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.