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Thread: Beethoven sonatas: Arrau vs Gilels

  1. #16
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    Arrau: round, warm, voices blended together, with momentum-impeding rubato.

    Gilels: contrapuntal, metronomic, trebly, roomy
    Last edited by Rubens; Jun-14-2019 at 01:32.

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  3. #17
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    Thanks all, as i can post no less than 15 words, I will write just that.

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    Senior Member flamencosketches's Avatar
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    Seems Arrau's Beethoven sonatas recordings can't be had for cheap these days, $60-70 minimum, used. Too bad, I would love to explore them further.

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    I've only ever heard three pianists in my life that appropriately entered very softly--that is, in a state of dream-like reflection or repose on the piano--in the Adagio movement of Beethoven's Piano Concerto no. 5: They are Claudio Arrau, Emil Gilels, and to a slightly lesser extent, Edwin Fischer. Everyone else I've heard enters a bit too loudly, and it doesn't work as effectively, in my view.

    Arrau:
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Sk-g3Zjw9qs
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RmeDjDRJrc8

    Gilels:
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sIV25hfunb0
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=We-0FGt8QhQ

    Granted, that says something not about the differences between Arrau & Gilels in Beethoven, but about how thoughtfully they each considered Beethoven's scores. For example, I recall that Arrau once told Joseph Horowitz in the book, "Conversations with Arrau" that there was a time in his life when he felt he hadn't truly understood a certain passage in a Beethoven sonata, and it nagged at him for years, until one day, he found himself standing in front of a Matthias Grünewald painting of "The Crucifixion" in a German art museum, and the Beethoven passage suddenly made sense to him, and he finally understood it for the first time. That story tells us a lot about Arrau's approach to music, not only to Beethoven, but also his intellectual persistence with scores, as he was known to take greater pains studying and thinking about scores than most other pianists. So, when Arrau interprets a phrase slightly differently from other pianists, it's good to take notice & reflect, as you may be hearing a deeper insight into the score than you've heard before.

    Another thing that the two pianists had in common was that they were both better live in recital, IMO, & especially Gilels (as has already been pointed out by Joen_cph). There was often (though not always) a difference between how Gilels played Beethoven in concert, and how he performed the same work in the studio. In the studio he could be more deliberately circumspect, immaculate, & more classically restrained and contained in Beethoven (much like Michelangeli). While in concert he took greater risks, and became more spontaneously caught up in the moment, and more deeply emotional. That becomes apparent, for example, if you compare Gilels' Beethoven Hammerklavier Sonata on DG to his final live performance of the sonata at the Moscow Conservatory in 1984 (& especially in the long slow movement):

    DG, studio: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VgHyxMIh1Mo
    Moscow, live: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mjwph_NG89E

    Or, with Gilels' live Beethoven 'Eroica' Variations on Hänssler, versus his DG studio account:

    Hanssler, live, 1980: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FjrPBMiGjHc

    Similarly, if you've ever listened to Arrau's 1968 live concert from Chile on the Music and Arts label, where he 'lets loose' in and keeps you on the edge of your seat throughout the Liszt B minor Sonata, the same is true for Arrau. His Schumann Fantasia in C was likewise less circumspect in the concert hall than on his later Philips studio recording: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=anPViGX2q10. Although, admittedly, I've never sat down and directly compared Arrau's live Beethoven sonatas to his studio recordings, I'd expect the same is true, at least earlier in his career, when Arrau was in his prime.
    Last edited by Josquin13; Jun-17-2019 at 00:55.

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  7. #20
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    Quote Originally Posted by flamencosketches View Post
    I haven't heard terribly much of either. What I've noticed is that Arrau has a heavier touch, generally takes the tempi a bit slower, and uses more rubato. Gilels plays Beethoven with his signature light touch and buttery tone and is pretty steady with tempi. I think he's more successful in the concertos than in the sonatas, but overall I'm not crazy about his Beethoven (though I'm a huge fan of his in other repertoire). Arrau I think is a little more successful, even though I put him on the other end of the spectrum from my preferred Beethoven Pianists (Schnabel, Kempff, Brendel).
    To back up a little, if I may, where do you (and others) place Gilels on the Arrau-kempff/brendel spectrum and why? I would think, from your descriptions, loser to the right hand side of that spectrum. Or is he sui generis?
    Last edited by RogerWaters; Jun-18-2019 at 11:46.

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    The latter is a new discovery of mine, but Kempff has long been a favorite. This could well be because he was my introduction to these works, but he is exceptional in Beethoven for a few reasons. One is voicing. He is a master of distinguishing the multiple lines of a Beethoven piano work, which works exceptionally well in the highly contrapuntal sonatas like the Hammerklavier.
    Yes, I certainly hear his clear voicing in the Hammerklavier.

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    Senior Member flamencosketches's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by RogerWaters View Post
    To back up a little, if I may, where do you (and others) place Gilels on the Arrau-kempff/brendel spectrum and why? I would think, from your descriptions, loser to the right hand side of that spectrum. Or is he sui generis?
    Closer to Kempff/Brendel I'd say. Maybe even more aloof than those two. I haven't heard terribly many of his Beethoven sonatas recordings, and I think on his live recordings he might veer closer to the "passionate/poetic" school of Arrau, etc. I LOVE Gilels in other material but haven't quite come to terms with his Beethoven yet. Tell you what, I'll listen to the Beethoven sonatas CD of his that I have (Waldstein, Les Adieux, and Appassionata) later on today and write back what I think.

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  12. #23
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    Pommier has also made some fine recordings for Virgin, including some very good Poulenc.

    Pollini's thing isn't 'warmth,' it is clarity of line, even in the densest of textures.
    Last edited by Baron Scarpia; Jun-18-2019 at 15:19.

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    Quote Originally Posted by flamencosketches View Post
    ...He plays with fiery technique and intense emotionality, often at the expense of technical precision. In fact, there is no precision whatsoever to be found in his recordings. They are riddled with mistakes....
    For what it's worth, I've read that Schnabel could play with great precision, playing live, but that the recording equipment spooked him. He didn't like playing to be recorded and apparently never felt at ease. In regards to everything else you've said, I couldn't agree more. I love Schnabel's Beethoven Sonatas. Have them on Naxos.

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    Quote Originally Posted by vtpoet View Post
    For what it's worth, I've read that Schnabel could play with great precision, playing live, but that the recording equipment spooked him. He didn't like playing to be recorded and apparently never felt at ease. In regards to everything else you've said, I couldn't agree more. I love Schnabel's Beethoven Sonatas. Have them on Naxos.
    Yeah, I've heard that! Very interesting, and makes me wish I was around to see him when he was actively touring the world, wowing audiences everywhere.

    I purchased the complete* Schnabel Beethoven sonatas on Amazon MP3 for $1. I have often wondered if the Naxos, for example, or the EMI/Warner CD box sets feature better transfers of these recordings than what I have. Might make the switch in the future.

    *Not quite complete, with the egregious and inexplicable omission of the 31st sonata. I have the Naxos CD with 30, 31, and 32 to supplement.

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    Quote Originally Posted by flamencosketches View Post
    I purchased the complete* Schnabel Beethoven sonatas on Amazon MP3 for $1. I have often wondered if the Naxos, for example, or the EMI/Warner CD box sets feature better transfers of these recordings than what I have. Might make the switch in the future.
    The Warner transfers were very disappointing. Obert-Thorn's transfers for Naxos are much better, but best of all are Seth Winner's, that were issued on Pearl. Unfortunately, they're OOP, but if you can find them at a reasonable price, don't hesitate.

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  18. #27
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    Quote Originally Posted by flamencosketches View Post
    Yeah, I've heard that! Very interesting, and makes me wish I was around to see him when he was actively touring the world, wowing audiences everywhere.

    I purchased the complete* Schnabel Beethoven sonatas on Amazon MP3 for $1. I have often wondered if the Naxos, for example, or the EMI/Warner CD box sets feature better transfers of these recordings than what I have. Might make the switch in the future.

    *Not quite complete, with the egregious and inexplicable omission of the 31st sonata. I have the Naxos CD with 30, 31, and 32 to supplement.
    You know that Schnabel re-recorded op 109 and op 111 in 1942? Worth trying to find I think.
    Last edited by Mandryka; Jun-22-2019 at 14:24.

  19. #28
    Senior Member flamencosketches's Avatar
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    Hmm no I didn't know that. That does sound worthwhile, let me see if I can track it down on CD

    Edit:

    71OU8IWh3zL._SY355_.jpg

    I believe it is included on this disc alongside concertos 4 and 5.
    Last edited by flamencosketches; Jun-22-2019 at 15:09.

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