Author Topic: Beethoven's Piano Sonatas  (Read 824525 times)

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Offline Mandryka

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Re: Beethoven's Piano Sonatas
« Reply #4500 on: December 17, 2020, 01:42:09 AM »
I am not taking his reviews seriously, except to some extent for Beethoven piano sonatas where he has some experience. But one should blame or ignore people for the proper reasons. ;)
And I do find the tendency towards extreme or eccentricity because of overfamiliarity you noted quite interesting (and occasionally noted it myself) but it does not seem all that strong with Todd's reviews.
If I had to name a person from the forum who seems to be somewhat taken to eccentric keyboard interpretations, it would be Mandryka/Wolkenstein (no offense).

I think there are two places you can come from.

You could start with the score and traditional established ways of making sense of it, and then when you hear a recording you try to assess how well it fits into that. On this model it’s probably inevitable  to end up with central and eccentric performances, though there may be more than one centre (think the “piano schools” way of thinking)

Or you could start with a performance on record or in concert and a explore the effects of the the performer’s decision to play it like that. On this model, the idea of central/eccentric is less important. What matters is to understand more deeply the things which, otherwise, are only labelled “eccentric”  - labelled eccentric and dismissed.
« Last Edit: December 17, 2020, 01:46:48 AM by Mandryka »
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Offline Madiel

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Re: Beethoven's Piano Sonatas
« Reply #4501 on: December 17, 2020, 02:30:23 AM »
I am not taking his reviews seriously, except to some extent for Beethoven piano sonatas where he has some experience. But one should blame or ignore people for the proper reasons. ;)

The reasons why he is on my ignore list have been publicly stated. On parts of this forum he is quite deliberately a troll.
« Last Edit: December 17, 2020, 02:41:04 AM by Madiel »
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Offline Todd

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Re: Beethoven's Piano Sonatas
« Reply #4502 on: December 17, 2020, 05:23:34 AM »
I am not taking his reviews seriously

Who the hell would do that?
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Offline (: premont :)

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Re: Beethoven's Piano Sonatas
« Reply #4503 on: December 17, 2020, 06:19:26 AM »
I am not taking his reviews seriously, except to some extent for Beethoven piano sonatas where he has some experience.

As to his Beethoven sonata reviews I agree with him generally, even if I disagree about some details. And I think the reviews always are interesting reading.
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Offline hvbias

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Re: Beethoven's Piano Sonatas
« Reply #4504 on: December 17, 2020, 01:02:12 PM »
Pretty sure "The most objective ratings system known to humanity" is comic hyperbole.

(I personally love Lucchesini but agree with you on DBP and additionally don't like the recorded sound on that set, which iirc DBP engineered himself. But this gets at something which the Ultimate Objective list doesn't really capture, which is eccentricity/idiosyncrasy. Perhaps we could convince Todd to do a graph with X and Y axes, where X goes from "most normal" on the left to "most personal/weird" on the right, and Y goes from "worst" at bottom to "best" at top. Then the bottom left would be boring cycles, bottom right would be maniacs, top left would be good "objective" performances, and top right would be interesting eccentrics or visionaries.)

Pretty much agree with you here as well on Andrea Lucchesini and DBP, I too didn't care for DBP in Beethoven. Maybe amw is right that he was not technically up to the task, in the recent Schubert box he sounds a bit jittery in places like the Allegretto from D537, but then again I hear this same insecurity from many Kempff recordings and that doesn't keep me from listening to Kempff's 78 rpm partial cycle or the DG mono.

Now my random dump of thoughts to round out the Beethoven 2020, though for me 2020 was more like the resurgence of my love of Haydn :). I listened to about a quarter to a third of three cycles from this year and wasn't impressed by any of them, so with enough exploring out of the way I went back to Annie Fischer's Hungaroton cycle which I haven't heard in a few years, mostly listening to other cycles that I'd acquired in the last 3 or 4 years instead.

And oh my was it rewarding. One thing that jumped out me was her very intelligent use of the mute pedal to great effect (probably some of the best I've heard as far as cycles go), that rounded/muted for lack of better word then the jumping off the page sound in the perfect moments. And also my realization that she plays many of the early sonatas as if they were late sonatas like for instance the Op. 2/3 Adagio. The other thing I noticed was just how amazing the Bosendorfer is. I've always like the sound of her tone on that cycle (thankfully recorded/mastered much better than EMI recordings on CD) but being able to hear a full size concert grand Bosendorfer from good seats within the first section really affirmed just how good these are. They project extremely well but sitting off axis which is often the case at concerts doesn't really capture their majesty. That sort of burnt, not exactly clear bass combined with the beautiful midrange and treble, it is really special that she recorded her cycle on one. I think I appreciated this much more this time around after acquiring my dream speakers.

Since you mentioned Lucchesini he is tied with Annie Fischer for either my favorite or second favorite. Whenever I hear one or the other I change around my top spot ranking! Both of these are quite romantic interpretations, but where I can see how romantic falls short for some people (Arrau's tempo choices is a complaint I see, but I love the EMI and 1960s Philips recordings no less) Fischer and Lucchesini both play with great brio and never drag their feet. Yet they still have that transcendental late Beethoven quality where it is needed. Seeing Lucchesini play D959 live reaffirmed my faith that his Beethoven cycle wasn't some freak occurrence.

I listened to plenty of Hammerklavier recordings and 2020 still has not brought me the perfect Hammerklavier. Stewart Goodyear still has the best tempo and playing I've heard from the opening movement but I find it lacking in imagination in the Adagio and closing movement. Lucchesini remains my absolute favorite for those last two movements, that dark descent into hell followed by climbing out of it in the final movement, I've never heard from anyone as perfectly. I should revisit his EMI recording, I've had this CD forever but haven't played it in a very long time.

Murray Perahia - I get it, we're supposed to love what he lays down. The print reviewer's darling pianist. The impeccably polite, tows the line big label company man. A perfectly fine middle of the road interpretation of the Hammerklavier that will not offend anyone. But there are way too many recordings of Beethoven to accept middle of the road. As an example Wilhelm Kempff's 78 and DG mono might just barely make my own personal top 7-8 spot out of 10 which would imply that they are somehow lesser interpretations/artistry but I still play the hell out of them. An example of just how good the competition is here for cycles and sort of highlighted by Todd's crazy list of just how many recordings exist, not even counting non-cycles.

I like a lot of what Murray Perahia says, I agree with a lot of his points on interpreting the Hammerklavier but his actual playing doesn't seem to capture what he talks about.

<a href="https://www.youtube.com/v/4bcCUwODTaQ" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer" class="bbc_link bbc_flash_disabled new_win">https://www.youtube.com/v/4bcCUwODTaQ</a>

And to round it out since I didn't care for any of the three complete cycles I heard this year and same with the numerous individual discs, my personal best of 2020 as far as Beethoven Piano Sonatas go from the AARP crowd:

Andor Foldes Complete DG
Eduardo del Pueyo Complete Philips
Maurizo Pollini live re-recording disc just for Op. 109
« Last Edit: January 08, 2021, 04:06:46 PM by hvbias »

Offline George

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Re: Beethoven's Piano Sonatas
« Reply #4505 on: December 17, 2020, 01:28:40 PM »
As to his Beethoven sonata reviews I agree with him generally, even if I disagree about some details. And I think the reviews always are interesting reading.

True dat!
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Offline amw

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Re: Beethoven's Piano Sonatas
« Reply #4506 on: December 17, 2020, 04:46:42 PM »
Angela Hewitt Beethoven Op. 31 no. 3.

I have been enjoying all the Hewitt Beethoven sonatas I’ve heard so far (have acquired all 8 extant volumes) even though I have a sneaking suspicion that I shouldn’t, that she’s superficial or mannered or whatever. Her playing is certainly never boring, or ordinary, and at times illuminates aspects of the sonatas that don’t usually get brought out. It is generally moderate (but not metronomic) in tempi, but not in dynamics or articulation, and lacks the last word in piano technique or nuance but makes up for it with good sound quality, minimal use of pedal, and a sense of humour.

I struggle at the moment to think of a comparable artist in Beethoven—Steven Osborne is more virtuosic, Charles Rosen uglier, Ikuyo Nakamichi prettier, Kazune Shimizu more smoothed out, but they’re all names that came to mind. András Schiff is probably overall the most similar, but their styles have important points of difference (Schiff is generally more overtly eccentric and stilted when it comes to rhythm and phrasing, and more virtuosic, and obviously a Fazioli sounds very different from a Bösendorfer). I think I would rate Hewitt as more successful because her performances flow more naturally, but if you didn’t like Schiff, you probably won’t like Hewitt either.
To confirm this, listened to Schiff in the same sonata. They are very similar in performance style—limited use of pedal, moderate tempi, correct observation of Beethoven's dynamics and articulation marks, a tendency towards mannerism—but they actually do not sound similar. Schiff plays trills, roulades, broken chords and runs with extreme delicacy and refinement, virtually never plays louder than mezzo-forte, comes across as rhythmically awkward, and apparently has no sense of humour. Hewitt's trills, roulades, broken chords and runs are just average, she virtually never plays softer than mezzo-piano, is rhythmically more fluent (although not to the extent of an Ikuyo Nakamichi), and is fun to listen to.

I'd be curious to hear anyone else's thoughts. I have asked this before, I think, but that was before I had heard any of her sonata recordings.

Offline Todd

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Re: Beethoven's Piano Sonatas
« Reply #4507 on: December 17, 2020, 05:02:42 PM »
I'd be curious to hear anyone else's thoughts. I have asked this before, I think, but that was before I had heard any of her sonata recordings.


I'd have to revisit her cycle, which I'm buying more as a duty.  It's just never jelled with me.  Your comparison to Nakamichi makes me think maybe I should do some A/Bs, though.  Hmm.
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Offline amw

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Re: Beethoven's Piano Sonatas
« Reply #4508 on: December 17, 2020, 05:41:01 PM »

I'd have to revisit her cycle, which I'm buying more as a duty.  It's just never jelled with me.  Your comparison to Nakamichi makes me think maybe I should do some A/Bs, though.  Hmm.
I downloaded the Nakamichi cycle earlier this year because it was reissued, I'd never heard of the pianist before, and Sony Classical releases go out of print within about 15 minutes so if you're curious about something you better grab it while you can. (I know someone who used to work for them, and the staff of Sony Classical was completely hollowed out as a division during the 2008 recession and has never recovered.) On first listenings she reminded me enough of Hewitt that I was also tempted to do some A/Bs, and I found that she was more like my memories of Hewitt than Hewitt herself was. I prefer Hewitt slightly in the sonatas where I've heard both, and I suppose the similarities are mostly in the amount of care taken, the moderate tempi and the attention paid to counterpoint.

I listened to plenty of Hammerklavier recordings and 2020 still has not brought me the perfect Hammerklavier.

The perfect Hammerklavier doesn't yet exist, possibly never will, but mostly because there are very few pianists in sympathy with the work. Of the ones I can remember listening to, in rough order of preference:

Peter Serkin (Graf) A
Peter Serkin (Steinway) A
Stephan Möller A-
Maria Yudina (APR) A-
Steven Osborne A-
Maurizio Pollini (Arkadia) A-
Friedrich Gulda (Orfeo) A-
Artur Schnabel B+
Paul Badura-Skoda (Astrée) B+
Georg Friedrich Schenck B+
Beveridge Webster B+
Michael Leslie B+
Charles Rosen 1965 B+
Kazune Shimizu B+
Mitsuko Uchida B+
Hans Richter-Haaser B+
Yuja Wang (YouTube) B
Friedrich Gulda (Decca) B
Solomon Cutner B
Friedrich Gulda (Amadeo) B
Michaël Lévinas B
Jeffrey Swann B
Jean-Frédéric Neuburger B
Christoph Eschenbach B
Emil Gilels B
Stephen Kovacevich B-
Yeol Eum Son (YouTube) B-
Charles Rosen 1997 B-
François-Frédéric Guy (Harmonia Mundi) B-
Mikhail Rudy B-
Yusuke Kikuchi C+
András Schiff C+
Charles Rosen 1980s C+
Ursula Oppens C+
Evgeni Koroliov C
Daniel-Ben Pienaar C
Stewart Goodyear C
Andrea Lucchesini (EMI) C
Takahiro Sonoda (Evica) C
Russell Sherman C
Maurizio Pollini (DG) C
Alexei Volodin C
Dina Ugorskaja C-
Michael Korstick C-
Andrew Rangell C-
Paavali Jumppanen C-
HJ Lim D+
Grigory Sokolov (DG) D
Gabriel Chodos D-
Glenn Gould F
Robert Taub F
John Khouri DNC

I did not listen to any of the Hammerklaviers released in 2020, although I sampled some of them (off the top of my head: Fazil Say, Konstantin Lifschitz, Konstantin Scherbakov, Daniel Barenboim V, Minsoo Sohn, Giuseppe Rossi, Filippo Gorini, Théo Fouchenneret, Hisako Kawamura) and the last-named is on its way to me at the moment; will report back as soon as it arrives. I do not expect any of them to rate an A- or above though, although Kawamura and Sohn sound like potential B+ contenders. In 2021 we're definitely getting one from Angela Hewitt, which I'm not sure what to expect from, and potentially one from Martin Roscoe, which will probably be okay.

The ideal pianist for Op. 106 would be Martha Argerich, but she's never shown any interest in the work, and is no longer recording or performing solo repertoire. Ideal pianists who are young enough to still record one, even though they've also never shown any interest that I know of: Marc-André Hamelin, Joseph Moog, Anna Vinnitskaya, Herbert Schuch, Pi-Hsien Chen, Goran Filipec, Hélène Grimaud, Daniil Trifonov, Olga Pashchenko, Andreas Staier.
« Last Edit: December 17, 2020, 05:43:11 PM by amw »

Offline springrite

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Re: Beethoven's Piano Sonatas
« Reply #4509 on: December 17, 2020, 05:46:28 PM »


The perfect Hammerklavier doesn't yet exist, possibly never will, but mostly because there are very few pianists in sympathy with the work.

You may be right.

My personal favorite is Levy (Marston). It is unlike any other.
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Offline amw

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Re: Beethoven's Piano Sonatas
« Reply #4510 on: December 17, 2020, 06:01:28 PM »
My personal favorite is Levy (Marston). It is unlike any other.
I have never heard it, but based on his recordings of the last three sonatas, I could believe that. Based on those recordings I also have no interest in hearing it. (He strikes me as one of those pianists who genuinely does do eccentric things with phrasing, dynamics, etc, just for the sake of eccentricity—and with a mixed success rate. For example his use of tempo in Op. 110 is successful to my ear, his use of dynamics much less so.)

I don't necessarily mean any offense by this. The last three sonatas and also op. 101 are works in which Beethoven wrote in a huge amount of fantasy and subjectivity and personal expression, and interpreting them in this way can make them more powerful and more appealing, although there are moments demanding stricter adherence to classical and baroque norms (e.g. the fugues, the first three variations in the arietta of op. 111). Op. 106, on the other hand, is a purely neoclassical and almost impersonal creation, a Haydn-Mozart-Bach hybrid although a deeply impassioned and quasi-apocalyptic one, and interpreting it in a fantastical and subjective way (except for certain passages overtly marked espressivo or con grand' espressione throughout the third movement) tends to rob the music of its impact. Notably it is Beethoven's only sonata in the traditional four movements after op. 28, and one he clearly regarded as a "return to normal", a proof that he could still compose in the traditional forms he venerated after the experimentation and proto-Romanticism of his works of 1812-1816.
« Last Edit: December 17, 2020, 06:10:25 PM by amw »

Offline Cato

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Re: Beethoven's Piano Sonatas
« Reply #4511 on: December 17, 2020, 06:03:42 PM »
You may be right.

My personal favorite is Levy (Marston). It is unlike any other.

Consider Wilhelm Backhaus: (monaural recording mid 1950's):


<a href="https://www.youtube.com/v/ShVlZZ2Wo2w" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer" class="bbc_link bbc_flash_disabled new_win">https://www.youtube.com/v/ShVlZZ2Wo2w</a>
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Offline aukhawk

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Re: Beethoven's Piano Sonatas
« Reply #4512 on: December 18, 2020, 04:31:15 AM »
Perhaps we could convince Todd to do a graph with X and Y axes, where X goes from "most normal" on the left to "most personal/weird" on the right, and Y goes from "worst" at bottom to "best" at top. Then the bottom left would be boring cycles, bottom right would be maniacs, top left would be good "objective" performances, and top right would be interesting eccentrics or visionaries.)

An interesting idea.  I'd have to make sure to scale it properly to accommodate Gould.

But then all the rest would just be a small dot at the bottom left.

Offline Mandryka

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Re: Beethoven's Piano Sonatas,
« Reply #4513 on: December 18, 2020, 04:50:39 AM »
I have never heard it, but based on his recordings of the last three sonatas, I could believe that. Based on those recordings I also have no interest in hearing it. (He strikes me as one of those pianists who genuinely does do eccentric things with phrasing, dynamics, etc, just for the sake of eccentricity—and with a mixed success rate. For example his use of tempo in Op. 110 is successful to my ear, his use of dynamics much less so.)

I don't necessarily mean any offense by this. The last three sonatas and also op. 101 are works in which Beethoven wrote in a huge amount of fantasy and subjectivity and personal expression, and interpreting them in this way can make them more powerful and more appealing, although there are moments demanding stricter adherence to classical and baroque norms (e.g. the fugues, the first three variations in the arietta of op. 111). Op. 106, on the other hand, is a purely neoclassical and almost impersonal creation, a Haydn-Mozart-Bach hybrid although a deeply impassioned and quasi-apocalyptic one, and interpreting it in a fantastical and subjective way (except for certain passages overtly marked espressivo or con grand' espressione throughout the third movement) tends to rob the music of its impact. Notably it is Beethoven's only sonata in the traditional four movements after op. 28, and one he clearly regarded as a "return to normal", a proof that he could still compose in the traditional forms he venerated after the experimentation and proto-Romanticism of his works of 1812-1816.

There’s something strange going on in these three propositions about op 106 just pasted from things you and springrite said. I’m not saying they’re contradictory, but there’s something about their compatibility which makes me uneasy.

1. (You) Op. 106, on the other hand, is a purely neoclassical and almost impersonal creation, a Haydn-Mozart-Bach hybrid although a deeply impassioned and quasi-apocalyptic one, and interpreting it in a fantastical and subjective way (except for certain passages overtly marked espressivo or con grand' espressione throughout the third movement) tends to rob the music of its impact.

2. (springrite) My personal favorite is Levy (Marston). It is unlike any other.

3. (You). The perfect Hammerklavier doesn't yet exist, possibly never will, but mostly because there are very few pianists in sympathy with the work.

I just think you may be being a bit doctrinaire in your rejection of the expressive approach, especially since searching for it sounds like it’s a bit frustrating and at least one person likes Levy, who, I guess, is subjective. I think the tension between your idea that op 106 is impassioned and your rejection of a subjective approach needs to be looked at, that’s maybe where the problem lies.

(Sorry, I know it was only a forum post and not a contribution to a tutorial, I probably shouldn’t have treated it as one.) 
« Last Edit: December 18, 2020, 04:55:54 AM by Mandryka »
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Offline amw

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Re: Beethoven's Piano Sonatas
« Reply #4514 on: December 18, 2020, 07:21:01 AM »
There’s something strange going on in these three propositions about op 106 just pasted from things you and springrite said. I’m not saying they’re contradictory, but there’s something about their compatibility which makes me uneasy.

1. (You) Op. 106, on the other hand, is a purely neoclassical and almost impersonal creation, a Haydn-Mozart-Bach hybrid although a deeply impassioned and quasi-apocalyptic one, and interpreting it in a fantastical and subjective way (except for certain passages overtly marked espressivo or con grand' espressione throughout the third movement) tends to rob the music of its impact.

2. (springrite) My personal favorite is Levy (Marston). It is unlike any other.

3. (You). The perfect Hammerklavier doesn't yet exist, possibly never will, but mostly because there are very few pianists in sympathy with the work.

I just think you may be being a bit doctrinaire in your rejection of the expressive approach, especially since searching for it sounds like it’s a bit frustrating and at least one person likes Levy, who, I guess, is subjective. I think the tension between your idea that op 106 is impassioned and your rejection of a subjective approach needs to be looked at, that’s maybe where the problem lies.

(Sorry, I know it was only a forum post and not a contribution to a tutorial, I probably shouldn’t have treated it as one.) 

I mean, my view is that the reason so few pianists are in sympathy with Op. 106 is because it's not a piece that lends itself to personal expression. I may simply be using words badly here; it's impassioned in the same way a landscape is dramatic, rather than in the way a play is dramatic. Harmonically, all development in three of the four movements is based on sequences of falling thirds, which makes it not really development at all, since a sequence just goes round in a circle until it gets back to its starting point. Melodically and motivically, all of the musical material is too basic to have much character at all, except in the expressive passages in the slow movement where these basic elements are highly ornamented. The passionate and violent aspects are a result of single-minded rhythmic ostinatos straight out of "middle period" Beethoven combined with dense counterpoint, loud dynamics, intense and constant dissonance, and an almost unprecedented focus on instrumental virtuosity as a compositional element in itself (later to become the norm in the works of composers like Liszt of course). That virtuosity is however not used to produce beautiful and fluent sounds, but calculated to produce harsh and ugly ones, especially on an instrument from Beethoven's time.

I do not reject an expressive or subjective approach completely—but it would have to retain these aspects rather than trying to smooth them over. Every dissonant second, seventh and ninth should still be emphasised; the thickets of practically-incomprehensible counterpoint should not be slowed down and made comprehensible; the piano sound should not be made gentle and beautiful. I do think it's important to bear Beethoven's tempo markings in mind, but not necessarily to follow them (Beethoven himself undoubtedly didn't, not by 1818 with himself mostly deaf and his pianistic skills deteriorating), only to bear in mind what information they convey about the character of each movement. Similarly I do think it's important to obey Beethoven's pedal indications but also think it's perfectly fine to use the pedal much more than that (Beethoven certainly did, all his life), and that it's important to understand what Beethoven's pianos sounded like, even if one does not choose to use one (Beethoven would have written very different sonatas for a Steinway, but his students and students-of-students didn't see any issue playing his music on Bechsteins and Erards).

I do start all my approaches towards any piece of music with the score, if I can get hold of it, rather than from listening to performances (something you recently mentioned in another thread). But also, to be entirely honest, there's a pretty good chance I had this particular view of Op. 106 just because I disliked all of the "expressive" or "subjective" recordings I'd heard prior to studying the score in more detail, and found them—and the sonata as a whole—rather boring. It was the score, and a few early "objective" recordings I heard—the 1967 Gulda in particular, but also Schnabel—that convinced me that it not only made sense (although the proportions of the fugue are miscalculated imo) but was one of Beethoven's better compositions. So it's entirely possible all of this is just me trying to find intellectual reasons to justify a dislike that initially developed as a purely irrational and emotional reaction.

Offline hvbias

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Re: Beethoven's Piano Sonatas
« Reply #4515 on: December 18, 2020, 11:33:00 AM »
I mean, my view is that the reason so few pianists are in sympathy with Op. 106 is because it's not a piece that lends itself to personal expression. I may simply be using words badly here; it's impassioned in the same way a landscape is dramatic, rather than in the way a play is dramatic. Harmonically, all development in three of the four movements is based on sequences of falling thirds, which makes it not really development at all, since a sequence just goes round in a circle until it gets back to its starting point. Melodically and motivically, all of the musical material is too basic to have much character at all, except in the expressive passages in the slow movement where these basic elements are highly ornamented. The passionate and violent aspects are a result of single-minded rhythmic ostinatos straight out of "middle period" Beethoven combined with dense counterpoint, loud dynamics, intense and constant dissonance, and an almost unprecedented focus on instrumental virtuosity as a compositional element in itself (later to become the norm in the works of composers like Liszt of course). That virtuosity is however not used to produce beautiful and fluent sounds, but calculated to produce harsh and ugly ones, especially on an instrument from Beethoven's time.

I do not reject an expressive or subjective approach completely—but it would have to retain these aspects rather than trying to smooth them over. Every dissonant second, seventh and ninth should still be emphasised; the thickets of practically-incomprehensible counterpoint should not be slowed down and made comprehensible; the piano sound should not be made gentle and beautiful. I do think it's important to bear Beethoven's tempo markings in mind, but not necessarily to follow them (Beethoven himself undoubtedly didn't, not by 1818 with himself mostly deaf and his pianistic skills deteriorating), only to bear in mind what information they convey about the character of each movement. Similarly I do think it's important to obey Beethoven's pedal indications but also think it's perfectly fine to use the pedal much more than that (Beethoven certainly did, all his life), and that it's important to understand what Beethoven's pianos sounded like, even if one does not choose to use one (Beethoven would have written very different sonatas for a Steinway, but his students and students-of-students didn't see any issue playing his music on Bechsteins and Erards).

I do start all my approaches towards any piece of music with the score, if I can get hold of it, rather than from listening to performances (something you recently mentioned in another thread). But also, to be entirely honest, there's a pretty good chance I had this particular view of Op. 106 just because I disliked all of the "expressive" or "subjective" recordings I'd heard prior to studying the score in more detail, and found them—and the sonata as a whole—rather boring. It was the score, and a few early "objective" recordings I heard—the 1967 Gulda in particular, but also Schnabel—that convinced me that it not only made sense (although the proportions of the fugue are miscalculated imo) but was one of Beethoven's better compositions. So it's entirely possible all of this is just me trying to find intellectual reasons to justify a dislike that initially developed as a purely irrational and emotional reaction.

Very lucid response, I now understand your ratings for all the ones I have heard except for the C on Pollini DG. I take it the C in Stewart Goodyear is because you said you don't think the opening should be taken at Beethoven's tempo marking? Also there was some discussion that the Arkadia recording of Pollini might not actually be him... and instead Dino Ciani? The recording quality was too poor for me to make a definitive judgement but I didn't hear anything to make me think it wasn't Pollini.

Is it just Op. 106 you feel that should have this objective interpretation or others from Beethoven as well? I recall you liked Pi-Hsien Chen in Op. 111 which was very, very dramatic.

I mentioned Perahia in specific since he seems to have garnered all the professional love with his latest recording. That was the only outside a cycle recording I heard from this year, the other three were from 2020 cycles. Perahia is a pretty straight laced interpretation. If there is any positive to it sounds more like Perahia from his CBS days though when we were discussing it in the Perahia thread here someone thought there might have been some studio wizardry on it to mask some technical deficiencies.

I loved Dina Ugorskaja, to me this is the right (or alternative view) style of eccentric that really worked for me. She brought a detailed, crystalline, almost detached quality to the Adagio. This is sort of like in the style of Pogorelich's weird near pedel-less Op. 111 except her Hammerklavier was far more satisfying since it had some substance. But I completely understand the low rating from what you've written.

You may be right.

My personal favorite is Levy (Marston). It is unlike any other.

Agree, I have yet to hear a late Beethoven recording from Levy that I did not like.
« Last Edit: December 18, 2020, 11:38:38 AM by hvbias »

Offline Jo498

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Re: Beethoven's Piano Sonatas
« Reply #4516 on: December 18, 2020, 11:50:04 AM »
In op.106, Is it correct that the differences between the Gulda performances are slight? I am missing the best known Rosen recording (CBS 1968 or 69), again is there a lot of difference to 3 years earlier or 20? years later.
Unfortunately, I find the sound of Peter Serkin's Graf instrument so repulsive that I can listen to this only once in a blue moon...
Struck by the sounds before the sun,
I knew the night had gone.
The morning breeze like a bugle blew
Against the drums of dawn.
(Bob Dylan)

Offline Mandryka

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Re: Beethoven's Piano Sonatas
« Reply #4517 on: December 18, 2020, 12:12:16 PM »
I. Harmonically, all development in three of the four movements is based on sequences of falling thirds, which makes it not really development at all, since a sequence just goes round in a circle until it gets back to its starting point. Melodically and motivically, all of the musical material is too basic to have much character at all, except in the expressive passages in the slow movement where these basic elements are highly ornamented. The passionate and violent aspects are a result of single-minded rhythmic ostinatos straight out of "middle period" Beethoven combined with dense counterpoint, loud dynamics, intense and constant dissonance, and an almost unprecedented focus on instrumental virtuosity as a compositional element in itself (later to become the norm in the works of composers like Liszt of course). That virtuosity is however not used to produce beautiful and fluent sounds, but calculated to produce harsh and ugly ones, especially on an instrument from Beethoven's time.

I do not reject an expressive or subjective approach completely—but it would have to retain these aspects rather than trying to smooth them over. Every dissonant second, seventh and ninth should still be emphasised; the thickets of practically-incomprehensible counterpoint should not be slowed down and made comprehensible; the piano sound should not be made gentle and beautiful. I do think it's important to bear Beethoven's tempo markings in mind, but not necessarily to follow them (Beethoven himself undoubtedly didn't, not by 1818 with himself mostly deaf and his pianistic skills deteriorating), only to bear in mind what information they convey about the character of each movement. Similarly I do think it's important to obey Beethoven's pedal indications but also think it's perfectly fine to use the pedal much more than that (Beethoven certainly did, all his life), and that it's important to understand what Beethoven's pianos sounded like, even if one does not choose to use one (Beethoven would have written very different sonatas for a Steinway, but his students and students-of-students didn't see any issue playing his music on Bechsteins and Erards).

I do start all my approaches towards any piece of music with the score, if I can get hold of it, rather than from listening to performances (something you recently mentioned in another thread). But also, to be entirely honest, there's a pretty good chance I had this particular view of Op. 106 just because I disliked all of the "expressive" or "subjective" recordings I'd heard prior to studying the score in more detail, and found them—and the sonata as a whole—rather boring. It was the score, and a few early "objective" recordings I heard—the 1967 Gulda in particular, but also Schnabel—that convinced me that it not only made sense (although the proportions of the fugue are miscalculated imo) but was one of Beethoven's better compositions. So it's entirely possible all of this is just me trying to find intellectual reasons to justify a dislike that initially developed as a purely irrational and emotional reaction.

The other way into it is to say that because the melodic material is so unengaging, I’m thinking of the first movement, then it’s the pianists job to embellish it so that it becomes more interesting. I just listened to Levy, I may listen to Kouhri later. Khouri used to be my favourite . . .

If you have the time and the inclination have a listen to Daniel Leech Wilkinson, I can see that his ideas about performance are beginning to make me think

https://soundcloud.com/user-741379440-742582982/challenging-performance-podcast-episode-1
« Last Edit: December 18, 2020, 12:20:18 PM by Mandryka »
Wovon man nicht sprechen kann, darüber muss man schweigen

Offline hvbias

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Re: Beethoven's Piano Sonatas
« Reply #4518 on: December 18, 2020, 12:15:55 PM »
In op.106, Is it correct that the differences between the Gulda performances are slight? I am missing the best known Rosen recording (CBS 1968 or 69), again is there a lot of difference to 3 years earlier or 20? years later.
Unfortunately, I find the sound of Peter Serkin's Graf instrument so repulsive that I can listen to this only once in a blue moon...

Out of curiosity is it the Musical Concepts reissue that you are listening to with Peter Serkin's Graf recording? Sadly that reissue uses noise reduction, I couldn't get a feel for what the true sound of the piano was.

Offline Jo498

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Re: Beethoven's Piano Sonatas
« Reply #4519 on: December 18, 2020, 12:58:49 PM »
yes, from 2007. It was the only feasible option at that time, the Pro Arte LP only or in any case long out of print.
Struck by the sounds before the sun,
I knew the night had gone.
The morning breeze like a bugle blew
Against the drums of dawn.
(Bob Dylan)