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Thread: Beethoven sonatas: Arrau vs Gilels

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    Default Beethoven sonatas: Arrau vs Gilels

    How would you describe the different playing styles of the above, in the least subjective terms possible?

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    Senior Member flamencosketches's Avatar
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    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).

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    Quote Originally Posted by flamencosketches View Post
    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).
    Can you say a bit about the differences there as well? I’m familiar with most of those names, just lacking the language to describe/discuss pianistic technique... how do they differ from arrau (and how, if you please, from gilels)
    Last edited by RogerWaters; Jun-11-2019 at 11:45.

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    Senior Member flamencosketches's Avatar
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    First off, I was wrong to include Schnabel in a category with Kempff and Brendel. He is in a league of his own. Schnabel is a true poet of Beethoven interpreters. 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, and in awful sound to boot. Despite these shortcomings they are still the benchmark, just because interpretively, no one comes close. He makes each sonata sound like its own world. I realize I'm speaking in subjective language but that's because Schnabel was a subjective pianist. Listen to a recording of his and then another recording of any other pianist in the same sonata and the differences will immediately come to light. For these reasons, some do not like him, but for me it doesn't get any better.

    As I mentioned in another thread, we can not always experience this much power in music, but there is another side to these works, and that is better captured by masters of subtlety like Kempff and Brendel. 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. For a really obvious example check out his recording of the 15th piano sonata and listen to how he takes apart the different lines. He has a light touch compared to Schnabel and plays in a more "classical" manner.

    Brendel is similar, but even more precise (Kempff will still make mistakes here and there it seems). I like him best in the early sonatas. He recorded the complete cycle 3 times, once in the 1960s for Vox, then in the 1970s for Philips (analog) and another cycle for Philips in the 1990s in digital sound. The latter is what I've been enjoying but I'm sure each is great, such is his mastery.

    Speaking in concrete terms about these works and these players is difficult for me. I am often guided through life by my intuition. This sometimes puts me at odds with folks who are more analytical in nature. So I hope I've succeeded in getting my point across a little bit.

    In any case, I'm not very far along my Beethoven sonatas quest either, and you will be better off listening to someone with more experience! But these are my thoughts to this point.

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    Thank you for your responses
    Last edited by RogerWaters; Jun-11-2019 at 12:06.

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    Senior Member flamencosketches's Avatar
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    Thanks for reading

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    There's a big difference between Gilels' studio recordings (such as those on DG) and his live recordings (say on Brilliant Classics). He takes more liberties in the last ones, and they tend to appear more spontaneous, plus tempi can be more extreme.

    Here's Appassionata, in two different versions by him

    DG https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=URL1HEBciWc

    Brilliant Classics, 1961 https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QIrHYoRrsho

    Likewise, there's a big difference between the earliest Arrau, the middle one, and the late one. As far as I remember, not much Beethoven from his earliest days, however.

    Here's a quite early Moonlight (1950)
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UETAuFhXAv8

    here's a somewhat later
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pEMViAPLyrI
    Last edited by joen_cph; Jun-11-2019 at 12:43.

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    Senior Member Larkenfield's Avatar
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    One man's opinion. Arrau is full-bodied, rich, perhaps more serious and weighty, psychologically deep and probing. If one gets his cycle, I recommend the Philips recordings over the Decca because of their superior sound quality. Gilels has a beautiful touch, gorgeous tone, more smiling, perhaps lighter in texture, less intense, more relaxed, more polite, perhaps slightly faster tempos. Two excellent cycles. I go with Arrau because I prefer the Sonatas deep and probing.



    Last edited by Larkenfield; Jun-11-2019 at 18:38.
    "That's all Folks!"

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    Quote Originally Posted by RogerWaters View Post
    How would you describe the different playing styles of the above, in the least subjective terms possible?
    When Arrau talks about Beethoven, it's clear he thinks the music is the expression of something mystical. He says, for example, that the third variation of op 111/ii is a"a joyful assertion of life on earth" and that the fourth variation is "the breathing of nature" and the fifth variation is an ascent to mystical ecstasy, an "upward fall"

    Whether this comes out in the performances I couldn't say.
    Last edited by Mandryka; Jun-11-2019 at 16:55.

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    Senior Member philoctetes's Avatar
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    Lark puts it pretty well... Arrau romanticizes Beethoven, probing deep and his tone is dark... spiritual with layers of clouds... I find Gilels more classical and a bit rigid... my preferred set is Rudolf Serkin's but it's not complete...

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    Senior Member Gallus's Avatar
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    I wouldn't swap anything in the world for Gilels' recording of 31



    Arrau is one of my favourite pianists in Chopin, Debussy...but I find him a bit too over-serious in Beethoven.

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    Arrau is my favorite in the "serious" school of Beethoven. Gilels seems too leaden to me (at least in the selections I have listened to in his DG incomplete cycle). For the late sonatas for the no substitute for Pollini (IMO) and for the early ones I really like Pommier's cycle.

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    Senior Member flamencosketches's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Baron Scarpia View Post
    Arrau is my favorite in the "serious" school of Beethoven. Gilels seems too leaden to me (at least in the selections I have listened to in his DG incomplete cycle). For the late sonatas for the no substitute for Pollini (IMO) and for the early ones I really like Pommier's cycle.
    Very interesting. I like Pollini, but I can never quite put my finger on his style. I can't predict whether I'm going to like something of his until I hear it. Anyway, Beethoven is not something I would expect him to excel in, but your short post is endorsement enough to pique my curiosity. I'll give his Hammerklavier a try.

    Never heard of Pommier.

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    Senior Member KenOC's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Baron Scarpia View Post
    Arrau is my favorite in the "serious" school of Beethoven. Gilels seems too leaden to me (at least in the selections I have listened to in his DG incomplete cycle). For the late sonatas for the no substitute for Pollini (IMO) and for the early ones I really like Pommier's cycle.
    Yes, tastes vary! Gilels, for me, does wonderful Beethoven and generally gets it just right. Pollini lacks the warmth and humanity for late Beethoven, and I can't understand why his album of those works is popular. He tends to a more patrician and elegant approach and does better (quite well in fact) in the early sonatas.

    Pommier? A capital fellow I'm sure, but I've never heard of him. Or her?


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    Looks as though Gilels and Arrau got on just fine

    phot_05_maturity_1968_31May_ClaudioRuthArrau_EmilElenaGilels_Moscow.jpg

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