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Discussion Starter · #1 · (Edited)
Pick any two or more versions of Beethoven's Sonata No. 21 in C major, Op. 53 (Waldstein) and compare them, tell us what you think. Also, feel free to discuss any aspects of this work.

My choices are Robert Taub, Friedrich Gulda, and Igor Lebedov.

Taub
Gulda
Igor Lebedov

By doing an A/B comparison, it's easier to see the differences in approaches.

Taub's version is technically brilliant, no flaws, and somewhat passionate, especially compared to Igor Lebedov's slower, more laid back approach. Lebedov is a teacher, though, so he is not in the "virtuoso business."

Also, these two illustrate Lebedov's "orthodox" approach which sees the score/composer as "gospel," and does not wish to inject the artist's vision into center stage: the focus is "the work", not the performance.

On the other hand, Taub's passionate reading brings it to life.

Gulda is a "showoff" as well, but unfortunately his tempo here is much too fast, and he uses too much pedal in the fast scale runs, smearing them, perhaps even hiding some technical inconsistencies, which are really more like "impossibilities" at this fast tempo.

All in all, I prefer Taub, although the Lebedov recording is technically superior in sonics. Also, it would be hard to tire of his restraint; I will return to this version.

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This sonata is ground-breaking, both technically and harmonically.

Beethoven was using a new English piano at this time, which allowed the fast, technically challenging passage which opens the sonata.


Beethoven's piano

Harmonically, this is the time when Beethoven started his use of root movement by thirds. The contrasting key areas, from C, are Ab and E, both unusual and distant from the normal G or F which would be commonly used, for their close proximity to C major.
 

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Pollini's version of Waldstein = pure genius for me.

 

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Discussion Starter · #3 ·
Here's another one for the mix: Anthony Newman's fortepiano version.



He's using an 1804 English Clementi instrument, like the one Beethoven used. It has good bass and a ringing treble. Newman did a research of Beethoven's metronome markings, and used those in his tempos, which, for me, are too fast. Faster than Gulda. The effect and clarity of the scale runs suffer on the fortepiano; they smear. The later "lyrical" part of the sonata comes through much better.

If this was what Beethoven was supposed to have sounded like, I'm disappointed. I prefer a slightly slower approach, with the clarity of the modern piano.
 

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Great idea, MR!

I'll take a look at Richard Goode, Wilhelm Kempff (stero), and Paul Lewis.



Goode puts his virtuoso skills to work and takes a very brisk tempo in the outer movements, with the three sections clocking in at 10:03/4:03/9:34. The opening is crisp and clear and establishes an almost march-like rhythmic insistence that rarely lets up. Goode's playing is note-perfect and a tour de force of technical skill. If you like Taub, I would be interested to hear your thoughts on Goode.

Kempff 's pacing is a bit more moderate at 10:55/3:06/9:54. Unfortunately, he seems to lose control in some of the runs in the outer movements, which skews the tone toward the frenetic. At 3:06 his adagio molto is the fastest of the dozen or so I looked at (though still quite slow for a single page of music) and thereby mitigates the contrast with the third movement opening that I feel is the heart of the piece.

Lewis takes a more relaxed pace at 11:28/4:36/10:52, making extensive use of rubato and dramatic ritards. He employs greater contrasts in tempo and dynamics, making this perhaps the most poetic of the three. This adagio molto is the slowest I have heard, but not far beyond Schiff and Pollini. It is difficult to play so slowly while maintaining discernible rhythmic and melodic lines, and the listener really has to pay attention to catch the metre in the opening dirge-like pianissimo section with its many rests. It pays off, though, in the stunning transition to the finale. The third movement begins at an almost leisurely pace, but he comes full force in the concluding prestissimo section.

I like all three: Goode for awe-inspiring bravura, Kempff for a straight read, and Lewis for the reflective poetry.

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It's easy to see why this sonata is sometimes referred to as L'Aurora/L'Aurore (The Dawn). The hypnotic, trance-like Introduzione (adagio molto) ends with a lone sforzando G, like a clarion call ushering in the final movement. The Rondo begins pianissimo, and Beethoven's pedal marks held over many bars result in a blurring of the evolving harmonies, evocative of receding mists or a faintly heard babbling brook, slowly building from pp to ff in a limipid declaration of the theme in C, bright as the sun. I share Schiff's view that this is one of the most extraordinary moments in the piano literature, and it presages Schubert's many wonderful "sunshine" passages.

Fun fact: This is the only one of Beethoven's piano sonatas where every movement begins pianissimo.
 

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Pollini vs Kempff

millionrainbows, thank you for this thread and your comparison. It's a wonderful idea, I apologize I took so long! Thanks to Balthazar, too. I really enjoyed your analysis and comparison.

I'll be going with Maurizio Pollini and Wilhelm Kempff.



A little bit of back story. Beethoven wrote Op. 53 with the inspirations of his brand new French Érard piano with four pedals and extended range, its sound was all around bigger and the action heavier. This was a much "fuller" than the Viennese were used to. Beethoven, as always, was looking to exploit the capabilities of new advances in instruments. He did the same for the cello and this case would be no different. Beethoven told an acquaintance, that he was "so enchanted with it that he regards all the pianos made here [in Vienna] as rubbish" (Jan Swafford)

1st Movement - Jan Swafford describes this sonatas as possessing a "restless energy". I hear the rapid fluttering of notes with intermittent pianissimo and piano passages as confirming Swafford's analysis. The first movement is full of energy, but it seems to be searching, unable to find a climax, hence the "restlessness". The energy is steady throughout, as Swafford puts it, "it never dissipates and never climaxes". We will have to wait for the Finale for that! Kempff, unfortunately, doesn't rise high enough to match the Waldstein's unstable energy, the slow passages are wonderfully lyrical as one would expect from Kempff, but there isn't enough contrast between the forte and the piano. I feel that Pollini exceeds in this, it's amazing how he can makes energetic parts seem almost unbridled while still on a steady and inevitable path. Because Pollini's dynamic playing matches the inherent dynamism in the first movement, he's the easy winner here.

2nd Movement - The short, transitional movement in F major that replaced (justly, for reasons of proportion and momentum, both of which are this sonata's strong points) the Andante Favori. Both Pollini and Kempff handle the slow movement excellently. Surprisingly, it's Pollini who exploits the romantic slow tone and mood for all it's worth, not something I come to expect with Pollini. Pollini's time is 3:54 and Kempff at 3:06. I understand why Pollini would play it so slowly, to offset the energy of the first movement and the finale. The middle movement is more of a fleeting moment of repose, to catch your breath, rather than a proper slow movement. This is why I love Pollini as a pianist, there is never a "apply-all" style to his interpretations, he tackles each movement appropriately.

3rd Movement - If the that restless energy couldn't find its way in the first movement, it's ready in the Finale. Whereas in the first movement, there are no climaxes, in the finale there are multiple. Pollini ratchets up the energy in his playing, as does Kempff, but with Pollini the energy sounds truly sounds unstable and wild while Kempff still manages to simultaneously sound lyrical. This isn't necessarily a bad thing. I hear life-affirming, "effervescent", and lyrical melodies in the Finale. I'm still going to go with Pollini for a more dynamic and energetic interpretation.
 

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I can agree having heard the Pollini cycle that his rendition is so fierce, passionate, and intellectually driven.
 

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I'm surprised no one possibly mentions Claudio Arrau's recording at Philips label. Recently I've bought his complete recording released from Decca. But the Waldstein Sonata was rather disappointing. Was he so sensitive? Philips edition was performed at his older age.
 

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I have long (years) thought that we should do comparisons such as this regularly.

mr, please post the links to the videos for the versions in question. It would make them easier to locate and then we know we're all listening to the same recording.
 

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I have long (years) thought that we should do comparisons such as this regularly.

mr, please post the links to the videos for the versions in question. It would make them easier to locate and then we know we're all listening to the same recording.
Sorry, but now I don't know how to locate my favorites on the web, moreover, I can't send a message with the cover-design of CDs. Tell me how to handle those things, Mr. or Ms. brotagonist, please.
 

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Discussion Starter · #13 · (Edited)
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I actually have 4 recordings of the Waldstein: Ashkenazy, Brendel, Kempff and Pollini (live).
I've forgotten how many recordings I have or I've listened to. Were there two recordings by Pollini? I've never listened to the other three. From Backhaus through Arrau and Gulda, I can't count all of them. But now I will choose Arrau. Trying to find the Philips' recording, I couldn't find the way to his later recording. Sorry. But the Decca version was not so good, I admit.
 

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I'm surprised no one possibly mentions Claudio Arrau's recording at Philips label. Recently I've bought his complete recording released from Decca. But the Waldstein Sonata was rather disappointing. Was he so sensitive? Philips edition was performed at his older age.
I have explored his Waldstein recordings a lot, the one I like the most is on a DVD from his 80th birthday concert at Carnegie Hall. I think it's a very great and original performance of a sonata which is not easy to get off the page IMO.
 

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millionrainbows, thank you for this thread and your comparison. It's a wonderful idea, I apologize I took so long! Thanks to Balthazar, too. I really enjoyed your analysis and comparison.

I'll be going with Maurizio Pollini and Wilhelm Kempff.



A little bit of back story. Beethoven wrote Op. 53 with the inspirations of his brand new French Érard piano with four pedals and extended range, its sound was all around bigger and the action heavier. This was a much "fuller" than the Viennese were used to. Beethoven, as always, was looking to exploit the capabilities of new advances in instruments. He did the same for the cello and this case would be no different. Beethoven told an acquaintance, that he was "so enchanted with it that he regards all the pianos made here [in Vienna] as rubbish" (Jan Swafford)

1st Movement - Jan Swafford describes this sonatas as possessing a "restless energy". I hear the rapid fluttering of notes with intermittent pianissimo and piano passages as confirming Swafford's analysis. The first movement is full of energy, but it seems to be searching, unable to find a climax, hence the "restlessness". The energy is steady throughout, as Swafford puts it, "it never dissipates and never climaxes". We will have to wait for the Finale for that! Kempff, unfortunately, doesn't rise high enough to match the Waldstein's unstable energy, the slow passages are wonderfully lyrical as one would expect from Kempff, but there isn't enough contrast between the forte and the piano. I feel that Pollini exceeds in this, it's amazing how he can makes energetic parts seem almost unbridled while still on a steady and inevitable path. Because Pollini's dynamic playing matches the inherent dynamism in the first movement, he's the easy winner here.

2nd Movement - The short, transitional movement in F major that replaced (justly, for reasons of proportion and momentum, both of which are this sonata's strong points) the Andante Favori. Both Pollini and Kempff handle the slow movement excellently. Surprisingly, it's Pollini who exploits the romantic slow tone and mood for all it's worth, not something I come to expect with Pollini. Pollini's time is 3:54 and Kempff at 3:06. I understand why Pollini would play it so slowly, to offset the energy of the first movement and the finale. The middle movement is more of a fleeting moment of repose, to catch your breath, rather than a proper slow movement. This is why I love Pollini as a pianist, there is never a "apply-all" style to his interpretations, he tackles each movement appropriately.

3rd Movement - If the that restless energy couldn't find its way in the first movement, it's ready in the Finale. Whereas in the first movement, there are no climaxes, in the finale there are multiple. Pollini ratchets up the energy in his playing, as does Kempff, but with Pollini the energy sounds truly sounds unstable and wild while Kempff still manages to simultaneously sound lyrical. This isn't necessarily a bad thing. I hear life-affirming, "effervescent", and lyrical melodies in the Finale. I'm still going to go with Pollini for a more dynamic and energetic interpretation.
Thanks for posting this, I have often wondered why Alexei Lubimov chose to use an Erard for it, now I know.
 

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his 80th birthday concert at Carnegie Hall. I think it's a very great and original performance or a sonata which is not easy to get off the page IMO.
I caught sight of that concert on the web, but I was busy seeking the Philips edition, so I didn't listen to that concert, Again I'll try to visit the site where you may seem to be so much impressed. A lot of thanks.
 

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I've forgotten how many recordings I have or I've listened to. Were there two recordings by Pollini? I've never listened to the other three. From Backhaus through Arrau and Gulda, I can't count all of them. But now I will choose Arrau. Trying to find the Philips' recording, I couldn't find the way to his later recording. Sorry. But the Decca version was not so good, I admit.
Arrau, of course, doesn't see the first movement as a study in repetition and motoric energetic battering ram.
 

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Here's another one for the mix: Anthony Newman's fortepiano version.



He's using an 1804 English Clementi instrument, like the one Beethoven used. It has good bass and a ringing treble. Newman did a research of Beethoven's metronome markings, and used those in his tempos, which, for me, are too fast. Faster than Gulda. The effect and clarity of the scale runs suffer on the fortepiano; they smear. The later "lyrical" part of the sonata comes through much better.

If this was what Beethoven was supposed to have sounded like, I'm disappointed. I prefer a slightly slower approach, with the clarity of the modern piano.
I haven't heard Newman. I was interested in the idea that modern pianos are clearer in fast music than this Clementi piano, which I've also not heard. Aren't modern pianos more resonant?
 

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Discussion Starter · #20 ·
Sorry, but now I don't know how to locate my favorites on the web, moreover, I can't send a message with the cover-design of CDs. Tell me how to handle those things, Mr. or Ms. brotagonist, please.
On YouTube, go to the site and enter the artist's name in the search box. If the video appears, go to it and click on the "share" down below. A link will appear, in blue. Copy this link, and post it in the forum.

To get cover art, go to Amazon, find the CD, and click on the cover image until it highlights in blue, then "copy image" from your drop-down computer menu. Then post it.
 
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