View Poll Results: Who was the greatest pianist?

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  • Vladimir Horowitz

    9 9.18%
  • Sviatoslav Richter

    29 29.59%
  • Emil Gilels

    7 7.14%
  • Artur Rubinstein

    5 5.10%
  • Artur Schnabel

    1 1.02%
  • Sergei Rachmaninoff

    8 8.16%
  • Claudio Arrau

    6 6.12%
  • Glenn Gould

    6 6.12%
  • Alfred Brendel

    3 3.06%
  • Edwin Fischer

    0 0%
  • Josef Hofmann

    0 0%
  • Alfred Cortot

    2 2.04%
  • Arturo Benedetti Michelangeli

    4 4.08%
  • Martha Argerich

    7 7.14%
  • Other

    11 11.22%
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Thread: Greatest pianist?

  1. #76
    Senior Member Pat Fairlea's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Mandryka View Post
    The thing which made me convinced that Aimard is the greatest living pianist was seeing him play Stockhausen's klavierestucke 1-10 in London a couple of years ago. Michael Finnissy was page turner, which probably helped.

    Commercial recordings by Aimard of music pre 1950 which I like

    Mozart concertos -- esp 27
    Beethoven op 110
    Debussy etudes


    I haven't heard his Schumann, or the WTC. A can't remember the Messaien.
    Have to say, I'm struggling with the idea of having a page-turner for a performance of Stockhausen.

  2. #77
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    Quote Originally Posted by Cortot View Post
    In the past, Cortot-like musicians would not be perceived as today. In short I claim that Horowitz and Cortot did not deviate from what the composer gave. On the contrary, they are closer to the romantic composer's wishes. It wasn't the big ego or individual opinions, just the romantic tradition. So that's why I do not remove them from the greatest list and why i disagree with you

    Thank you again for this beautiful and rich discussion.
    Your essay is rich and beautiful and thank you!

    I love Horowitz and Cortot both and listen extensively (pretty much everything I can find) of their recordings. I do think Horowitz has a greater ego than Cortot, you hear this in all his live recordings, he wanted the audience to love him. You also see this in numerous documentary about him, especially the one with Guilini.

    Cortot on the other hand is the superior musician I would argue. Having gone through all the Cortot editions of Chopin, I have come to the conclusion that he was the greatest interpreter of Chopin. His exercises for the Etudes and Preludes, they just work like magic, his understanding of the piano is unparalleled in his way. If you delve into his 20s recordings, you will be amazed by his incredible virtuosity and the beautiful, scintillating jeu perle techniques of the French school. His Saint-Saëns etudes, oh my god, out of this world! Yet people accuse him of insufficient techniques in his later recordings. No wonder he doesn't care about wrong notes and always try conjure up magic in his performance of Chopin and Schumann. I have included the link in case you haven't seen it.

    Last edited by UniversalTuringMachine; Jul-16-2020 at 05:51.

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  4. #78
    Senior Member Dimace's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by UniversalTuringMachine View Post
    Your essay is rich and beautiful and thank you!

    I love Horowitz and Cortot both and listen extensively (pretty much everything I can find) of their recordings. I do think Horowitz has a greater ego than Cortot, you hear this in all his live recordings, he wanted the audience to love him. You also see this in numerous documentary about him, especially the one with Guilini.

    Cortot on the other hand is the superior musician I would argue. Having gone through all the Cortot editions of Chopin, I have come to the conclusion that he was the greatest interpreter of Chopin. His exercises for the Etudes and Preludes, they just work like magic, his understanding of the piano is unparalleled in his way. If you delve into his 20s recordings, you will be amazed by his incredible virtuosity and the beautiful, scintillating jeu perle techniques of the French school. His Saint-Saëns etudes, oh my god, out of this world! Yet people accuse him of insufficient techniques in his later recordings. No wonder he doesn't care about wrong notes and always try conjure up magic in his performance of Chopin and Schumann. I have included the link in case you haven't seen it.

    Chopin's battle between Alfred, Samson and Arthur, isn't yet to be decided. The differences of 0,1 to 1% here and there (in this super human level of performance we are arguing actually about ''the big nothing'', as I have written in this community) aren't enough to have a winner. And, if we add to the game, other super major players (Earl, Cyprien, Garrick, Jan etc) we are driven to nowhere. (no conclusions) I'm not expert in Saint-Saens and I will agree with you. Very nice post. Thanks.
    Last edited by Dimace; Jul-16-2020 at 14:56.
    „Es gibt drei Arten von Pianisten: jüdische Pianisten, homosexuelle Pianisten -- und schlechte Pianisten.“ V. Horowitz

  5. #79
    Senior Member Enthusiast's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by UniversalTuringMachine View Post
    Aimard's musicianship is undisputed, but it's hard to be excited about his playing, as you have put it perfectly - clinical sounding (and the Boulez comparison is apt). His Liszt album is very interesting, which shows how forward looking Liszt's late composition was by juxtaposing them with Scriabin and Berg.

    Kocsis is the complete package, the champion of Bartok's music. His Rachmaninoff is brilliant, exciting, and cerebral, his Debussy imaginative. Try his Rachmanioff Sonata No.2.
    I disagree. But then I often like Boulez as a conductor and am amazed at how his approach is caricatured as sterile when quite the opposite is what I and many other listeners hear. Aimard's Beethoven piano concertos with Harnoncourt are one of the strongest sets and demonstrated (as had Solomon before him!) that you don't need to play to the gallery in those works.

  6. #80
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    Quote Originally Posted by Dimace View Post
    Chopin's battle between Alfred, Samson and Arthur, isn't yet to be decided. The differences of 0,1 to 1% here and there (in this super human level of performance we are arguing actually about ''the big nothing'', as I have written in this community) aren't enough to have a winner. And, if we add to the game, other super major players (Earl, Cyprien, Garrick, Jan etc) we are driven to nowhere. (no conclusions) I'm not expert in Saint-Saens and I will agree with you. Very nice post. Thanks.
    Of course not. To "decide" such a thing is absurd because Chopin is meant to be interpreted in many different ways (the modern winners of the esteem competition are also marvelous in their own ways) Alfred Cortot's best disciples, Samson Francois (for a short period), Dinu Lipatti, Clara Haskil are living proof of his understanding of Chopin and the art of the French school. What sets Cortot apart is the fact that we can read in details (and apply) his method to approach each of Chopin's pieces.

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  8. #81
    Senior Member Allegro Con Brio's Avatar
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    Looks like this thread has become the home base for us crazy dedicated pianophiles

    I think Cortot probably brings us closer to the playing style of Chopin himself than anyone else who recorded prolifically. There is a remarkable sense of poetic spontaneity about everything he did, even when he didn’t always play all the right notes. Even those late Schumann recordings are just gorgeous if you can ignore the handfuls of mistakes. I voted for him in this poll because he wasn’t just a supremely skilled musician, he was an interpreter of a kind we are unlikely to see again. My other favorite “vintage” Chopinists are Lipatti, who is more “refined” and aristocratic, and Ignaz Friedman, whose idiosyncrasies may sound extreme to us today but I would say that everyone needs to hear him at least once. I’m sorry, but I just don’t get the adoration for Rubinstein in Chopin!

    Yesterday I listened to Radu Lupu’s Schumann concerto and Mozart 21 with Previn/LSO. He’s someone who I think has a legitimate claim to be one of the greatest pianists of the latter half of the 20th/early 21st century despite his relative lack of recordings. His silky tone is incomparable. I’ve heard some criticism that he just “produces beautiful sounds” but I think his talent is pretty incredible. His Schubert and Brahms are absolutely breathtaking.
    Last edited by Allegro Con Brio; Jul-16-2020 at 18:09.
    "If we understood the world, we would realize that there is a logic of harmony underlying its manifold apparent dissonances." - Jean Sibelius

    "Art is an attempt to transport into a limited quantity of matter, modeled by man, an image of the infinite beauty of the entire universe." - Simone Weil

    "Ceaseless work, analysis, reflection, writing much, endless self-correction, that is my secret." - Johann Sebastian Bach

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  10. #82
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    Quote Originally Posted by Enthusiast View Post
    I disagree. But then I often like Boulez as a conductor and am amazed at how his approach is caricatured as sterile when quite the opposite is what I and many other listeners hear. Aimard's Beethoven piano concertos with Harnoncourt are one of the strongest sets and demonstrated (as had Solomon before him!) that you don't need to play to the gallery in those works.
    "Clinical sounding" is fair but "sterile" is unfair. I don't think you can play Ligetti's Etudes or Stockhausen's Klavierstucke without aiming for clinical sounding. The internal logic of these works is so dense that any extra colorization and rhymic instability run the risk of distracting the listener and ruin the intended effect.

    His Beethoven piano concertos with Harnoncourt are fresh and great but this is a field of extreme fierce competition. I have a dozen of equally strong sets that has warmer tone and more singing phrases than Aimard (for example, Fleisher's classic recording with Szell). For me, clinical sounding is feature, not a bug, for both Aimard and Boulez.
    Last edited by UniversalTuringMachine; Jul-16-2020 at 18:14.

  11. #83
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    Quote Originally Posted by UniversalTuringMachine View Post
    Your essay is rich and beautiful and thank you!

    I love Horowitz and Cortot both and listen extensively (pretty much everything I can find) of their recordings. I do think Horowitz has a greater ego than Cortot, you hear this in all his live recordings, he wanted the audience to love him. You also see this in numerous documentary about him, especially the one with Guilini.

    Cortot on the other hand is the superior musician I would argue. Having gone through all the Cortot editions of Chopin, I have come to the conclusion that he was the greatest interpreter of Chopin. His exercises for the Etudes and Preludes, they just work like magic, his understanding of the piano is unparalleled in his way. If you delve into his 20s recordings, you will be amazed by his incredible virtuosity and the beautiful, scintillating jeu perle techniques of the French school. His Saint-Saëns etudes, oh my god, out of this world! Yet people accuse him of insufficient techniques in his later recordings. No wonder he doesn't care about wrong notes and always try conjure up magic in his performance of Chopin and Schumann. I have included the link in case you haven't seen it.


    I agree with Horowitz and Cortot comparison, Horowitz has a greater ego than Cortot for me too.

    Definitely! Cortot's technique in the early 1920s is incredible (even Rachmaninoff praised), I also give this recording to those who call Cortot's technique bad When Horowitz listened to this Cortot's record (Saint-Saens's Etude), he was amazed, he didn't understand how he did it and asked to teach but Cortot didn't tell I think Cortot's playing stlye here is similar to Saint-Saens own recordings. Other great examples of Cortot's wonderful technique are Verdi/Liszt "Rigoletto" (1926) Paraphrase, Liszt Hungarian Rhapsody No. 11 (1925), Albeniz (1919) and some Chopin etudes (1923). Today's "technical" pianists cannot play them like this, he taking a lot of risk and he had a great technique.

    Why the technique has changed? Maybe only due to old age, weak memories and fingers... He was 42 years old in his first solo recordings in 1919, not too young even there but most of his popular recordings after the age of 60. I can present two different arguments: According to Cortot's friends from the conservatory period, Cortot wasn't a great technique at the beginning, but he is a hard worker and he was better than anyone after working hard. But you know... Probably he didn't continue the technical exercises, because he wasn't like typical professional pianists. He was the founder, manager and teacher of the Ecole Normale de Musique de Paris (Would be one of the most important conservatories of its time). He also served as ministry of art for a while. He was very busy man, too many books writing, competition juries and so on. Harold C. Schonberg points to this, he did not have time to practice.

    Perhaps this is a conscious choice? So the technique has regressed but he turned to a much fresher, poetic, lively, colorful, intense approach. Some pianists (Chopin, Beethoven, Anton Rubinstein -not Arthur-, Josef Hofmann, Walter Gieseking and so on) thought that practicing killed the spirit of music. Cortot might have changed his perspective when he technically reached one of the top, he was ultimately satisfied. So he may have stopped practicing and he thought the character was important, not the mistakes.
    Last edited by Cortot; Jul-16-2020 at 18:27.

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    I don’t hear the later recordings as being consistently fresher, more poetic, lively, colorful or intense. On the contrary in a way (compare the first davidsbundlertanze with the second, the first Debussy preludes with the second, think of the early Liszt sonata . . .) On the whole I see Cortot as a really consistent pianist, without major differences in approach throughout his career. I could be wrong about all of this, it’s a while since I’ve listened attentively to any c19 piano music, let alone Cortot doing it!

    I think the big deal about the late recordings, the ones from the 1950s, is the sound, you can hear for the first time what sort of tone he made. That makes them very special (eg Symphonic Etudes)
    Last edited by Mandryka; Jul-16-2020 at 19:01.

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  15. #85
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    Quote Originally Posted by Cortot View Post
    Perhaps this is a conscious choice? So the technique has regressed but he turned to a much fresher, poetic, lively, colorful, intense approach. Some pianists (Chopin, Beethoven, Anton Rubinstein -not Arthur-, Josef Hofmann, Walter Gieseking and so on) thought that practicing killed the spirit of music. Cortot might have changed his perspective when he technically reached one of the top, he was ultimately satisfied. So he may have stopped practicing and he thought the character was important, not the mistakes.
    Thanks for this wonderful analysis!

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    Looking at the list in the opening post, the one it really should have is Sofronitsky. I’d probably take him over all the others in that list!

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    Quote Originally Posted by Mandryka View Post
    I don’t hear the later recordings as being consistently fresher, more poetic, lively, colorful or intense. On the contrary in a way (compare the first davidsbundlertanze with the second, the first Debussy preludes with the second, think of the early Liszt sonata . . .) On the whole I see Cortot as a really consistent pianist, without major differences in approach throughout his career. I could be wrong about all of this, it’s a while since I’ve listened attentively to any c19 piano music, let alone Cortot doing it!

    I think the big deal about the late recordings, the ones from the 1950s, is the sound, you can hear for the first time what sort of tone he made. That makes them very special (eg Symphonic Etudes)
    I agree with this. His recordings in the 40s are often too sloppy.

  19. #88
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    Quote Originally Posted by Mandryka View Post
    Looking at the list in the opening post, the one it really should have is Sofronitsky. I’d probably take him over all the others in that list!
    Sofronitsky suffers from a small discography. Those Urania recordings are nonetheless marvelous.

  20. #89
    Senior Member Allegro Con Brio's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Mandryka View Post
    Looking at the list in the opening post, the one it really should have is Sofronitsky. I’d probably take him over all the others in that list!
    He gave us some excellent Chopin and he has been the only pianist who has convinced me that Scriabin has the potential to be great music (he seems possessed in some of those live Scriabin recordings). But yes, his small discography is a barrier.
    "If we understood the world, we would realize that there is a logic of harmony underlying its manifold apparent dissonances." - Jean Sibelius

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    "Ceaseless work, analysis, reflection, writing much, endless self-correction, that is my secret." - Johann Sebastian Bach

  21. #90
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    Quote Originally Posted by Allegro Con Brio View Post
    his small discography .
    The same could be said of Artur Rubinstein
    Artur Schnabel
    Sergei Rachmaninoff
    Edwin Fischer
    Josef Hofmann
    Arturo Benedetti Michelangeli
    Martha Argerich

    Quote Originally Posted by Allegro Con Brio View Post
    is a barrier.
    A barrier to what?
    Last edited by Mandryka; Jul-16-2020 at 19:31.

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