On August 6, 2021, NativeDSD Music released the first-ever commercially available music in Stereo DSD 1024. This album was one of those 6 very first albums. If you would like to give DSD 1024 listening a try, check out NativeDSD’s sampler: 5 Tracks in DSD 1024 (also released on August 6, 2021).
Eudora Records is thrilled to welcome Javier Laso to the label. As the great pianist Josep Colom states in the accompanying liner notes, “Javier Laso is inspired”, for “he connects directly with the music, a music which shows us a mysterious place which extends beyond the vicissitudes of life and only a performer who sees that place can reveal it to us.”
The program is a marvelous musical coupling: Schubert’s overwhelmingly moving last Piano Sonata D.960, written just a few weeks before his premature death, and Schumann’s Davidsbündlertänze Op. 6, a Romantic and contrasting struggle between the two sides of the composer’s own musical and personal nature. Javier Laso’s rare and inspiring talent is in display in those passionate and insightful performances.
Producer & Recording Engineer Gonzalo Noqué tells us:
I can honestly say that this project is the one I’m most proud of to date. It is not only one of the best sounding albums I’ve done, but above all else, the performances are otherworldly. Javier Laso is simply a genius.
Schubert & Schumann by pianist Javier Laso is a pure DSD release with no conversion to DXD. All DSD bit rates were created in the DSD Domain. Exclusively available from NativeDSD.
For this release, NativeDSD Mastering Engineer Tom Caulfield has teamed with Eudora’s Producer and Recording Engineer Gonzalo Noqué to take the album’s original DSD 256 recording session takes and then mixed and balanced them in the DSD domain using the Signalyst HQ Player Pro 4 mastering tools.
Each DSD bit rate is individually mixed, balanced, and remodulated to the DSD delivery quality in a separate individual pass. Bringing NativeDSD listeners an exclusive bonus – this wonderful album in Pure DSD!
Javier Laso – Piano
Total time: 01:20:40
|Original Recording Format|
|Release Date||April 16, 2021|
We are lucky to have a 2021 release from Eudora, a small audiophile label in Madrid, Spain that allows us to hear Schumann’s finest (at least according to Uchida) set of piano pieces in exactly the context of a “Eusebian” Schumann. Javier Laso is a young Spanish pianist recording for the first time on this label which specializes in solo and chamber music recordings in exquisite 5.0 Channel Pure DSD Surround Sound, usually in programs that ask the listener to reposition the composer(s) in new and insightful ways. One such artist, Josep Colom has recorded three Chopin recitals that are paired with Mozart, Bach, and Liszt. All these recordings have been reviewed in these pages. For this listener they offered several most interesting revelations and were a supreme pleasure.
In fact, Mr. Colom writes the liner notes for this release. He wishes to speak to those who might be coming to the music like this for the first time “Don’t be put off by thinking you don’t understand this kind of music. None of us understands it. Try to open yourself up to the experience; if nothing happens this may not be the right moment. If even the tiniest thing inside you changes, you can try it again.” This is fresh advice, and one would hope that it would fall on willing ears.
But the reason that Colom can trust the experience of listening to hit home rather than play the card of cultural prestige is that this music is very immediate in its effects. The part we don’t understand is the power of melody and in this recital, we have two of the greatest melodists and each in his finest moment of creation.
The first half of the session is the monumental final sonata of Franz Schubert. Our hypothetical first time listener should not be told ahead of time that the first movement of this work is just over 22 minutes long. The famous Molto Moderato is Schubert’s finest effort at casting a potent spell by way of lyrical power and repetition. The sound of the Eudora Steinway situated in a medium size hall basking in every ambient warmth is an overload on the senses, a delirium. But there is a large-scale architecture to the piece that builds and directs and finally surprises.
Javier Laso is extraordinarily sensitive to all the nuances of feeling. I would say that he belongs to the Uchida school of playing. He doesn’t throw out any repeats (a recording by Paul Lewis trims the repeats and tempo to come in 7 minutes sooner than this recording). And yet we don’t feel anesthetized by the end; the opposite, sobered up.
The Andante is the piece to show off how well Eudora does with extreme pianissimo. Josep Colom set a high standard for this on his Chopin recordings, but the reference recordings for this are the several Eudora recordings of solo guitar. Audiophile connoisseurs would do well to check out these recordings, including a remarkable recital of Lute music by Jonas Norberg.
What makes this recording special is the juxtaposition of Schumann and Schubert. Of course, Schumann knew of his older contemporary and deeply lamented his untimely demise. He made a pilgrimage to Schubert’s brother and came away with the manuscript of the 9th symphony. But in fact, the gap between them seems large, and the differences are most obvious. That is why they are not a common pairing. However, this recording makes it seem inevitable and deeply instructive. I have come to hear Schumann in a new way and with a deeper appreciation of the Eusebian side his split personality.
Every single release from this label can be anticipated with great curiosity and pleasure. I hope that they can find the audience they deserve for this enduring, life-changing music.
Classical Music Sentinel
“Music is something more than the score – it’s a living creature and so needs to undergo constant change.” A priceless lesson that pianist Javier Laso claims he learned while practicing and playing during his childhood. A philosophy I’ve always been a proponent of myself.
You don’t perceive a Schubert Sonata, or any piece of music for that matter, from the same mindset when you are twenty, forty or sixty years old. A composer’s intentions are limited by theoretical music rules and laws when it comes time to notate musical thought on paper. The impulse, or emotive impetus behind a work’s creation is missing from the page and it’s up to the performing musician to find the key that will decipher its inspiration.
What’s admirable about Javier Laso’s interpretation is that despite following and applying the dynamic and expressive markings and annotations religiously (for example, most of the left-hand notes in the profound Andante sostenuto movement of the Schubert are marked to be played staccato, and unlike most other pianists he plays them as such) his overall approach sounds free of restraints and fresh, as if improvised in the moment. Or, again in the same movement, when near the end the key suddenly shifts to a luminous C sharp major, Laso’s touch becomes lighter, as if uplifted.
And the same could be said about his outlook on Robert Schumann. He fittingly demarks and stresses the dichotomy between the two alter egos of Florestan and Eusebius within the Davidsbündlertänze, Op. 6. So much so that during some of its pieces you can sense that Schumann’s mental decline was already in its initial stages at that point in time. At least that is what I hear in Laso’s expressive account of the final piece (audio clip below).
Remarkable playing filled with individual insights … a musician to follow as his mindset deepens!
Searching on the internet for the best interpreters of Schubert’s late sonatas, one invariably ends up with the usual suspects of which most are no longer among us. Moreover, pianists from some countries don’t seem to be presented at all, like for instance Spain. Does Spain not have any pianists of note? Reality often speaks a different language. I remember having made a similar remark about Josep Colom and his remarkable, very personal interpretation of Beethoven’s last three sonatas (reviewed in May last year).
Schubert’s Sonata D960 poses a lot of challenges for any interpreter. And not only because it is the longest of them all. In that respect, Rian de Waal, a Dutch piano talent, who died much too young, and whose reading I selected for comparison, said, referring to this sonata:” Take your time with Schubert”. Why? The immensity of Schubert’s final piano composition spans some 45 minutes. A long route indeed with pitfalls at every turn. And not least the concern on how to keep the listener spellbound from A to Z. Some pianists ‘cheat’ by omitting repeats. And not just the inexperienced ones. In his 1989 reading (Philips) Alfred Brendel cut the first movement short from 22 to just under 15 minutes. (He does, of course, remain one of the finer interpreters with his own special style but is certainly not the only one as seasoned Schubertians will tell).
Swiss-born, but otherwise Spain ‘grown’ pianist, Javier Laso, picked up the gauntlet and the result of his reading of Sonata No. 21 is here. His timings correspond with those of de Waal’s. But that is only part of the story. Playing Schubert’s final sonatas are very demanding in terms of understanding the varying moods and handling of the score. It is not just a matter of notes and markings. It’s the subtleties, the shading, phrasing, and coloring, together with the choices of handling of the pedals that make things complicated. Interpreters and scholars do not agree on any of them. Following Laso’s friend and first-rate Spanish pianist, Josep Colom’s advice, it makes sense to approach each reading as though it is a first-time hearing. Based on Colom’s recommending notes, listeners new to this sonata will find much to admire in Laso’s reading.
The first movement unfolds at a leisurely pace, hurdles taken with ease, repeats observed, and, the most difficult part, coherence maintained throughout. But the heart of the matter goes deeper. We mustn’t forget that Schubert finished this sonata less than 2 months before his death. Notwithstanding the often factual if not clinical technical descriptions in professional handbooks, we may assume that this final major composition ought to be taken as a kind of testament, the apotheoses of all his spiritual craftsmanship, the Lieder, and the highs and the lows of his existence. Notably, the plaintive second movement marks elements of Schubert’s inner struggle, whereas the positive scherzo fits in as part of a singing testament, but with an awkward short-lived 4 minutes only. Both performed by Laso with precision and pianistic honesty.
Like the first, it is the final movement that can make or break any performance. The final surge of a candle about to lose its ultimate breath demands every bit of expressiveness a performer can muster. The best readings usually come from elderly, mature Schubertians, and sometimes even with or after their second recording. Laso may not be there yet, though I find his interpretation effective, close to the score, whilst displaying plenty of personal conviction. Besides, he has the advantage of being recorded at a level none of the yesteryear’s artists can, even in ‘remastered’ format, match.
Javier Laso finishes with dances of the ‘League of David’, a society created by Schumann, with an existence between reality and fiction. His ‘borrowed’ personalities Florestan, the tempestuous, and Eusebius, the melancholic poet, symbolizing his alter egos, are members. In Davidsbündlertänze, which are not dances but a suite of 18 character pieces, composed much later in his career than the Opus number (6) suggests, Schumann lets these alter egos interchange in complex dialogue to express his feelings with a view to marrying 16-year-old Clara Wieck against the wish of her father.
Simple melodies, but difficult to play and difficult to interpret. Schumann did give detailed descriptions about tempi etc. but if, as some scholars say, it must be seen as a ‘self-portrait’, or even heralding his mental illness, emotional aspects need to be addressed adequately. Furthermore, some simple questions remain like how to play and distinguish between ‘with humor’ or ‘with good humor’. Here, too, In Josep Colom advice in his recommendation to listen without any prejudice. If followed, the personal views of the player will be the determining factor. Rather than seeking the precarious path of dualistic reasoning between the of the one or the other ego, Laso seems to prefer a more straightforward road, getting out the beauty and the inventions of the scoring. Seen in that perspective I’m sure that those listening with an open mind, will agree that Laso’s view is as good as any other qualified interpreter with a fresh look.
With this release, Javier Laso enters fierce competition with a limited field of confirmed Schubertians. He shows himself to be a competent player, knowing how to connect with the music. I’m convinced he is well underway to further mature into becoming one of the few top contenders.
Nevertheless, Javier Laso’s debut release with Eudora records is crowned with a most respectable reading of Schumann’s Davidsbündlertänze at par with other available prime choices but recorded at the best possible resolution in decent surround, thanks to the engineering wizardry of Gonzalo Noqué.
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