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Bahms - Four Ballades, Op. 10

Discussion in 'Submission Room' started by JohnAnderson, Oct 25, 2010.

  1. JohnAnderson

    JohnAnderson New Member

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    Hello,

    My apologies first for not being around at all for so long. I lost my dad a few months ago to cancer and have been struggling to get back to my normal life while balancing the responsibilities I inherited from his office. I noticed you were no longer accepting recordings from non-active participants, but I also noticed you didn't have the complete set of Brahms Ballades, which I recorded at a concert in Minusio, Switzerland. The program was to be the Ives 1st sonata and Debussy Images (which I won't repost here since I already have a home version), but I substituted Ives at the last moment with the Brahms, since I didn't have time to relearn or reenter into the spirit of the Ives after the turmoil of my dad's death. I hadn't looked at them in years, and so the preparation was rushed, but I think by and large went ok, and if you're interested in listening, commenting, and or eventually posting to your site, I'd be honored.

    Alternatively, it's all up at youtube as well:
    1st half: http://www.youtube.com/view_play_list?p ... 8815B43E16
    2nd half: http://www.youtube.com/view_play_list?p ... 5B2E411CC1

    Again, my apologies for being a dead beat!
    Thanks,
    John


    Brahms - Ballade Op. 10 No. 1 (4:23)
    Brahms - Ballade Op. 10 No. 2 (7:00)
    Brahms - Ballade Op. 10 No. 3 (3:57)
    Brahms - Ballade Op. 10 No. 4 (10:08)
     
  2. techneut

    techneut Active Member Piano Society Artist

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    Condolances for your father John.
    We don't hold people who haven't been here some months as non-active participants. We're talking those people who years ago dropped one or two recordings and were never seen since, and people who post their recordings and let them be applauded by everybody without ever giving anything back.
    You're not like that, and besides, you have an excuse for being AWOL a while.

    Good to have this set on the site. Good playing too, some fluffs in no.3 but that one is really quite mephistofelian in places (I'd have taken a little less risks there). I especially liked your introspective handling of no.4. Your hairpin diminuendi sometimes seem too much of a good thing, resulting in barely audible notes (could be my notoriously bad ears here). Shame that the piano went a bit out of tune in the treble.

    These are up on the site. Thanks for posting.
     
  3. JohnAnderson

    JohnAnderson New Member

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    Hi Chris,

    Thanks a lot! The piano was a Steinway, so I really shouldn't complain too much, but it was old and not very well looked after. Mechanically it was very unbalanced, and the voicing was horrible, the bass mushy and the treble really hard. Finding the escapement was hard. And as so much of the piece is piano, it was a little challenging on such a piano loud by nature. And yes, there was a piano series of four concerts, and unfortunately they only tuned before the first. I was third in line, so I have to be content at least that it was less out of tune than for the person who followed!

    But anyway, it could have gone better with more practicing. Finally I really didn't have time as I only retook the piano a couple weeks before the concert, and only had the idea to substitute Brahms 5 days before, when I was already in Switzerland and most of the time had access only to an electric piano.... It had been since 2005 since I'd looked at the Brahms, and so just getting it back into memory was my main worry. Anyway, the third I really wasn't pleased with, and I think it's definitely the hardest, both obviously technically, and musically. Keeping the sense that those punctuating chords are always upbeats is difficult, and something I'll have to think more about if I ever retake the piece with more time to think! With some clever shaping of the vibrations after those chords, I think it's possible to signal better to the listener where the bar line is. Plus it's so rhythmically repetitious, finding the right amount to play around with the rhythms to make it kind of swing is hard. To be honest, that movement I'm embarrassed to post, but just to complete the set I figured I'd go ahead.

    I wondered if you might have a similar impression about the fourth: for me it is very introspective of course, but one of the pieces that to me expresses true religious sentiment. The final section is written "mezzo voce", which is I think very intriguing, as I've never seen that anywhere else (instead of the common sotto voce). So it's like a person not just whispering, but who only has half his voice, and who struggles to utter his last words. I imagine it doesn't really just mean play piano, but more play with a tone that has as few vibrations as possible, and not quite legato, as if dry in the mouth. So painful, yet hauntingly beautiful for me, especially that final hollowed out return in octaves of the opening theme, one last statement of hope, but completely inconclusive and uncertain. I didn't really manage it well this time around, and actually it only seems to really work in my mind so far... I'm convinced it's possible though! Finally it was these two pages that gave me the idea to substitute Brahms for Ives, who as you can imagine is really pretty polar opposite! The Brahms suited much better my mood and I thought I'd pull it off better (in addition to the fact it's technically much simpler..)

    Your comment about the extreme hairpins is well taken. I think in the hall, which was quite small and intimate it was somewhat effective, as often I feel you can capture people's attention more closely with an ultra pianissimo than a blasting forte, but yes, it's also risky. At the moment at least I'm under the impression that this sort of sound is what the score suggests with its dynamic markings and phrasings, but on the other hand maybe starting with a fuller sound would have given more room to play without risk. I fell in love with these pieces a long time ago from Michelangeli's recordings, which I still think are unsurpassed, at least of those I'm familiar with, but I was surprised when listening again more recently that his piano is usually actually more what I'd consider mezzo forte (or perhaps this is just the way it was miked?). I don't think this is necessarily wrong, since of course shaping all these things is relative around the sound you're starting from, and maybe in the end it sings better that way. Perhaps it's a personal project recently to study playing within the boarders of sound, to try to find as much variety and gradation as possible, that I'm at the moment in the habit of taking it a little too far. This sort of thing often happens!

    By the way, I just tested the links, and for me the second movement starts in the middle. Is that just me, or should I reupload that one?
    Thanks!
    John
     
  4. techneut

    techneut Active Member Piano Society Artist

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    Always good to check. That might be my fault, I think I started a second upload of the same piece by mistake. That probably screwed it up.
    I'll reupload it tonight (I know the file is ok).
     
  5. JohnAnderson

    JohnAnderson New Member

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    Ah ok, great, thanks. Let me know if you need it afresh from me!
    John
     
  6. Bruce Siegel

    Bruce Siegel New Member

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    Nobly done, John! I don't feel equipped to offer constructive criticism so I won't even try. I'll just say this: Don't let Chris scare you off from continuing to explore that extreme range of dynamics. :) (Though I know he's not really trying to.) For me, that's such a big part of what we pianists do.

    I played the first of this set when I was in high school—it was my first Brahms piece, I think—and I never knew or thought about what period of his life he wrote them in. But as I listened today to the last of the four (without being aware of the opus number) I thought: this has to be someone's late work. Then I looked at the opus number!

    Bruce
     
  7. musicusblau

    musicusblau Administrator Staff Member Piano Society Artist

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    Hi John,
    have also my sincere condolescenes due to your father.

    To no. 1: I like very much how you play the sighing-motifs at the end. A very nice performance!
    To no. 2: also very nicely played, but I think, you have left out the first part at the beginning (bar 1-21).
    To no. 3: you miss some of the sixteenth in the arpeggios. The treble is quite out of tune, but apart from that very nice.
    To no. 4: Very nice, I have enjoyed this very much.

    Kind regards
    Andreas
     
  8. JohnAnderson

    JohnAnderson New Member

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    Hi,

    Thanks guys! I think you're right, for most other composers this would be a late work, but instead we have Op. 118! Which is in fact I think much more compositionally and musically advanced. But when you start at 18 with the piano sonatas, he has a good head start in terms of maturity!

    Regarding the missing bars in number 2, that is apparently an upload error and will be corrected later. Regarding the missing notes in number 3, well that's my fault!

    Anyway very glad you enjoyed it!
    John
     
  9. techneut

    techneut Active Member Piano Society Artist

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    I corrected this yesterday.
     
  10. Didier

    Didier Member Piano Society Artist

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    Hi John,


    among the 4 ballads from Brahms, I like especially the first one. It has been among the pieces that I would like to play for a long time. Your rendition is excellent. Good sound also despite the piano is a bit too far and to diffuse for my taste, except in the forti when it gets right.

    Cheers,

    Didier
     
  11. JohnAnderson

    JohnAnderson New Member

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    Hi Didier,

    I could have used your expertise in setting up the mics there - the room was originally an anthroposofic quasi temple dedicated (I guess..) to culture. Don't ask me what that means really, and it was a pretty cool building, but the room was a perfect octagon, with all hard surfaces. I was getting tons of comb filtering about whatever I did, not to mention the place was extremely reverberant. I used ORTF, also since I didn't have much time to set up, and would have moved in closer to the piano, but was getting terrible noises. Finally I moved it back where suddenly these stopped completely, although I was getting more room than I would have wanted. But to be honest, the files turned out way cleaner than I had expected. Do you think a simple AB in cardioide might have helped this problem? Maybe this would have been a good place for MS? Oh well, it's not like I'll likely be recording in an octagon again soon anyway!

    Glad you liked it!
    John
     
  12. Didier

    Didier Member Piano Society Artist

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    Yes. ORTF is nice for a set of instruments because of the realistic stereo image. This is not needed for classical piano, a realistic sonic image of which is close to mono. The drawback of ORTF (former name of the French radio and television office by the way :) ) is that the mics are steered to outside the source. So the ratio of the direct to reverberated sound is smaller than in zero-angle AB. Hudson Fair said on Gearslutz that he recorded Keith Jarrett in Chicago for ECM by means of Schoeps mics in ORTF above the hammers (2 feet if I remember well), with the lows at left (player perspective) as requested by ECM. But the sound image of Jarrett's piano is more spacious than the classical standard. And your piano did not accept being approached so close if I understood you well. :lol:


    Unlikely because MS is still worse than ORTF regarding the direct-to-reverberated ratio.


    Typical mic setting for classical piano used by DG nowadays is this one here below (+ further mics for the room sound)

    [​IMG]

    Used for instance in the last CD from Hélène Grimaud (see at 16")

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=t3XfAcBUZ3Q&feature=channel

    You can listen excerpts with a better sound than from youtube on Qobuz (click on ÉCOUTER, which means LISTEN).
     
  13. JohnAnderson

    JohnAnderson New Member

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    Didier,

    You're a legend! Great advice, and makes perfect sense. Listening to my recordings this time, I hear exactly what you mean. As soon as I heard the hall I was worried about all the reverberation, and figured I'd not have enough time to figure out what to do, so defaulted to ORTF, which in my previous experiments seemed safe if not always (or indeed ever for piano!) the best option, figuring that at least that way with the limited amount of set up time I had I could worry about placement and not configuration. When experimenting with AB, it's always taken me a long time to decide both placement and spacing, but you're absolutely right, if I'd been thinking more critically, I would have gone for it anyway. Part of my consideration was that with AB I particularly like using omni's, meanwhile I figured the room was so wet maybe a cardioide pattern would help, thus defaulting to ORTF, as AB cardioide at home always seems less interesting. Would you have tried AB in cardioide first?

    It does please me that the image you posted is almost precisely my placement at home (where I have weeks to tweak everything!). Although I tend to angle the configuration just a little towards the hammers, and very slightly pigeon-toe in the mics, which now thinking about it, I suppose gives me exactly the impression of a higher ratio of direct sound, plus perhaps some interesting phasing that makes the sound, at least it seems to me, more interesting.

    In the past the ECM Kieth Jarrett sound I haven't really gotten into, maybe just because it's too close, although I suppose it's kind of a blues sound and appropriate. Which CD is of the Chicago concert? Meanwhile that DG recording of Grimaud sounds great, as one might expect. No extra reverberation there, although maybe some extra pedal at least in the Berg? But who am I to say! And it is called Resonances...

    Well next time I'll know better! By the way, have got some new equipment on the way. Will let you know when it arrives. And soon will change house, hopefully for one with a bigger room to record in. How's your collection progressed since we last spoke?

    Thanks, as always, for the great advice!
    John
     
  14. Didier

    Didier Member Piano Society Artist

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    John,

    I am not a legend, not even an expert. Just a passionate amateur who learned a lot from internet and shares what it knows as a return. :)

    I have used cardioid mics in zero-angle AB to get a take as dry as possible. Then I added digital reverb from Berlin Hall which I prefer to the natural reverb from my room. :lol:
    For instance I recorded so the first movement of the Moonlight sonata that is on Pianosociety. But often I prefer the direct sound got in omni. Then I rely on acoustic screens for attenuating the reverberation from the room.

    I do not know which CD came from the recording of Keith Jarrett by Hudson Fair who seems being a great name among the sound engineers in USA. (He is strongly supporting FLEA.)

    I hope your new room will be OK. The ceiling height is the most important in my opinion. I had also a project for a new room to be build above the garage. It would have had a sloppy ceiling, height varying from 2.4 m to 3.5 m.. Too expensive (I bought to many mics...) and complicated (access for the piano through a hole in the floor by means of a hoist): I renounced (for the moment ?). On last week I sold a pair of Coles 4038, which I was never satisfied with. On this morning I spend a part of this money in ordering another British ribbon mic, a stereo one. So my collection is stable at this moment. :p
     
  15. JohnAnderson

    JohnAnderson New Member

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    Well Didier,

    I'd say your passionate interest has paid off, also for the rest of us who follow your shootouts. And I think you're definitely more expert than many who claim to be on other forums! I'm still surprised by how many seem to prefer the K2 in that shootout. I start to doubt my ears, but am very glad to know I have a reliable American compatriot who shares esteem for FLEA!

    My new house is still going to be rented, so I can't make structural changes, although I kind of like the idea of a hoist to access the piano! Italian ceilings tend to be 3m almost as a rule, unless you can find a really old house, when they used to make almost 4. I've thought about trying to build diffusers across the ceiling, but I kind of doubt it would help in any case with small rooms. At the moment I'm just using standard open cell foam, although I can't say I can hear that it helps. I tried building some extra panels out of rockwool for the ceiling, but it was too heavy, and actually pulled my hooks out of the plaster walls (something I'll have to fix before I leave...!) Since I didn't want to drill the place full of holes, I gave up and just went with the lightweight stuff. But maybe in my new house I'll be more ambitious. Still just starting to look around though, so we'll have to see what's available. Meanwhile it was all I could manage to carry my equipment and clothes to Switzerland for this concert, so carrying any screens with me was impossible (I'm limited to public means!). But anyway next time in a similar situation I'll try AB cardioide as a first option.

    I'll be interested to hear your ribbon - I've heard some fantastic recordings with ribbons on piano. Which did you get, another Coles?
    Thanks!
    John
     
  16. Didier

    Didier Member Piano Society Artist

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  17. JohnAnderson

    JohnAnderson New Member

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    Wow, nice, cool looking too! I also liked that sound better than the Schoeps. By the way, did you ever do a shootout or at least some recordings with your new Manley?
    John
     
  18. Didier

    Didier Member Piano Society Artist

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    Manley test here.
    We should rather discuss this on Gearslutz. Let us give here the first place to music.
     
  19. JohnAnderson

    JohnAnderson New Member

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    You're quite right, sorry! Actually was just going to write you an email anyway!
    John
     
  20. Rachfan

    Rachfan Active Member Piano Society Artist

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    Hi John,

    Bravo!

    I just listened to your performance of these lovely ballades in recital. Not only is each rendition thoughtful and beautiful in turn, but you bring a wonderful unity to them all as well. I've often thought that these pieces have moments of deep introspection which you reveal so well in your playing. There are so many really lush harmonies too. Once in awhile I sense Brahms in his writing giving a nod to Schumann. I've always been especially drawn to No. 4. It is very catabile, having moments of reverie but also of romance. This is Brahms at his best. Throughout, you give us the burnished sound that is so characteristic of this mature composer. I thoroughly enjoyed hearing this set. Excellent playing!

    David
     

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