the playing and piano. I think you might be interested in another point of view:

    http://tinyurl.com/7j95afp

    Based on Rhodes’ review, I purchased Vol. 1 as a CD and am still trying to figure out whether I’m a skeptic or a true believer.

    It’s a fun assignment!!

    Reply
    • kirk says:

      It’s a tough call. It could be something that grows on the listener. I find the sound disturbing enough to not want to listen again. I’m not so much against the fast tempi as I’m against the tempi for tempi’s sake; at least that’s how I hear it. Granted, I have a dozen sets of other pianists who play either slower or much slower, so it’s also something very different. I give her credit for that, and for simply being able to play the Hammerklavier at that tempo.

      Reply
  2. william kasimer says:

    I’m actually not that bothered by the sonics, although I do wish that EMI would get its act together about recording a piano; my favorite cycle, Kovacevich’s EMI set, is similar marred. But if I can listen to Schnabel and Nat, I can certainly put up with this.

    I’ve listened to a bit of it (thanks, Kirk, for letting people know about the cheap-as-dirt download). I like brisk and percussive Beethoven, so I’m enjoying it – but I do wish that there were more sense of space and relaxation in the slow movements. And sometimes, her need for speed compromises the music – for example, in the finale of op. 10, #2, the music kind of lurches in a couple of places, as though she’s unable to connect phrases at her chosen tempos.

    Reply
    • kirk says:

      Yes, there’s not a lot of contrast between the fast and slow movements. I can certainly understand liking that type of playing. But the brittle sound of the piano seems to highlight the fast parts, and detract from the slower parts (which aren’t that slow, often).

      Reply
  3. rootlesscosmo says:

    From david whitwell, Essays in the origins of music:

    With the hope to bring order to the general confusion regarding the designation of tempi there were a number of private inventors, caught up in the enthusiasm of the Industrial Revolution at the beginning of the 19th century, who worked toward creating a mechanical device for standardizing tempo.  The winner of this race was the quack-inventor, acquaintance of Beethoven and emigrant to America, Johann Maelzel.  Maelzel’s Metronome held promise for some, but for authentic musicians it only represented another rigid form of tyranny contradictory to musical feeling.  Beethoven, for example, who made the instrument known, wrote on a score following the indication, “100 according to Maelzel,”
    But this must be held applicable to only the first measures, for feeling also has its tempo and this cannot entirely be expressed in this figure.
     
    Beethoven may have changed his mind entirely, for Franz Liszt claimed that when asked about the metronome, Beethoven replied, “Better none.”  

    Reply
  4. Adrian Cue says:

    $9.99 !? Looks like dumping to increase sales figures. Another way of ‘plugging’ and promote a newly ‘bought’ artist. If she no longer fits the bill she risks to be dumped, too. When will people learn not to let themselves be exploited. Feel sorry for Lin (and Beethoven). Thanks for sharing your views with us, Kirk.

    Reply
  5. Brian says:

    Kirk,

    I think you are way too hard on her, especially her interpretation of the meaning of the pieces. It’s just her thoughts on it, if you disagree, who cares? I actually am finding this very interesting, though I’ve not read it all yet, or listened to much yet. Sometimes it’s actually easier to play a piece fast than slow (but not usually, some of Bach comes to mind). I am a student of Beethoven, for only the past few years (taking it up late in life after not appreciating it enough when I took lessons as a kid. Taking it up again much later, I am far more into it. Wish I had worked harder on it in my youth, but I can play a few of these movements, and I really appreciate having the full collection (no quibbling about the 2 short pieces she left out). This is great to have when trying to work though Schenker’s Urtext.

    The real bonus here is that, with the new features in iTunes, this is always available to me on iPhone or iPad, with or without Music Match. Probably will keep that on for my massive rock and roll collection though!

    Cheers, and thanks for mentioning this. If I had not been surfing for Apple news (as usual) I would not have known about this at all.

    –Brian

    Reply
  6. Adrian Cue says:

    Brian says: “It’s just her thoughts on it, if you disagree, who cares?” Well some people do.

    From a reviewer one may expect more than just giving information about a particular piece. It should give prospective buyers deeper insight in what to expect. Beethoven sonatas are so much more than just notes to be (well) played in the required sequence and speed.

    Beethoven always was surprised when pianists playing his sonatas did not ‘see’ anything. It would seem to me that players should be able to understand the meaning as well as Beethoven’s motivation behind the notes. In other words (and by way of speaking) are able to creep under Beethoven’s skin. That takes years of thinking and study. For some (like Alfred Brendel) a lifetime long.

    Therefore, it does matter what Linn’s thoughts are and how a reviewer weighs them. It says a lot about how she ‘sees’ what she is playing and also gives an indication of the maturity of her reading

    It may be noted that Linn’s assertion that the two ‘easy sonatas’ are sonatinas meant for students not to be published, and should not figure in the ‘complete set’, is questionable. Quoting from Musopen.org : “These sonatas ( no’s 19 and 20, and not 20 and 21) are referred to as the “Leichte Sonaten” (Easy Sonatas) and were most likely composed by Beethoven as teaching pieces meant to be passed around to his friends and students. It is said that these pieces were accidentally published by his accountant during a period of financial distress”. In his famous Beethoven lectures Andràs Schiff is more prudent saying that very little is known about them. There are no dedications and he assumes that its purpose was to compose something for children and beginners. Some may believe that it saved EMI an extra disk.

    That said, I agree with Kirk that Linn’s remarks about the “Hammerklavier” seem over the top. If not Bombast than certainly some degree of ‘Blah-Blah’: “…the trigger of all sonata movements human conscience…”. What does it mean?

    And if Brian is right in saying that it is “actually easier to play a piece fast than slow”, then I must assume that he is not content with Linn’s reckless fast approach either.

    Sorry for this lengthy comment, but I believe Beethoven’s sonatas merit more than ordinary attention. (And sorry, too, for my English: it is not my mother tongue).

    Reply
    • kirk says:

      In this set of Daniel Barenboim performing the Beethoven sonatas, there are two DVDs of Barenboim giving master classes with some very good pianists. It is interesting to see just how much one can reflect on works like these, just how much subtlety one can introduce to them. In this case, it represents the accrued knowledge of Barenboim, who has been playing them for decades.

      It is worth noting, though, that he recorded a first cycle of the Beethoven sonatas when he was in his mid-20s. I see nothing wrong with doing so. And those who appreciate Lin’s rapid execution are right to do so; she’s got chops. I do take issue, though, with the notes, and I agree that these works do “merit more than ordinary attention” as you say.

      Reply
  7. MikeC says:

    I wanted to add a couple of comments: Thanks for your impressions, Kirk. I’ve listened to the set by now (I got them through iTunes – and by the way, about 10 files I got originally were bad in that the content was only a minute long. I got that resolved and now the set is complete).
    Speaking of “complete”: whatever the reasons are for not including 19 and 20, it’s not an issue with me. I tend to believe HJ Lim’s rationale.
    Re: Speed: she does play fast – in certain movements. Again, there is some rationale for this (discussed above). I would say that there is no movement that she plays slower than conventionally. But I don’t think that it’s purely a stunt (not that I’m ascribing that opinion to anyone else). The comments above about Barenboim are really on point to me; his knowledge and approach is about as good as it’s going to get. Yet – on first hearings I find HJ Lim’s enthusiasm and excitement about the music something I don’t hear in more conventional readings of the works. … which just shows,as you say “just how much subtlety one can introduce”.
    Re: Sound of the Yamaha. I do wonder whether (with the great variety of recordings of these works in mono and stereo, etc.) this is that much of a deal-breaker. Although I can hear the difference, especially in the bass, I don’t find it at all hard to listen to. I think this is a YMMV issue.

    Re Mr. Rhodes’ review (reference in another post above): am I the only one that finds his references… how you say, a little tasteless? Yes, HJ Lim is an attractive young lady (and EMI isn’t downplaying this at all). But to describe this as “musical Viagra”, followed by subtitling her photo “Chick Korea”, followed by the thing about “smoking hot 20-year-old” passage: as much as I’m glad for his enthusiasm for the music, there’s something creepy (to me) in the way he writes about it. But maybe that’s just me.

    I’m currently happy with the set (well, I’d be happy if it were mediocre – the Beethoven Sonatas for 10 bucks? – I got better than I paid for, to swing back to the original title of the blog). Whether I’ll like it in a year I’m not sure; in my experience, unconventional playing takes repeated listening to know if it’s convincing or eccentric. But she takes risks and backs it up with, to my ears, not only “chops”, but also a definite musical point of view. I don’t get the impression that she is ever going through the motions or doing this (as mentioned above) just because nobody that young has done it. And it might be interesting to really compare some of her interpretations with those of Barenboim, or Ashkenazy. … or Schnabel?

    Reply
  8. Hans says:

    After reading this review and watching the youtube introduction videos, I decided to download it from itunes myself. Many thanks for the info!
    After a few listens, my take on these recordings is mostly positive. It would be superfluous to write about her “talent” and/or “ability” as a pianist. She obviously has what it takes to develop into a master musician. However, in addition to mastery, I feel that she also has the unique voice necessary for developing as an artist. These interpretations of Beethoven’s sonatas are revolutionary, original, refreshing, and (for those with “ears” to hear rather than axes to grind) very much in tune to the creative impulse behind the music. For me, it is unfortunate that these are not qualities that people generally look for within the classical music world context. Often it is the quantitative and verifiable aspects of the music that are sought after at the expense of the creative impulse. Of course, this results in very mechanical music which gets filtered through the accepted and appropriate flairs of the classical tradition and is played according to nuances available in that particular approach. Once in a while, performers come along with a new perspective and attempt to reinterpret old works according to a different set of ideals thereby creating something that is innovative or at least on the level of novelty. These are sometimes interesting in their own right, but they lose those who’s interest is not in the performer’s creativity moment but in the composer’s creativity. However, a true creative moment is timeless, and can therefore reconcile the past and present, as well as intertwine the experience of apparently unrelated individuals. What is apparent to me after listening is that she is definitely on to something of this sort.
    I have noticed that many reviewers comment on her notes and explanations with the assumption that they understood what she was communicating and the assumption that she imposed her own perspectives onto Beethoven’s. The irony here is that their second assumption is the same reason for their first because they are imposing their own perspectives on Beethoven onto what she said and played, they are unable to enter into her expression.
    With regards to the actual pieces, her performances are extremely dynamic with regards to volume and speed. Her play on the tempi are extraordinary to behold regardless of which side of the argument on the authenticity of the original tempo markings one finds oneself on. She liberally incorporates tempo fluctuation into the the overall dynamic of each section. As a person who generally perceives this technique as sounding somewhat artificial, I uncharacteristically felt that this was strikingly effective for extracting new impressions of this material. Indeed, her dynamics are an ideal match to the passion and intensity that we can gather from the life of Beethoven. Perhaps, the major downfall to these performances is that although the range of tempi are relatively very wide, they are all fast. If this range could be widened to include the very slow, the emotional aspects of her performances could really come alive on a whole new level. If one takes her age into consideration along with her skill level, it is easy to understand how easily she might be tempted to whizz through material that she is able to process at a greater speed than the listener.
    With regards to the Yamaha: I love it!
    With regards to the engineering: could be better…
    With regards to the troublesome truncated files from the itunes download: it sucks!
    With regards to the physical appearance: I often close my eyes whilst listening to music… That being said; it is not her fault that she is a beautiful Korean woman! But I almost wish that she was an ugly white man so that the music could speak for itself and I wouldn’t have to explain why I am a fan.
    With regards to the price: It is a rare opportunity to get such a great quantity and quality with such a good price! Go ahead and get on the HJ Lim bandwagon!

    Reply
    • kirk says:

      I heard there were some truncated files early on, but I was told that they’ve been fixed. Make sure to re-download any that are not complete.

      Reply
  9. Adriana Hoffman says:

    Hello, I heard some of her beethoven. Totally agree with Kirk’s opinion; Tempo, Quality of sonic, and her approach of interpretations. I don’t think that I’ve get what I paid for.

    First of all, I almost hate the sound of Yamaha; dry and clear but-ice-like-cold tone. I am quite sure about that Yamaha CFX makes her playing sound worse and cheaper. And she plays just so fast; too much faster than others. Here we should ask ourselves. What do you want from the music especially buying an album? It’s to keep it around us for some regular-listening. It’s a huge mistake that she chose a Beethoven for her debut album. 10 bucks is not expensive however, I’ll recommend you to do something else or other pianists’ interpretation more decent, adequate and suitable for the name of Beethoven.

    She must be a virtuoso, she said herself as a ‘Phenomenal virtuoso’, with her homepage introduction. But Virtuoso then what else? Pollini and Argerich, so they are but they bring something more, don’t you agree?

    Lim may be want to do something authentic but she went too much and crossed the lines. This Beethoven is Not clever at all. She maybe have some talent especially her strong finger technique. Meanwhile, that’s all what she have. I don’t feel anything, any thoughts of musical insight from this album. And surely it’s easier sometimes playing faster than slower, musically. I can’t feel anything from her approach towards Beethoven. It’s sadly empty. I have to ask, where is Beethoven?

    She is not someone enough smart for having a real career in classical music field even though we can see how she is ambitious. She acts like someone who knows everything in mid-20′s. To be honest, her approach looks quite arrogant too. She doesn’t have anything special for international piano scene but Youtube. No competition wins, no remarkable learning degrees and we can see how it makes her playing tempo flexible. She seems play whatever along she wants, without discipline.

    I watched her Youtube videos not only latest one from EMIs but also her previous videos. She just plays too fast. Too much exaggerations, she seems to be obsessed showing up that how fast she can play. But the classical music is not a swimming or some sport game, isn’t it? Nothing sounds natural or calming with her playing. Too much artificially-done passage, tempi is not stable; All things show up how all the quality of the album is lower than a real and general complete, Beethoven. It sounds almost like an teenager’s acting out.

    Creativity, revolutionary? ok, all sounds great. But we have to ask first of all; Did we appreciate her playing? It touches out heart and soul? My answer is NO. It’s not enough!
    I know it’s kind of dumping 10bucks but I have to say it’s even not worthy for it. EMIs knows how it will work. But their financial crisis, I think they lost some of their production quality and rules. All EMIs artist just quit and signed with others. DG or Universal etc. Is there anyone knows about this behind story of this album’s production? I really have no idea why EMIs took some risk with Lim. And how Lim could persuade EMIs for this Beethoven Debut.

    It’s just too creepy this album. And I’m wondering how she has been really thinking of Beethoven or living on it. I see just a young ambitious pianist who’d like to have a career after she failed to have some general roots such as winning competitions, not with a real affection for the music. Music reflects everything.

    Reply
  10. joseph says:

    No real affection for the music? Are you kidding me?

    This is precisely the type of provincial, plastic, and preposterous attitude among a sad legion of classical music enthusiasts that is killing the field itself.

    She is extremely young. In light of the monumental task, one can say she is precocious. Her musical intentions are largely instinctual. Maybe in a decade or two she will become a philosopher at the keyboard. For now, her music is perhaps too emotive, too unbridled, too French, too Zhenesequahhhh. She needs to tone down the Zhuahdeveeev and infuse these interpretations with something more mindfull, mit etwas innig und ruhig. But to deny her love and commitment to these sonatas is like snatching an ice cream cone from the hands of a child on a hot Sunday afternoon. And that, in my stark opinion, is downright shameful.

    And remember, Ms. Hoffman, piano playing is a physical accomplishment. There is indeed a relationship between voyeur and exhibitionist. If the element of sport in music did not exist, why would composers have written showpieces, and where would Martha Argerich be today?

    Make love, not war. Plant a tree. Save classical music from destruction. Bitte. Danke.

    Reply
    • Adriana Hoffman says:

      I was saying about how I appreciated her Beethoven. It’s not the point if Lim’s Beethoven complete works would save dying classical field or not. It’s actually not my cup of tea nor a real interest. Even if it’s dying field, still some of the audience keep going to the concert and buying all CDs. London, Berlin, Paris concert halls are yet crowded by the audience. Am I wrong?

      She must be young, but not the youngest pianist all over the world of international scene. When we carefully read her homepage, she seems to be born in 1986 or 1987 so when she made this album, she was 24 old but now 25 or 26 of age. It’s not extremely young for saying that she is a Wunderkind. (Needs to be younger than now, maybe a teenager, doesn’t it?)

      Her management knows very well that point and they didn’t mention it very precisely assuming that it’s not a selling point nor a huge sensation with a reason that
      there are other younger pianists who is technically more stable such as Yuja Wang, or other Asian (Chinese, Korean and Japanese) pianists. Don’t remember all their names BTW, it’s too complicated for me.

      If she made better her Beethoven under best recording system condition and equipment, I bet you that I would like more. But buying a CD or downloading from Itunes means that I’m concerning all quality of what I’m going to listen to.
      With same reason, a quality of recording also a factor which counts on what I paid.

      The saddest thing is that EMI made this low-qualitied album after loosing all famous artists who have been with them decades.

      And here is a forum where we can talk about our thoughts without any restrictions. Just I told what I purely felt while I listened to her Beethoven.
      The public doesn’t ought to wait Lim’s maturity coming 20 or 30 years. Even we’re not sure about how she will grow up in coming years.

      Reply
  11. John says:

    > This is precisely the type of provincial, plastic, and
    > preposterous attitude among a sad legion of classical music
    > enthusiasts that is killing the field itself.

    What’s your evidence for this, other than someone is disagreeing with you?

    Reply
    • Hans says:

      …not attempting to speak for the original commentator here, nor am I only addressing the replier of the original comment. However, it IS painfully obvious to me that the classical field is dying and has been for some time. And the same thing goes for jazz. This is not to say that there is no one excelling in the field, nor that the music itself is not still bursting with life, but simply that nobody is really listening anymore. People have heard so much music, performed so well, recorded so well, etc… we have become desensitized to the actual experiencing of the music. Most listeners have lost the excitement and elements of surprise that can be associated with innocence. The same tradition that was put into place to ensure the transmission of the quality of the music has deviated and gone against itself, nearly suffocating the music to death (something like the Christianity and the Crusades / Inquisition, but I digress). What if we could hear it again (in the context of experience), but listen to it as if for the first time? THAT ought to be why we listen to new interpretations of works… not to see who does what better, how it could have been done better, etc. When someone new approaches the same old pieces that we have heard before (and more than likely particular versions are crystallized in our psyche as being somehow more ideal or definitive based upon our own subjective criteria) we get the opportunity to hear something new we never noticed before in that particular work. The same rules that preserved the classical tradition have also stifled the new works of the contemporary era. New “classical” music is being composed right now that will be missed or overlooked because it has to be done so in accordance with the rules of tradition. Artists do not wait for the people to catch up; if they are true to the art, then they simply go wherever the creative impulse takes them (take van Gogh for example). When a “John Cage” appears, what are we going to do as listeners? Cage had a greater capacity for listening than most classical music listeners. Are we going to open ourselves up to what comes through or are we going to dismiss it according to our own criteria? The boundaries of classical music are being pushed, but if the tradition holding it together is not flexible enough, it will shatter. The very same thing happened in the jazz tradition. For example, Sun Ra had the capacity for the jazz traditions, but his creative leaps put him on such a different planet that it is extremely difficult to find jazz listeners who are open and willing to digest his music. One can also see the same thing with rock music. The music fields are all dying because the listeners are losing their capacity to listen. Thankfully, the music lives on in spite of all that conspires against it.

      All of this is extremely relevant to why Lim’s recordings are significant for me. I have seen a refreshingly new facet of Beethoven. The rapidity of her playing revealing the fluidity and coherence of his melodies, the almost excessive vacillations of tempo, the youthful thrashing of the keys… these shocked me out of the complacency of hearing my familiar desert-island recordings.

      With regards to her piano and the quality of the recordings, I have 2 important statements to make:
      1. I have heard a Yahama sound great when miked and recorded well. (take Hiromi Uehara for instance)
      2. I have heard an amazing Steinway Model “D” grand sound thin and flat because of acoustics, miking, and mixing failures (take Cecil Lytle’s recordings of Gurdjieff / de Hartman’s music for example)

      We can take recording simply as a medium for capturing a live performance (and it usually is in the classical music context). The sound of a piano passes through many different things before it actually reaches your ears from a recording. Along the way are many issues that affect the quality of sound on a recording. A bad recording of a great performance (which is more likely than not) is like reading a profound statement scribbled on a cocktail napkin. It is understandable if one assumes that it probably has nothing of importance to say, but it is also probably not fair to the author. If Dostoevsky writes a paragraph on a napkin and we toss it in the rubbish bin because of the quality of the medium, then everyone loses! Now, the quality of Lim’s recordings is not exactly tantamount to that, but the music does have something to say. The point is that listener should be listening first of all to the quality of the music, and only secondly to the quality of the recording. After all, when trying to communicate something to someone, wouldn’t you rather that a person listen to the words you are saying, or listen to the meaning behind the words? I would much prefer the feeble expression of something substantial to the eloquent expression of small-talk.
      All that to say, “Listen up, she’s playing Beethoven… what wondrous bliss and aural delights are these that touch my ears so!”
      And although classical music enthusiasts are killing the field, “the field is alive with the sound of music!”

      Reply

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