369RE: New Message about Group and Amazon Reviews
- Oct 7, 2013
Thanks for your question, about why I think the Ashkenazy cycle is the best cycle.
First, I believe there are relatively objective standards of music criticism. I measure myself as a music "critic" against what I consider the highest standards. For example, the music critics of the New York Times. Or the Penguin Guide, with all its faults. I'm fully aware that there is an unavoidable subjective element in music criticism. Others will have to evaluate me by comparing their reactions to specific performances and deciding to what extent they consider my opinions reliable. I don't want to get into arguments about this -- I'm just stating my position here.
Second, from 2003 to 2009 I went on a binge of collecting every recording of every Beethoven piano sonata by every pianist who was considered reasonably decent. I own over 45 complete cycles and innumerable individual recordings. For example, I own 109 recordings of Beethoven sonatas by Richter. I believe that's every Richter recording of any Beethoven piano sonata that was officially published. In other words, this is OCD on a massive scale. I then set out to compare every recording of each sonata in the only way I consider reliable, by playing one complete recording followed by another complete recording. I eventually created a list of the top 15 recordings of each of the 32 sonatas. So, for each sonata, I had a list of #1, #2, down to #15.
Third, to compare complete cycles, I then looked to see which cycles by which pianists appeared most often in the "Top 15" over the entire range of 32 sonatas. That was Ashkenazy by a wide margin. The cycles I label as "second tier" were those that appeared next most often. And the third tier was pretty much the next group. The review of the Ashkenazy cycle appeared in 2007, after I had completed those lists.
Fourth, I then formed this Yahoo Group to discuss recordings of Beethoven piano sonatas. I started with #1, Opus 2, No 1, and shared my rankings and encouraged members of this group to share their rankings. They critiqued my rankings and often added other recordings of which I was not aware. I then went out and purchased those other recordings and re-analyzed all my rankings. I did this for sonatas #1 through #8 (the Pathetique). For example, you can find a note in which I rank ordered about 80 recordings of the Pathetique.
Fifth, in comparing all these recordings, I found it necessary to try to figure out why I liked certain recordings better than other recordings. One major factor was tempo. So I measured the tempo's with a metronome for the first and second themes and occasionally other important themes. These measurements are all listed in earlier notes in this group. Some pianists keep a relatively stable tempo for a movement, while other pianists make extraordinary changes in tempo. Some pianists play a movement fast, while others are more relaxed. The fact is that some tempos work well, while others do not work as well.
Sixth, there was also a discussion earlier in the group about the merits of different complete cycles by various pianists. I was persuaded to upgrade my opinion of the Friedrich Gulda cycle on Amadeo by a member of this group, George Perkins, who also influenced my opinion of the Annie Fischer cycle upwards. Perhaps more importantly, I became aware of other recordings that I did not know. Bruce Hungerford is someone I had not heard of until he was brought to my attention by Donald Manildi.
As far as what is the "best" cycle, my review was done for Amazon reviews. My assumption is that most collectors were looking for a single cycle to use as the basis for their CD collection, which would then be supplemented by their favorite recordings of the best-known sonatas such as the Moonlight or Appassionata. Those of us who seek many recordings of individual works, such as you or me, are perhaps in a different category. I would still claim that the Ashkenazy is the "best" in that sense, because he has an unusually large number of recordings that are not only in my "Top 15" but actually in my "Top 5" for each sonata.
I tried, in my Amazon review, to state the reasons why I considered the Ashkenazy cycle to be the best. Basically, it's not about looking at any Ashkenazy performance in isolation, but in comparison to what other recordings are available. My request, to anyone who disagrees with my ranking of Ashkenazy as the best, is to state what cycle they think is better. Then we can go through the 32 recordings of the two sets and compare Ashkenazy to the other pianist 32 times, in order to discuss what we think. In other words, my evaluations are always comparative. That's where they came from, by comparing many, many recordings to each other.
Sorry to go on and on about this. I just thought it might be helpful if you understood the process I went through.
---In email@example.com, <lhirsch@...> wrote:Richard, but WHY is Ashkenazy the "best"? You mention:- Big tone- Big technique- Scrupulous attention to the textWhat's his artistic and interpretive personality like? I assume every one of the pianists who has recorded the cycle has the chops for the sonatas*, so at this point, since I own a bunch of complete sets already, I want to know about the interpretive side any particular cycle I might buy. A pianist can play every note correctly and be dull as dishwater, not to mention, an amazing number of composers, in performing their own works, stray noticeably from the score.-- Lisa* The two approaches to the Hammerklavier: "Here goes nothing! Wish me luck." and "No way I can play this at the indicated tempo, so bear with the necessary accommodations to my skill set."On Mon, Oct 7, 2013 at 9:38 AM, Chris Topley <christopher.topley@...> wrote:
Thank you for this. Interesting reading. I am no musicologist so my likes and dislikes are based on how it sounds to me. With that in mind I am intrigued by the “dislike” of Brendel’s middle recording of the sonatas. I certainly agree about Brendel’s Pastorale from this set, it is a wonderful version and easily beats Gilels who unusually just doesn’t “get” the piece at all (to my ear). Among other sets, I do own the middle recordings by Brendel and I generally find them more interesting than his later digital set. Maybe I should listen to the digital set again.
With regards to Barenboim I find his later set interesting but rather self conscious and wilful in places. I cannot bear his early EMI set at all. I would put the Stereo Kempff ahead of Barenboim personally. I have heard a few of the Ashkenazy recordings and I was pleasantly surprised by them as I didn’t expect him to play Beethoven so well. I will try to listen to more. Although the “bangy” comment does put me off a bit. It doesn’t surprise me either as I have heard Ashkenazy’s “bangy” before. However, I really should try and listen without preconceived Ideas.
Anyway, as I said, interesting reading and I am pleased to receive a post (my first) from this group.
England--Jujitsu? In Berkeley?Iron Tongue of Midnight
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