I mentioned in the Rubinstein thread a few days ago about not liking Zimerman’s Chopin. This was not very fair, because it was based on listening to a small sample of recordings many years ago. As such, I decided to revisit some of his recordings (not just Chopin). I started with the Ballades disc from 1988 (according to Spotify). I really didn’t like the ballades much at all, with the first being the worst (way too fussy). There were some good moments in the coda of the 4th, however. The barcarolle was really very good, and the fantasie offered some new insights. I then listened to his Chopin concerti with Giulini. I think the F minor might be as good as Ashkenazy’s Chopin competition performance, which has been my reference for many years now. KZ played with impeccable taste in both of these concerti. I remember not liking his self-conducted remakes of these, but it’s been a while since I’ve heard them.
I also listened to his Debussy preludes, which I found good interpretatively but, curiously, I didn’t like his sound. Nor did I think he played with much colour. Suprising for Zimerman (especially the sound, which he usually approaches with fanatical perfectionism). I really like his Liszt recordings, e.g. the Sonata and concerti. I don’t know if he’s done much else (think there’s totentanz too, which I remember liking). I’d be interested in other suggestions, btw.
Zimerman (& Hamelin) was my first hero in the piano world, but I haven’t listened that much to him the past decade or so - at least not the studio recordings, which I think is where he’s at his best. I also revisited the Ballades CD when he last came up here however from which I remembered every work as astounding. The Barcarolle held up, the Fantasy did not (though it’s still my preferred recording).
Zimerman plays like an engineer really, which I suppose contributes to why I feel so at home in him. Again, I’m not up to date with his discography, but I remember this Chopin Ballades CD and his Liszt & Ravel concerti discs as my favourite KZ recordings. For live recs… I think I’d prefer PM, but I can certainly send some suggestions I’ve enjoyed if you like.
Note that if you are listening on Spotify, most recordings from Universal Classics have a horrible digital watermark overlaid on the recordings which makes them sound unpleasant, especially pronounced in solo piano recordings. Doesn’t change the interpretations obviously, but it can certainly interfere with one’s perception of sound and color. For me it’s gotten to the point where I actively avoid any pre-2018 Universal titles on Spotify unless I am really desperate to hear something. I think for recordings that have been released in the past year or so, they have fixed the watermarking issue (i.e. Zim’s Schubert 959 disc), but everything else seems afflicted.
As for KZ himself, he’s a top 3 performer for me today. Like with Pletnev, I will listen to anything he does and take it seriously, even his recording of Lenny’s Age of Anxiety (a piece that I actually quite like). I’ve only heard a handful of live KZ recordings, and they are quite good but not necessarily greater than what he does in the studio. I agree with CJ on this. But would be interested in hearing more.
Zimerman is one of those paradoxical pianists. His chosen style is glassy perfect and completely fussy, but in concert, at least almost 20 years ago he had the audience by the balls every phrase and the fuss came across as concentrated intensity instead of aloofness. Think Kocsis was only other pianist that could pull that style of playing off that comes to mind.
Kocsis was actually a lot better pianist than I realized while he was alive. I’m exploring him now, and while I find a lot of what he does pretty boneheaded tbh there’s a tremendous drive and will to really make what he plays come alive. At his best I almost get the impression I’m listening to a spirit rather than a pianist, like they said about Liszt (without wanting to make any further comparisons).
There’s this documentary of Kocsis and Ranki from when they were barely finished their studies which I’ve always found amazing. It’s funny because after I saw Ranki perform, it turned me completely off him as a pianist.
I absolutely hated Kocsis when I was younger. Was on a golden age kick and heard his chopin waltzes album at exact wrong time.
What turned me around was first listen to the F sharp Rach Prelude from his great Rach solo album. Its played pretty straight but there is a long series very hard to hold together sparse phrases, then he hits the climaz at 2 minutes perfectly backs away. Who else could play like that now, maybe volodos. Was full orchestral development climaz and perfect emotional journey off slightly lame rach lude.
Yes… I’m not sure who my preference is among the Hungarian trio there. Schiff is unquestionably the most refined of the lot, and the great colorist of our time IMO, but he’s got zero sense for drama and he’s also a bit of a wimp. Kocsis is just the other way around. A pianist with tremendous temperament, personality and willpower, but pianistically he can either play soft or he can play loud, and I also think he’s severely mismatched in terms of repertoire. Who on earth told him to specialize in Mozart and Debussy anyway??? I would love to have heard him play a lot more Beethoven, Liszt, Prokofiev, large scale Chopin, etc. Big, complex works where he can really set that demon he carries loose. Ránki plays just fine and that’s all I have to say about that. For me he’s definitely the least of the three, though still a really good pianist.
Yes, I haven’t reached this yet, but I have cheated and listened to his Rach sonata which I actually thought was pretty good. Horowitz has completely killed it for me, but I did appreciate Kocsis, which is rare in this work.
Brew, have you heard the Zimerman Mozart Sonatas and Chopin Waltzes on DG? I don’t think they were ever re-issued on CD. I’m not much of a Zim fan, though I think his earliest stuff is best. I also really like his Ravel Concertos, Chopin Concertos with Giulini, and the Rach 1st concerto. The rest of his recordings I could live without.
Time to change that. I used to switch avatar every month I’ve just gotten stuck here on KZ.
Zimerman’s tech falls in the serviceable compartment for me. I’ve never heard it cause any problems for him, but it also doesn’t draw much attention to itself. For that Michelangelian perfection in a contemporary pianist I’d rather point to Sokolov.