366RE: New Message about Group and Amazon Reviews
- Oct 7, 2013
I am glad you have broken the silence. Several new cycles have been released during the hiatus. Korstick comes to mind, Goodyear, etc. I look forward to future discussions.
---In email@example.com, <firstname.lastname@example.org> wrote:
I realize that I and this group have been very quiet. I plan to spend some time organizing the notes that have already been submitted about the first eight Beethoven piano sonatas (sonatas Op 2 No 1 through Op 13 Pathetique).
Recently I posted some notes about recordings of the complete Beethoven piano sonata cycle on Amazon reviews, in response to a questioner. These notes (my original review of the Ashkenazy cycle and my response to a questioner) might be of interest to some members of this group, so I re-post them here (see below).
Reviews of Ashkenazy Recording of Complete Beethoven Piano Sonatas
My review of Ashkenazy on Amazon
52 of 55 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The Best Beethoven Piano Sonata Cycle, July 7, 2007
This review is from: Piano Sonatas (Audio CD)
Somewhat to my surprise, the Ashkenazy cycle is the best recording of the complete Beethoven sonatas. I bought every Beethoven recording by every major Beethoven pianist and spent over 1,000 hours comparing all those recordings to each other. The only cycles close to the Ashkenazy are the little-known Claude Frank, Seymour Lipkin and Paul Badura-Skoda cycles (the Badura-Skoda cycle of 1970 on the grand piano, not the fortepiano version). After those come the better-known cycles by Richard Goode, Barenboim (2nd cycle, for DGG), and Kempff (2nd cycle, in stereo), and the little-known cycle by Annie Fischer. I leave aside the Schnabel set which continues to define the standard for interpretations despite inadequate sound, and many high-quality recordings by Richter who never did a complete cycle.
I say "somewhat to my surprise," because Ashkenazy is not known as a Beethoven pianist. He is regarded as a great interpreter of romantic music, with the big technique and beautiful tone needed for that repertoire. Well, he has the big technique and beautiful tone, which is good. However, what is most noticeable to me is the scrupulous attention paid to Beethoven's text. In that regard, Ashkenazy is the equal of Claude Frank and Rudolf Serkin, which is high praise indeed.
The purpose of buying a complete cycle is usually to form a base for a collection. One can quibble with some of Ashkenazy's interpretative details or with Decca's recording techniques. However, the question then becomes: what is the alternative? The competing cycles are either a little worse or a lot worse. After buying one complete cycle, the lover of Beethoven can then add a number of other sonata recordings -- the Horowitz recordings for RCA Victor, the Rubinstein recordings, the Gieseking disk of the Pathetique and other works, the Pollini late sonatas, many of the Richter recordings. If I am asked to recommend one Beethoven sonata cycle as the basis for a collection, I would unhesitatingly recommend the Ashkenazy Decca cycle.
Posted on Sep 27, 2011 6:43:23 AM PDT
Thanks for the recommendation! I finally found a cheap copy and as I slowly make my way through this set, I am hearing some lovely interpretations. Ashkenazy combines the technique of Pollini, the beauty of Gilels/Schnabel in slow movements and though he lacks a bit of that Beethovian excitement (I have plenty of others for that) and gets a bit bangy at times, this is some fine Beethoven playing. The sound is wonderful too! While he doesn't displace my favorites (Annie Fischer, Gulda (Amadeo/Brilliant)) he is nevertheless well worth checking out.
Posted on Jul 18, 2013 10:19:44 AM PDT
Mr. Mathisen, thank you for your review. I'm actually in the process of figuring out what cycle to purchase. I have separate recordings of Pollini, Arrau, Horowitz, and Kissin, but can't make up my mind about the full cycle. Youtube has a generous selection of live recordings and I started to gravitate towards Barenboim's impeccable approach to late sonatas. But what about the celebrated sets by Arrau and Brendel? What do you think of them? I'm also curious about the sound of the Ashkenazy set. Kempf's set on DGG, for example, despite some heavenly pianism, has a rather poor sound, many other recordings I have suffer from tape hiss which is expecially noticeable in wide dynamic range recordings. Even Barenboim's first set (on EMI) has this problem. It would be great to get your opinion. Thanks again!
Your post: Jul 18, 2013 3:26:11 PM PDT
Richard Mathisen says:
To Rosomax: You ask about four pianists, all of whom have recorded more than one complete cycle of Beethoven sonatas. Overall, I stand by the rankings in my review, with Ashkenazy first, a second tier of Frank, Lipkin and Badura-Skoda, then a third tier of Goode, Barenboim (2nd cycle), Kempff (2nd cycle), and Annie Fischer. I would also add Friedrich Gulda (2nd cycle on Amadeo) to that third tier. You mention Arrau -- his 1st cycle is justly praised but uneven -- some are great but some fall far short. His 2nd cycle, done late in his life, tends toward slow tempos and is not competitive. Brendel recorded three cycles. His third cycle is the best, ranking in or very close to my third tier. Next best is Brendel's 1st set. His middle set is the least desirable as a set, although it happens to contain one of the best recordings of the Pastorale Sonata (Op 28). With regard to sound quality, I don't focus on it except to insist that recordings meet minimal standards of high fidelity. Basically, every studio recording made in 1956 and later and most other legitimate recordings after 1956 meet my standard. Recordings made before 1952 are uniformly poor in sound quality, recordings made between 1952 and 1955 need to be judged on a case-by-case basis. As you can see, I tend to focus on musical quality, other than insisting on minimum standards of hi-fi. I have heard some criticism of the sound quality of some of the Ashkenazy sonatas. To me, they are fine, but I'm not an expert on sound quality. Kempff's 1st set was recorded mostly in 1951-53, with two works recorded in 1956, and the quality generally holds up surprisingly well for the period, but there are a few deficiencies. The 2nd set was done in the modern era and I'm not aware of any problems. Barenboim recorded three cycles. The 2nd cycle is the best cycle. I didn't find any issues with sound quality, even in the 1st cycle which caused some problems for you. Again, my standards for sound quality are more geared to minimal standards than to fine gradations. The 3rd Barenboim set was done in video, which adds its own appeal, so I compared it by listening only to the audio without watching the video.
In reply to your post on Jul 18, 2013 4:50:58 PM PDT
Wow, thank you for the most complete and thoughtful reply. I greatly appreaciate it!
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