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Thread: Beethoven's Piano Sonatas (the Best of the Best)

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    Default Beethoven's Piano Sonatas (the Best of the Best)

    I've had a complete set of recordings of the sonatas for a long time now (which I'm pleased with), and occasionally I like to dip into portions of other artists' recordings of these sonatas just for the fresh perspective.

    However, in this instance, I want to banish my obsessive need to have every sonata in my collection played by one individual, because I know that - especially in complete sets - even the greatest names have hits and misses.

    So, in my quest to find the best performer for each individual sonata, I want to open up this question to all of you: even if you might prefer the complete set from someone else, who's done the best Waldstein? The best Hammerklavier? And all the rest!

    In your opinion of course

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    Senior Member Sebastien Melmoth's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Polednice View Post
    The best Hammerklavier?
    The best Hammerklavier? To my mind there is no question: Glenn Gould's CBC Radio performance of 1970.

    http://www.amazon.com/Beethoven-Pian...0235682&sr=1-1

    (Schiff and Kempff are okay as well.)

    Kempff does a fine job with the other 'named' Sonatas ('Moonlight', 'Pathétique', 'Appassionata'); yet Gould gets my vote for them over all--his 'Appassionata' is utterly extraordinary.

    http://www.amazon.com/Beethoven-Pian...0236132&sr=1-1

    Also Gould's disc of the complete Op. 31 Sonatas is a gem:

    http://www.amazon.com/Beethoven-Pian...967606-9890515

    And the late three:

    http://www.amazon.com/Beethoven-Pian...967606-9890515

    Now, for the change: my absolute favourite Diabelli Variations is by Arrau:

    http://www.amazon.com/Diabelli-Varia...0236310&sr=1-1
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    I like Schnabel (one of the top five recorded pianists, in my opinion). His recordings of the earlier sonatas are his best. He's got a reputation for hitting wrong notes in the more difficult works; but Arrau said he never heard him play a wrong note in concert, so it must have just been recording nerves.

    Solomon (Cutner) is probably the most underrated Beethoven interpreter, and one of the most underrated pianists in general. We English should be more patriotic about him: he's practically all we've got.

    I love Sviatoslav Richter, and I think he was an excellent Beethoven interpreter (better than Gilels, even). All of his recordings are worth listening to, not least his Op. 120, Op. 34 and Op. 35 variations.

    I don't agree that Gould's Hammerklavier is the best, but it's the most insightful.
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    Schiff's setting of the No. 8 "Pathetique" has the 1st movement repeat in the correct place, in my opinion, going all the back to what most people think is just the introduction. When Schiff does this it makes a great deal of sense and adds a whole extra dimension and pacing to the movement. I don't know if others do this, but I had never heard it that way until Schiff.

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    Schiff's new cycle is very good, as is Ohlsson's recently completed cycle.

    And you're right: Richter is way better than Gilels--the major problem with Richter is frequently his poor recorded sound and audience noise. Frankly I'm totally worn out with his audience noise.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Sebastien Melmoth View Post
    And you're right: Richter is way better than Gilels--the major problem with Richter is frequently his poor recorded sound and audience noise. Frankly I'm totally worn out with his audience noise.
    Yeah, it is a shame. I guess I have quite a high tolerance of bad sound quality, though. Otherwise I wouldn't enjoy Schnabel.
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    Arrau blows Gould's Hammerklavier so far out of the water it is so far out of the water.

    Also the silences aren't filled with incessant tuneless muttering.
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    I could go on and on about Beethoven performers, but I think a better thing to do is just point to certain recordings of works that I cherish above the rest.

    First off, Richter's Appassionata:



    Serkin's Waldstein, used to be Gilels but Serkin is magnificent here:



    Gilels' Hammerklavier, though not to detract from Pollini's also wonderful recording:



    Edwin Fischer's op.109:



    Annie Fischer's op. 111, in what is arguably the best cycle of the 32 sonatas:



    Schnabel's near the top in my opinion in all the Beethoven sonatas, and there are certainly moments in his playing that you just have to say - this is the best. How could it not be? But then there are some not-so-good things too - not related to the interpretation itself, but rather to secondary concerns like technique and sound quality. I myself often overlook these "flaws" much like I do with Cortot's magnificent Chopin and Schumann.

    Recently I also spun Michelangeli's op. 111 which was very special in the way that it balanced and colored the layers. Unforgettable trills at the end of the second movement.

    Also very worthwhile are Richter's Leipzig recordings of the last three Beethoven sonatas. The idiosyncratic Yudina is always an eye-opener for me too, though I realize that some can't stand her.
    Last edited by Air; Mar-17-2011 at 05:46.
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    In general, I have many recordings of the sonatas that I enjoy, but when it comes to Beethoven and piano, Kempff is my go to guy. My recording of him playing the Moonlinght, Pathetique, Appasionata, and Waldstein sonatas remains one of my absolute favorite albums. For the late sonatas, though, including the Hammerklavier, I really enjoy Pollini.

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    I'm with you guys on most of these--Richter, Gilels, Kempff, Pollini...

    However, the Schnabel thing eludes me.

    Sure, he was the first to record all the Sonatas (on 78-RPM); even so, he plays too fast.
    (Have you ever seen old heavy 78s spinning on a turntable? It's s c a r y: looks like they could slice off a head if they became airborne!)

    Brendel's first account of the complete cycle was good--he also played all the Variations, Bagatelles, etc. No small feat.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Sebastien Melmoth View Post
    Sure, he was the first to record all the Sonatas (on 78-RPM); even so, he plays too fast.
    (Have you ever seen old heavy 78s spinning on a turntable? It's s c a r y: looks like they could slice off a head if they became airborne!)


    (sorry nothing intelligent to interject!) That just is funny.

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    Senior Member Sebastien Melmoth's Avatar
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    True!

    Now, I enjoy CD transfers of old 78s of classic Jazz (Art Tatum, for example), but that's a different situation.

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    Thanks for all the great suggestions - I'll get right on it

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    How can you say that Schnabel plays too fast when you're advocating Gould recordings?

    He plays quite fast, by glacial Kempff standards, but not that fast. (Maybe in the Hammerklavier he plays faster than he is really capable of, but that's an exception.) Schnabel is not as powerful as Richter, but he shares many of his other qualities: contrapuntal playing, attention to detail, sense of tempo, interpretative ability. What seperates them is that Schnabel is a master of rubato, something which Richter never really attempted. Richter is no doubt still the better pianist, but I rate Schnabel more highly than Kempff or Gilels, for example.
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    Quote Originally Posted by Sebastien Melmoth View Post
    I'm with you guys on most of these--Richter, Gilels, Kempff, Pollini...

    However, the Schnabel thing eludes me.

    Sure, he was the first to record all the Sonatas (on 78-RPM); even so, he plays too fast.
    (Have you ever seen old heavy 78s spinning on a turntable? It's s c a r y: looks like they could slice off a head if they became airborne!)

    Brendel's first account of the complete cycle was good--he also played all the Variations, Bagatelles, etc. No small feat.
    In Schnabel's days, he had the reputation of being a boring old man who cares too much about playing everything neatly..... it's sad that we no longer live in those times and people nowadays care more about everything being played correctly than being played with fire and passion.

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