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Thread: Beethoven Piano Sonata no. 23 "Appassionata"

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    Default Beethoven Piano Sonata no. 23 "Appassionata"

    Where do I even begin with this work? One of Beethoven's greatest masterpieces, and perhaps one of the greatest pieces of the piano litterature. From the dark first theme and the fate motif to the exciting coda this sonata has so much to offer!

    What do you think of this work? Why do you like/dislike it?

    And what are your favorite recordings of this sonata, and what do you like about them? For me Gilels is the best, because of the great contrasts he does between the different sections, without overexaggerating it. He also has a very beautiful tone.
    Last edited by pianoville; Oct-26-2018 at 22:37.

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    One reason I often dislike this sonata is that, in my experience, pianists use it as a vehicle to display their virtuosity, which doesn’t interest me. Another reason I dislike it is that it is sometimes played aggressively, as if the principal emotion in the first movement is anger, and that doesn’t interest me either.

    There’s a performance by Claudio Arrau which is worth hearing. He finds tragedy in the music and I find it moving to hear. It’s on a Classic Archives DVD.
    Last edited by Mandryka; Oct-27-2018 at 10:19.

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    Senior Member KenOC's Avatar
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    I first heard the Appassionata on an MK mono LP with Richter. It brought the house down (not literally, of course, but close to it). BAD inner-groove distortion and the usual lousy sonics of Soviet recordings of that period. Still...



    I've read that the Brits habitually refer to this sonata as the "Pashunarter."
    Last edited by KenOC; Oct-27-2018 at 05:47.


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    Quote Originally Posted by KenOC View Post
    I first heard the Appassionata on an MK mono LP with Richter. It brought the house down (not literally, of course, but close to it). BAD inner-groove distortion and the usual lousy sonics of Soviet recordings of that period. Still...



    I've read that the Brits habitually refer to this sonata as the "Pashunarter."
    This is the inferior one you like, it's an example of the sort of muscular piano playing up with which I will not put, straight out of Vulgaria.



    And I think the superior one I like is somewhere on this, I haven't checked



    You just have to look at the faces of the pianists to see the difference. Richter has all the hard ruthlessness of Putin; Arrau has the wisdom of age written all over his mug.
    Last edited by Mandryka; Oct-27-2018 at 10:30.

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    My favourites are

    - Gilels in Brilliant Classics 6CD set with Gilels/Beethoven, January 1961
    - Richter Carnegie Hall 1960. There are other interesting live recordings by him too, as already mentioned.

    Obviously more extrovert than recommended in post #2.
    Last edited by joen_cph; Oct-27-2018 at 10:38.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Mandryka View Post
    One reason I often dislike this sonata is that, in my experience, pianists use it as a vehicle to display their virtuosity, which doesn’t interest me. Another reason I dislike it is that it is sometimes played aggressively, as if the principal emotion in the first movement is anger, and that doesn’t interest me either.

    There’s a performance by Claudio Arrau which is worth hearing. He finds tragedy in the music and I find it moving to hear. It’s on a Classic Archives DVD.
    I very much agree with you. Very many pianists use this as a kind of showpiece. Especially all the young prodigies of today that unfortunately often do not understand the music.

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    The worst performances are the ones where the pianist bludgeons the piano keys & presses down on the sustain pedal at the same time (like Evgeny Kissin, whose overly generalized Beethoven becomes more about slamming piano keys than musical content). I agree that Emil Gilels and Claudio Arrau turn the Appassionata into music--a kind of imaginative & more even tempered fantasia for solo piano--more so than most other pianists.

    Arrau's boyhood training with Liszt's favorite last pupil Martin Krause informs the quality of his performance. Central to Krause's teaching, according to Arrau's reminiscences (in the book "Conversations with Arrau"), was that the pianist should never appear to expend all of their technical reserves in performance. Krause taught Arrau that he should give the audience the impression that he always had more technical reserves than he was using, which he could draw upon, if need be. This allows for a smoother, more even toned & less overheated Appassionata than we normally hear from pianists not trained in the Liszt tradition. Indeed, the moments where Arrau strikes the keys forcefully in his Appassionata are kept to a bare minimum--he does so only when necessary, and even then he maintains more reserve than Sviatoslav Richter does. It allows the music to have more dimensions.

    Does Krause's teaching come down from Beethoven (& perhaps Mozart) to Czerny and Liszt? I believe very strongly that it does. It unquestionably comes from Liszt, judging from the remembrances of his students. For example, Krause once said that Arrau would be his "masterpiece", but he also said of another Liszt pupil, Emil von Sauer, that von Sauer was "the legitimate heir of Liszt; he has more of his charm and geniality than any other Liszt pupil." Indeed von Sauer was said "to caress the piano in a suave, polished manner. His recordings show him to have been a smooth pianist who inclined toward relaxed tempos and exactitude of detail over temperament" (Harold Schonberg, "Great Pianists", P. 317) Of course, these comments would suffice as a description of Arrau's playing as well. Which helps to explain why Arrau doesn't play the music of Beethoven or Liszt in an overly loud, fast, showy display of outsized virtuosity (for the sake of virtuosity). These attributes set Arrau's performances of Beethoven and Liszt apart from many other pianists, especially those that have been misguided by the (overly renowned) examples of what von Sauer criticized as the "too fast & too loud" big virtuosos of the 1930s. Perhaps this negative influence is nowhere more apparent than in performances of Beethoven's Appassionata and Liszt's Sonata in B minor (& other similar works that lend themselves to loud virtuosic displays).

    In this regard, Arrau and Gilels' more even, smooth toned performances of the Appassionata have much in common. Gilels' boyhood training similarly connects back to Liszt (& it shows), via the studies of his first teacher (before Neuhaus) with Theodor Leschitizsky, who studied with Czerny.

    Alfred Brendel (on Philips in 1971) also doesn't slam the piano keys in the Appassionata, nor in the music of Liszt, either--being another pianist whose lineage can be traced back to Krause, via his teacher Edwin Fischer. However, Brendel's interpretation is quite different from Arrau & Gilels'. I find it faster and more Mozartian right from the opening. It's good to hear Brendel's alternative view, but I don't think he's quite as successful as Gilels or Arrau in this work.

    It would have also been very interesting to hear Arturo Benedetti Michelangeli play Beethoven's Appassionata, as he had similar attributes in Beethoven to Arrau and Gilels. Although Michelangeli's training can't be traced back to Czerny or Liszt, as far as I know. Even so, Alfred Cortot once declared of the young Michelangeli, "Here is a new Liszt". & IMO, any Beethoven piano sonata played by Michelangeli is worth hearing, especially the early ones.

    Another notable Appassionata that should be mentioned, especially in light of Krause's teaching, is that of Edwin Fischer's. Fischer too (appropriately) plays the work as a more even tempered, imaginative fantasia:

    Last edited by Josquin13; Oct-27-2018 at 20:06.

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    There´s a huge difference between early Arrau and the later, more subdued one. An obvious example is his versions of the Weber Konzertstück, from the Defauw version (1945) to Galliera (1960). There are further versions too http://arrauhouse.org/content/disc_weber.htm

    The Arrau discography lists several Appassionatas, from 1954 until 1985 http://arrauhouse.org/content/disc_beethoven_solo2.htm

    Likewise, Gilels´versions vary a lot. The Brilliant Classics is very different from and faster than say his late DG one.

    BTW Peter Gutmann in "Classical Notes" has an interesting (as always) article about the work & some recordings.
    Last edited by joen_cph; Oct-27-2018 at 20:14.

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    Is there an early version of the Appassionata from Arrau? I don't know one. I agree that technically he was more nimble in the 40s, 50s, 60s, and 70s than by the 1980s. However, Arrau's interpretations were always on the slow side, for the most part, and consequently, more detailed. Although he may have slowed down even more by the 1980s.

    Unlike Richter, I've never heard Gilels get out of control, or lose his even tone, or overly pound the piano keys. But I haven't heard the Brilliant Appassionata that you speak of. Was it recorded from a live concert?
    Last edited by Josquin13; Oct-27-2018 at 20:17.

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    Richter released a recording for Philips in the 1980s, does anyone know the date. I think I like it more than the one he released in the 1960s. An early Arrau one was released in a set called A Liszt Legacy a few years ago.

    Badura Skoda on Astree is fast but the piano is so good - clear, colourful -- that it becomes interesting -- further proof that people who play modern pianos should keep their mitts off unless they're called Arrau and are over 70.
    Last edited by Mandryka; Oct-27-2018 at 20:59.

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    I haven´t heard the earlier Arraus, they are probably not from his most contrasting period. I personally tend to prefer the earlier Arrau, so I don't dig much into the later recordings, though I find say the Chopin Nocturnes/philips very interesting.

    I agree that Gilels 1961 is more controlled than Richter in 1960. Yet the 1961 is also much more extrovert, and I think tension-loaded, than the DG. Reviewers tend too agree.
    Last edited by joen_cph; Oct-27-2018 at 20:20.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Mandryka View Post
    Richter released a recording for Philips in the 1980s, does anyone know the date. I think I like it much more than the one he released in the 1960s.
    That Philips recording--a very late, great one--is from 1992.
    Last edited by Blancrocher; Oct-27-2018 at 20:27.

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    There are many Richter Appassionata performances, starting in Kiev and Prague in 1959, then at the Moscow Conservatory in 1960 (which I prefer to his NYC recording), then various performances in the New York City area, including the one from Carnegie Hall in 1960. To my knowledge, however, Richter didn't record the sonata again until 1992--when he recorded it three times in concert, & it's the October 25, 1992 Appassionata performance from the Concertgebouw in Amsterdam that appeared on Philips and Decca Japan. The other two 1992 performances were from the Villa Medici in Briosco (on St-Laurent Studio YSL SR 1992 09 20) and the Fritz Phillips Music Hall in Eindhoven (on VPRO EW 9301).

    EDIT--I see Blancrocher beat me to it. Oh well...
    Last edited by Josquin13; Oct-27-2018 at 20:31.

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    joen_cph writes, "I agree that Gilels 1961 is more controlled than Richter in 1960. Yet the 1961 is also much more extrovert, and I think tension-loaded, than the DG. Reviewers tend too agree."

    That makes sense to me. Gilels' Beethoven is almost always more vitally interesting in concert than in the studio for DG (with the exception of his Waldstein, and a few other sonatas). I'll try to hear it. Thanks. (Gilels is a favorite pianist of mine, especially in Beethoven.)

    I agree about Arrau's Chopin 21 Nocturnes--although they've been criticized for being too slow and ponderous. I don't think so. Although it could be true for the rest of Arrau's Chopin (except for the early EMI Etudes). But that's a different school of pianism, in my view.
    Last edited by Josquin13; Oct-27-2018 at 20:46.

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    Here



    It's as colourful as woodblocks! I wasn't entirely joking when I said mitts off!

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