A comparison of three recordings of Suzuki piano repertoire books 1 and 2

by Jenny Macmillan

Ability Development, Summer 1999

As a Suzuki teacher and parent I have spent a great deal of time listening to recordings of the Suzuki piano repertoire. As a result I am aware that renderings by different performers vary considerably. I therefore decided that I would listen systematically to the three recordings available from the BSI and have drawn up a table comparing and contrasting them. Inevitably my opinions are highly subjective, and I would encourage anyone to listen to the recordings for themselves and reach their own conclusions.

Kataoka Aide Lloyd-Watts
Tone Quality Harsh, forced RH. Pleasant tone. Shallow tone, especially in book 2.
Dynamics Good; nice echoes. No echoes or dynamic contrasts until near end of book 2. Almost no echoes or dynamic contrasts.
Phrasing Phrases weakly shaped. Monotonous repeated notes in Allegretto 2. Gently shaped phrases. Sensitive ends of phrases in book 2. Repeated notes lack variety in Allegretto 2. Good phrasing. No variety in tone of repeated notes in Allegretto 2.
Balance between hands Mostly good. Well-blended LH broken chords. Happy Farmer: RH accompaniment too strong. Accompaniment clearly audible - useful for studying LH. However sometimes a little too strong, eg Short Story, Happy Farmer. Good.
Legato between repeated notes Ranging from fairly good to very good. Good but not excellent. Minuet 1: RH bar 1 poor legato. Very poor in book 1, poor in book 2.
Speeds Mostly good, but Ecossaise too slow and Variations and Minuet 2 rather fast. Mostly good if on the fast side, but some, especially early book 2, too fast, including Variations, Christmas Day Secrets, Short Story and Minuet 2. Mostly good if on the slow side, but some too slow, eg Variations, Allegretto 1, Allegro and Ecossaise.
Musical endings to pieces Slight slowing down at ends of pieces. Slight slowing down at ends of pieces in book 1. Good variety of ritardandi in book 2. Abrupt endings to pieces in book 1. Only slight ritardandi in book 2.
Rhythm Tendency to play almost semiquaver-dotted quaver instead of two equal quavers in Allegro, all Bach Minuets and Arietta. Happy Farmer: LH first quaver too long. Beethoven 1st movement: grace notes too loud. Accurate. Beethoven 1st movement: acciaccatura played before beat instead of on beat. Accurate. Beethoven 1st movement: acciaccatura played before beat instead of on beat.
Articulation Christmas Day Secrets: RH first quaver played staccato instead of given its full length. Beethoven 1st movement: slurs not articulated. Christmas Day Secrets: RH bar 4 last note not played staccato. Inventive articulation in Bach and Mozart Minuets - inappropriate in this context? Short Story: RH 3rds not played staccato followed by 6ths not legato.
Rests Rests omitted in Honeybee, Clair de Lune, Cradle Song and Melody. Previous note held too long in Long Long Ago, Minuet 1 and Beethoven 2nd movement. Incorrect final bar in Happy Farmer. Most rests accurate but previous note held slightly too long in Honeybee, G minor Minuet 1 and Cradle Song. Rests reasonably accurate but previous note held too long in Clair de Lune, Minuet 1 and G minor Minuet 1. Inaccurate rests in final bar of Long Long Ago, Happy Farmer and Melody.
Note accuracy Good. Good. Clair de Lune: two incorrect LH notes.
Recording quality Good. Good. Very clear - every note audible. Good.
Twinkle variations RH fast and light with LH accompaniment. Variations 1-3 all about the same speed but too fast at MM82; Variation 2 no dynamic contrast; Twinkle theme even faster at MM86 but good legato between repeated notes. RH only. Generally too fast, but speed varies for each variation - Variation 1: MM80; Variation 2: MM72, some dynamic contrast; Variation 3: MM76; Twinkle theme much too fast at MM92, fairly good legato between repeated notes. RH and LH two octaves apart. Variations 1-3 slow and ponderous at MM66; Variation 2: no dynamic contrast; Twinkle theme: too fast at MM88, no legato between repeated notes.
Summary of good points Good dynamics; good balance between hands; good legato between repeated notes; mostly good speeds. Good tone quality; sensitive phrasing; musical endings; mostly good speeds if on the fast side; clear recording quality. Good phrasing; good balance between hands; mostly good speeds if on the slow side.
Summary of bad points Harsh, forced tone; weakly shaped phrases; disturbing uneven quaver rhythm in places; many rests omitted or inaccurate. No dynamic contrasts within pieces; some accompaniments quite strong; some pieces too fast, especially at beginning of book 2; inappropriate articulation in Bach and Mozart. Shallow tone, especially in book 2; little dynamic contrast; very poor legato between repeated notes; some pieces too slow; abrupt endings; rests not always accurate; incorrect LH notes in Clair de Lune.

My overall conclusion is that none of the three recordings is perfect as listening material for young pupils. Of the three, I prefer William Aide’s CD as many of the performances are bright and lively and he provides welcome variety between pieces. The performances are not, however, ideal. Of the other two, Mrs Kataoka’s playing I find aggressive and monotonous and there are some uneven rhythms in many of the book 2 pieces. The slow speeds and general absence of dynamic contrasts in Valerie Lloyd-Watts’ playing result in a generally uninspiring performance. There seems to me clear scope for a new recording which would need to be technically accurate and musically sensitive to inspire Suzuki pupils.