Author Topic: The Most Realistic Sounding Solo Piano Recordings on CD  (Read 17132 times)

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George

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The Most Realistic Sounding Solo Piano Recordings on CD
« on: December 07, 2010, 09:02:46 PM »
I need a list of CDs that you think best captures the authentic sound/tone of a solo piano (or perhaps piano concerto.) I'd prefer the recommendations to be as popular and easy to find as possible. Great performance is a plus, but not required for this thread. I hope any of our resident pianists could weigh in on this topic.

I need to find a handful of CDs in my collection of solo piano works (and perhaps some piano concerto CDs) to use for setting up my stereo system. I have found that I am most picky about the sound of a piano and plan to use some CD recordings to determine how well various speaker positions work, but I want to use recordings that are exemplary. I recently made a lot of changes to my system and want to recalibrate it using some stellar piano recordings.

Thanks in advance for your help!

Offline Holden

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Re: The Most Realistic Sounding Solo Piano Recordings on CD
« Reply #1 on: December 07, 2010, 11:11:00 PM »
Hello George

One of the most stunning recordings for piano sound that I have is the Pollini late Beethoven, I can't believe that it was originally analogue. Can I also suggest that you use any of the Rubinstein '60s recordings that were produced by Max Wilcox.

But far and above all of these is the Perahia LvB PCs. Recorded in the Concertegebouw they are just superlative. OK, they are not solo piano, but the cadenzas alone will be enough to suffice.

Cheers

Holden

Offline mc ukrneal

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Re: The Most Realistic Sounding Solo Piano Recordings on CD
« Reply #2 on: December 08, 2010, 12:10:05 AM »
Hello George

But far and above all of these is the Perahia LvB PCs. Recorded in the Concertegebouw they are just superlative. OK, they are not solo piano, but the cadenzas alone will be enough to suffice.
This is what came to mind to me first as well (though I have only 4 and 5).

There are numerous other choices I would think. I have a Kocsis/Debussy discs that is in great sound. How about the Brahms trios (with Florestan Trio) - great sound. Godowsky/Hamelin is another.
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George

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Re: The Most Realistic Sounding Solo Piano Recordings on CD
« Reply #3 on: December 08, 2010, 04:20:30 AM »
Thanks guys!

I have the Pollini and will keep an eye out in the bins for the Perahia concertos.

Offline The new erato

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Re: The Most Realistic Sounding Solo Piano Recordings on CD
« Reply #4 on: December 08, 2010, 04:35:21 AM »
Thanks guys!

I have the Pollini and will keep an eye out in the bins for the Perahia concertos.
Hard times obviously. You're visiting bins?

Antoine Marchand

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Re: The Most Realistic Sounding Solo Piano Recordings on CD
« Reply #5 on: December 08, 2010, 05:32:23 AM »
I need a list of CDs that you think best captures the authentic sound/tone of a solo piano (or perhaps piano concerto.) I'd prefer the recommendations to be as popular and easy to find as possible. Great performance is a plus, but not required for this thread. I hope any of our resident pianists could weigh in on this topic.

I need to find a handful of CDs in my collection of solo piano works (and perhaps some piano concerto CDs) to use for setting up my stereo system. I have found that I am most picky about the sound of a piano and plan to use some CD recordings to determine how well various speaker positions work, but I want to use recordings that are exemplary. I recently made a lot of changes to my system and want to recalibrate it using some stellar piano recordings.

Thanks in advance for your help!

Hi, George. I just want to say that I don't share the criteria expressed in your post. If you are recalibrating your system all you need is your preferred recordings, those that you have known for centuries. Listening to those recordings you will easily notice every nuance introduced by the position or the configuration of your system.

Anyway, Lewis' Beethoven cycle on Harmonia Mundi has excellent sound quality.

Not solo piano, but those Beethoven's sonatas for violin and piano, recorded by Bayley/Dinnerstein on Telarc, also have a superb sound quality.  :)

Offline petrarch

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Re: The Most Realistic Sounding Solo Piano Recordings on CD
« Reply #6 on: December 08, 2010, 06:06:13 AM »
When I audition systems and components I always take Stockhausen's Klavierstücke (Aloys Kontarsky on Sony Classical) along with a few other reference recordings.  Klavierstück I and VII are the pieces of choice; sometimes IX also.
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Scarpia

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Re: The Most Realistic Sounding Solo Piano Recordings on CD
« Reply #7 on: December 08, 2010, 06:59:54 AM »
You will have to decide what the most realistic sounding recording.  I see above someone has cited as the best ever the recording that sticks out in my mind as one of the worst audio recordings I have heard, the Pollini late Beethoven set.  Klangy, Metalic, sounds like a piano with stainless steel hammers.  My impression is that they did a much better job with Gilels (Op 109) done about the same time.

There are different philosophical approaches to recording piano.  Some recordings make you feel you are in a concert hall with the piano on stage, some make you feel as though there is a piano in your living room, some make you feel as though you have stuck your head into the piano and closed the lid.   DG generally specializes in recordings that sound like you have put your head between the hammers and the strings, and they are beating directly on your eardrums.

Hyperion often has a very fine piano sound.  I recently listened to a recording of Faure Piano music with Kathryn Stott which had a very pleasant, natural sound.   Telarc is another label that did very well in it's glory days, the O'Conor Beethoven piano sonata recordings have a pleasing natural sound.   For older analog material, Philips always did a good job.  Decca I normally like less, often a bit tubby with too much impact (impression that microphones are too close for my taste).   But in the end, I could not identify one recording that is superior to peers.  All these recordings were made with essentially identical equipment, afterall, and each label had it's own recording style which they applied more or less consistently.
« Last Edit: December 08, 2010, 07:01:28 AM by Scarpia »

Offline springrite

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Re: The Most Realistic Sounding Solo Piano Recordings on CD
« Reply #8 on: December 08, 2010, 07:07:56 AM »
You will have to decide what the most realistic sounding recording.  I see above someone has cited as the best ever the recording that sticks out in my mind as one of the worst audio recordings I have heard, the Pollini late Beethoven set.  Klangy, Metalic, sounds like a piano with stainless steel hammers.

Totally agree. I hated the sound of the Pillini late Beethoven. That's hardly the sound of the piano anymore.

However, Nojima's Ravel and Liszt piano recording on REFERENCE has the most magnificent and natural piano sound.
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Offline Todd

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Re: The Most Realistic Sounding Solo Piano Recordings on CD
« Reply #9 on: December 08, 2010, 07:47:04 AM »
I agree with Scarpia regarding different philosophies of piano recording.  Do you want an up-close or more distant recording?  For my money, more distant recordings tend to sound more realistic, but I often prefer an up-close perspective.  Anyway, some recordings, usually of the more distant variety, that sound especially realistic include:

- Christian Zacharias' MDG recordings of Mozart, Schubert, and Scarlatti

- Russell Sherman's recordings of Beethoven (GM Recordings) and Schubert (Albany)

- John O'Conor's Beethoven, Schubert, and Mozart recordings on Telarc

- Robert Silverman's Diabelli Variations (Stereophile) and Mozart (IsoMike), though both have background noise

- Jean Bernard Pommier’s Beethoven sonatas, especially the earlier sonatas, on Erato

- Arcadi Volodos’ solo recordings of Schubert, Liszt, and the recent Vienna recital

- Gerard Willems’ Beethoven (though the Stuart and Sons piano sounds rather different than normal)

- Francine Kay’s Debussy Preludes on Audio Ideas
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Scarpia

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Re: The Most Realistic Sounding Solo Piano Recordings on CD
« Reply #10 on: December 08, 2010, 07:52:55 AM »
- Christian Zacharias' MDG recordings of Mozart, Schubert, and Scarlatti
- John O'Conor's Beethoven, Schubert, and Mozart recordings on Telarc
- Jean Bernard Pommier’s Beethoven sonatas, especially the earlier sonatas, on Erato

These are three I have and also admire for their audio engineering.  They are on labels that generally have high standards for engineering and have a philosophy that values natural, rather than spectacular, sound.  I would include Hyperion in that catagory.

Offline Mandryka

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Re: The Most Realistic Sounding Solo Piano Recordings on CD
« Reply #11 on: December 08, 2010, 08:36:36 AM »
The one I used when I was deciding on a hifi was Arrau's late Schubert D958.
« Last Edit: December 08, 2010, 08:39:26 AM by Mandryka »
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Bulldog

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Re: The Most Realistic Sounding Solo Piano Recordings on CD
« Reply #12 on: December 08, 2010, 08:36:43 AM »
The best piano recording I recall is the Bernard Roberts WTC set on Nimbus; unfortunately, the Roberts performances are not so good.

Scarpia

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Re: The Most Realistic Sounding Solo Piano Recordings on CD
« Reply #13 on: December 08, 2010, 09:29:47 AM »
The best piano recording I recall is the Bernard Roberts WTC set on Nimbus; unfortunately, the Roberts performances are not so good.

Nimbus?  I normally find their recordings too reverberant, but I don't recall listening to any of their recordings of solo piano.

Offline springrite

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Re: The Most Realistic Sounding Solo Piano Recordings on CD
« Reply #14 on: December 08, 2010, 09:32:07 AM »
Nimbus?  I normally find their recordings too reverberant, but I don't recall listening to any of their recordings of solo piano.

I have about 5 and, you are right, REVERBERANT is the word. Any more reverberance I'd hear echoes (and I don't want to "hear it twice" in that way!).
« Last Edit: December 08, 2010, 09:34:29 AM by springrite »
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Bulldog

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Re: The Most Realistic Sounding Solo Piano Recordings on CD
« Reply #15 on: December 08, 2010, 10:14:27 AM »
Nimbus?  I normally find their recordings too reverberant, but I don't recall listening to any of their recordings of solo piano.

Yes, that's the general perception and nobody hates a lot of reverberation more than I do.  With many Nimbus piano discs, it sounds as if I'm swimming across the Atlantic.  However, there was no problem with the Roberts set.

Offline Dancing Divertimentian

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Re: The Most Realistic Sounding Solo Piano Recordings on CD
« Reply #16 on: December 08, 2010, 11:09:59 AM »
Yes, that's the general perception and nobody hates a lot of reverberation more than I do.  With many Nimbus piano discs, it sounds as if I'm swimming across the Atlantic.  However, there was no problem with the Roberts set.

I have the Bernard Roberts set of Bach Partitas on Nimbus and agree it's not nearly as swimmy as many Nimbus recordings can be. In fact, it's quite nice and natural. Perhaps in this case Roberts had a hand in steering Nimbus toward something more realistic.

Something from Connoisseur Society might be worthwhile. The three CS discs I have (all Schumann) are superb. Not to mention those CS Moravec recordings - from the 60's! - still retain a powerful punch. Although the most successful CD reissues are the mostly OOP VAI discs, while the more recent Supraphon reissues come in a pale second.
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Offline dirkronk

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Re: The Most Realistic Sounding Solo Piano Recordings on CD
« Reply #17 on: December 08, 2010, 08:36:16 PM »
One of the most stunning recordings for piano sound that I have is the Pollini late Beethoven, I can't believe that it was originally analogue.


Question: how can Holden's sonic impression be so favorable when Scarpia and springrite hate the same recordings BASED ON THE SAME CRITERIA? Two possible answers (among others, no doubt): It could be the specific transfers each has heard...or it could be the audio equipment and set-up that each one evaluated the recordings on. And that, after all, is what our friend George is concerned with.

In any case, I wrote most of the response below this morning but waited until I got home this evening to listen to the Pollini late Beethoven for myself. I've owned the original analog LP set for nearly 30 years. I can't recall it sounding a bit metallic or clangorous except when played on less-than-ideal turntables or distorting from being played too loud (amp pushed to clipping and/or the speakers unable to cope). This I verified this evening by listening through the op.110, which has plenty of instances of isolated treble notes that have the opportunity to shatter...and enough "two hands descending forcefully" moments that should manifest clangor or rough distortion. No such problems showed up. Rather, I found pretty much what I'd remembered: the sonic transients that convey dimensional information--occasional key sounds, the wooden body resonance of the piano, the sustaining tone of the strings "hanging" in air, etc.--are all excellent, yet the musical lines too are powerful, forthright and easy to follow (thus putting it in a different league from "audiophile" recordings per se). In short, folks, I fear that I officially fall in the Holden "it's great" camp. Scarpia and springrite...sorry, guys. Your comments really have me wondering if there aren't some badly transferred CDs out there misrepresenting the sonics available in the original. However...

While I agree with Holden re the Pollini late Beethoven, DGG did an even better job on Pollini's box set of 20th century piano solo music recorded around the same time (Stravinsky Petrushka, Prokofiev sonata 7, Webern, etc.; I have some individual LPs but not the entire set). Really. I'm not kidding. These are eerily realistic on LP. For those who are curious, the DGG recording supervisor in both cases was Rainer Brock; the recording engineer for the Beethoven was Klaus Hiemann, and on at least some of the 20th century stuff it was Heinz Wildhagen. Unfortunately, good as these recordings are in their CD transfers, this is a case where digitizing robbed them of just that last ounce of magic, so that they're about equivalent to the Beethoven in the CD copies I have. Of course, that still might make them quite good for setting up a system! George, please take note.

BTW, except for these Pollinis and a handful of other recordings, DGG was notoriously BAD in recording piano. Well...mediocre might be a kinder word...they could often be muffled on one side or clangorous on the other, or most typically middle-of-the-road blah. Superior sounding exceptions include the original releases of Kempff's Beethoven concerti with Leitner (early 1960s!): the earliest pressings offered incredibly realistic piano sound, though coupled with less than impressive sonics in the orchestral backing...and even the great piano sound went away in later pressings and transfers! I once owned one of those early releases of the 4th concerto, which unfortunately had too many cartridge-threatening potholes in the surface to allow safe play, but I was SO amazed by the piano sound that I have looked (in vain) more than 20 years for a clean pressing with the same sonic characteristics. At this point, I've probably purchased between one and two dozen copies looking for that elusive magic--but no luck!

Back to suggestions for George: as you've been told (on another board...ahem!), the Connoisseur piano recordings by E. Alan Silver are astonishingly good. One fellow on the web has referred to Moravec's Chopin Nocturnes, noting "the sound of the Boesendorfer Imperial Grand (8 full octaves, 97 keys! manufactured at Busoni’s behest by the German piano makers) and the unbelievably realistic – and atmospheric – recording by E. Alan Silver’s team." The sonics were amazing in their analog vinyl form, the moreso because the LP format all too often seemed to inflict a quaver on isolated piano sound, especially if one's turntable wasn't up to snuff. However, Moravec wasn't the only pianist recorded by Silver: Ruth Laredo's Scriabin complete sonata traversal (on a Baldwin IIRC), Joao Carlos Martins' first traversal of the Bach WTC (NOT the Tomato label CD recordings, which are later ones; unsure of the piano used), and others were also impressive.

Beyond these, I have to look to smaller specialty labels to suggest piano sound. It's been a while since I heard Nojima's Liszt and Ravel recordings (I have the original LP releases), but these "Professor Johnson" recordings on the Reference Recordings label were impressive when they first came out...and had enough performance merit to remain on my collection shelves. Someone (springrite?) mentioned these already and I concur. Great stuff. You might see how their CD counterparts sound.

I'll also second the suggestion that you listen to assorted BIS recordings.

I'll let others make suggestions for purely digital recordings. However much more GENERALLY reliable piano solo recordings have became in the mature digital age (the early digit-ridden efforts weren't always kind to the tone), I can't recall many "Wow, that's realistic!" reactions to specific recordings, either. Hence my emphasis on analog recordings here.

Good luck. Audio system set-up can be slow and frustrating, but Oh! the wondrous sounds when you get it right!

Cheers,

Dirk
« Last Edit: December 08, 2010, 08:41:32 PM by dirkronk »

George

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Re: The Most Realistic Sounding Solo Piano Recordings on CD
« Reply #18 on: December 08, 2010, 08:50:25 PM »

Question: how can Holden's sonic impression be so favorable when Scarpia and springrite hate the same recordings BASED ON THE SAME CRITERIA? Two possible answers (among others, no doubt): It could be the specific transfers each has heard...

Could very well be this, dirk. Those Originals CDs tend to sound worse than the actual Original CD. I fortunately have an early pressing/mastering of these sonatas and put it on this morning before work. It was exactly what I was looking for, a nice solid piano image and a modern enough recording so that the overall sound quality was excellent. So, thanks Holden!!  :)

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Back to suggestions for George: as you've been told (on another board...ahem!), the Connoisseur piano recordings by E. Alan Silver are astonishingly good.

Indeed, I spun the Moravec Nocturne CD this morning as well and it sounded lovely. Nice dark, solid piano tone.

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However, Moravec wasn't the only pianist recorded by Silver: Ruth Laredo's Scriabin complete sonata traversal (on a Baldwin IIRC),

Ooooh! I have that one, will check it out, thanks!!!

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Good luck. Audio system set-up can be slow and frustrating, but Oh! the wondrous sounds when you get it right!

Cheers,
Dirk

Thanks, Buddy!! You're so right, it's well worth every bit of effort in the end! Like getting a new system without having to spend a dime.

George

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Re: The Most Realistic Sounding Solo Piano Recordings on CD
« Reply #19 on: December 08, 2010, 09:10:39 PM »
Hi, George. I just want to say that I don't share the criteria expressed in your post. If you are recalibrating your system all you need is your preferred recordings, those that you have known for centuries. Listening to those recordings you will easily notice every nuance introduced by the position or the configuration of your system.

Perhaps I didn't say, but I have never had the fortune of living in a situation where I could properly set up my stereo. Nor did I have the knowledge (and assistance) that I now have. Therefore, relying on memories of sound in inferior situations would not be an approach I would care to choose for this endeavor.