Tuesday 6 October 2020

A couple of musical discoveries - Yuan Sheng and Lauri Volpi


One cannot always be listening to Glenn Gould playing Bach; plus some of his pieces are excessively experimental and don't work over the long term. In the past, I have generally turned to Andras Schiff for a different and/but excellent way of  performing Bach's keyboard works. Schiff has a very smooth and lyrical, light and sensitive way of playing - as well as deeply thought. 

But just yesterday I stumbled upon a modern Chinese pianist called Yuan Sheng who may turn out to be (only time will tell) my back-up Bach pianist. He has a lyricism and delicacy much like Schiff, but a more clearly articulated (stunningly so!) and rhythmically secure basis. There is clearly a deep musical intelligence at work, evident bot hin the phrasing and the architecture.

Early days yet (and YS doesn't seem to have recorded 'The 48' yet) but I thought I would pass his name on, since he does not seem well known. 


Lauri Volpi is one of the acknowledged great operatic tenors of the recording era; but for some reason (that I cannot begin to explain!*) I never knowingly engaged with him until a week or two ago - when I heard him spoken of as The Master in an interview with one of my favourite modern tenors in the lyric Italian style: Alfredo Kraus.  


This is truly one of the most remarkable pieces of singing I have heard in the belcanto style - so beautiful that I get an almost reflex 'tearing-up'! 

The production of tone never seems to cease between notes; as if all the notes were linked by an inexhuastible, inaudible, 'glide' of the voice, which floats from note to note. Hear also the control of breathing, to produce effortless long phrases; and the display of what is termed "mezza di voce" in which the volume of a note is increased or diminished smoothly but without any change in tone quality, vibrato or pitch (this is apparently the single most difficult technique in operatic singing). 

Volpi also had immense power right to the top of the normal tenor range, and slightly above - which he did not unleash in this particular aria; although he easily goes up to what I think is a top C# (above top C, the normal highest note for large-voiced tenors) interpolated in the second verse; with beautiful ringing tone - but not at full voice. Apparently his top notes were, when he chose and in real life, louder and more resonant than any other great singer, ever. 

(Note, LV was apparently at his greatest as a singer in the 20s and 30; later he became much less subtle and more showy - although still with impressive power and control). 

*This may be related to the fact that my impression has been that most people, including most professional music critics, talk sheer nonsense when discussing the excellence or otherwise of singers. I must have read LV praised many times in the past; presumably by people whose judgment was worthless. But such praise from Alfredo Kraus (who singled LV out above all other tenors) is a different matter...


a_probst said...

I have the Glenn Gould recording of the Partitas on a two-disc vinyl set, the prize for having my name drawn from correct answers to a music quiz question by a (now long-gone) classical radio station in my teens. Curiously the Gould set is about 100 minutes long, nowhere near the 145 minutes of the Yuan recording. Is this due to leaving out 'repeats' in the movements?

Yuan's touch is so light that the modern piano seems to transform into, or at least suggest, another instrument without actually having to sound like a clavichord or harpsichord.

I miss Glenn Gould's soft humming in an early bar of the Praeludium of the No. 1.

Bruce Charlton said...

The partitas are written with two sections, each repeated; Gould's practice is always to do the first section repeat, but not the second - on the grounds that when one has reached the end of the piece, it makes sense to stop! I agree. So he play 3/4 of the sections. He does the same for the French and English Suites.