Author Topic: Beethoven's Piano Sonatas  (Read 877458 times)

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Offline Jo498

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Re: Beethoven's Piano Sonatas
« Reply #4520 on: December 19, 2020, 03:53:44 AM »
If Serkin's LPs had been EURO-bin finds here (if their had been more than a handful of Euro bins for classical LPs in the early 2000s in Germany which I doubt, except maybe in Berlin and then one would have had to be very lucky), it would certainly be different.
But do Feinberg first (I never heard this because of either high prices, even on sources like ebay or warnings such as yours).
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Offline amw

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Re: Beethoven's Piano Sonatas
« Reply #4521 on: December 19, 2020, 06:08:53 AM »
Very lucid response, I now understand your ratings for all the ones I have heard except for the C on Pollini DG.
I have to revisit that one but I don't recall thinking it was better than average.
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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?
No, if anything in the piece should be taken at exactly Beethoven's tempo markings it's the opening of each movement, as was his practice. The C for Goodyear is because he smoothes over all those aspects of the piece that I mentioned, and turns it into a somewhat trivial athletic display.

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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.
It could be, but I've also heard part of Dino Ciani's Hammerklavier (the sound is even worse) and he interprets at least the first two movements rather differently, and much more subjectively.

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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.
106, 2/3, 22, 28 to some degree, 31/1, and outside the sonatas, the Archduke Trio & most of the symphonies. 111 is a much more subjective piece: the constant shifts in tempo in the first movement, the written-out "cadenza" after the cadential trill in the second movement, and a general tendency towards wild shifts of mood and register. Drama works well there.

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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 have never heard the Perahia recording in its entirety; I listened to the first movement but don't remember liking it.

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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.
It wasn't much to my taste no—in that particular style I think Gilels is more effective.

In op.106, Is it correct that the differences between the Gulda performances are slight?
Slight but fairly noticeable. The Orfeo performance is the best of the three due to a certain amount of rhythmic snap and crispness, youthful enthusiasm perhaps. The Amadeo performance takes a more accurate tempo for the slow movement though.
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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.
I'm not sure which one that is, the only three I know of are the ones I listed (1965 paired with Op. 110 on Epic; 1980s-ish in a set of all six late sonatas on CBS/Columbia; 1997 paired with Op. 110 on Music Masters)

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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...
The sound quality is not ideal (and yes there are significant problems with the CD mastering), but the instrument sounds more or less like any fortepiano when recorded in a realistic environment, as opposed to e.g. the ultra close miked Badura-Skoda. If you don't like it, you don't really like fortepianos, and there's always Peter Serkin's modern piano CD, which is almost as good.

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 . . .
Beethoven himself hated it when pianists added their own ornaments to his music, according to all accounts, but I can't say I haven't been tempted when playing myself. (And some pianists actually do so—Beghin, who I don't like much otherwise, and Colom and Jumppanen, who I do like, although the latter restrained from adding any ornamentation to his playing of the late sonatas—which I think makes those recordings suffer compared to the early ones.)

Khouri simply is not technically capable of playing the Hammerklavier, or really any late Beethoven sonata, and his recordings never struck me as more than a vanity project from a non-pianist who happened to be independently wealthy. I'm glad some people do get pleasure out of them, but if you really want someone who ornaments and embellishes the sonata, I'd go with Frederic Rzewski.

Offline Mandryka

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Re: Beethoven's Piano Sonatas
« Reply #4522 on: December 19, 2020, 06:12:03 AM »
I have to revisit that one but I don't recall thinking it was better than average. No, if anything in the piece should be taken at exactly Beethoven's tempo markings it's the opening of each movement, as was his practice. The C for Goodyear is because he smoothes over all those aspects of the piece that I mentioned, and turns it into a somewhat trivial athletic display.
It could be, but I've also heard part of Dino Ciani's Hammerklavier (the sound is even worse) and he interprets at least the first two movements rather differently, and much more subjectively.
106, 2/3, 22, 28 to some degree, 31/1, and outside the sonatas, the Archduke Trio & most of the symphonies. 111 is a much more subjective piece: the constant shifts in tempo in the first movement, the written-out "cadenza" after the cadential trill in the second movement, and a general tendency towards wild shifts of mood and register. Drama works well there.
I have never heard the Perahia recording in its entirety; I listened to the first movement but don't remember liking it.
It wasn't much to my taste no—in that particular style I think Gilels is more effective.
Slight but fairly noticeable. The Orfeo performance is the best of the three due to a certain amount of rhythmic snap and crispness, youthful enthusiasm perhaps. The Amadeo performance takes a more accurate tempo for the slow movement though. I'm not sure which one that is, the only three I know of are the ones I listed (1965 paired with Op. 110 on Epic; 1980s-ish in a set of all six late sonatas on CBS/Columbia; 1997 paired with Op. 110 on Music Masters)
The sound quality is not ideal (and yes there are significant problems with the CD mastering), but the instrument sounds more or less like any fortepiano when recorded in a realistic environment, as opposed to e.g. the ultra close miked Badura-Skoda. If you don't like it, you don't really like fortepianos, and there's always Peter Serkin's modern piano CD, which is almost as good.
Beethoven himself hated it when pianists added their own ornaments to his music, according to all accounts, but I can't say I haven't been tempted when playing myself. (And some pianists actually do so—Beghin, who I don't like much otherwise, and Colom and Jumppanen, who I do like, although the latter restrained from adding any ornamentation to his playing of the late sonatas—which I think makes those recordings suffer compared to the early ones.)

Khouri simply is not technically capable of playing the Hammerklavier, or really any late Beethoven sonata, and his recordings never struck me as more than a vanity project from a non-pianist who happened to be independently wealthy. I'm glad some people do get pleasure out of them, but if you really want someone who ornaments and embellishes the sonata, I'd go with Frederic Rzewski.

I prefer the sound of Kouhri’s piano to Rzeeski’s.
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Offline amw

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Re: Beethoven's Piano Sonatas
« Reply #4523 on: December 19, 2020, 06:14:16 AM »
I prefer the sound of Kouhri’s piano to Rzeeski’s.
Yes, he's certainly been able to stockpile some nice instruments.

Offline Jo498

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Re: Beethoven's Piano Sonatas
« Reply #4524 on: December 19, 2020, 08:06:26 AM »
No, the Rosen set of the 6 last sonatas was recorded 1968/69, not 1980ish. So I guess you meant that one. How come that the most easily available ones of pianists who did several always seem the worst rated? Surely, there must some unfindable Richter from the Azerbaidshani Radio that is the best....
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I knew the night had gone.
The morning breeze like a bugle blew
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Brass Hole

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Re: Beethoven's Piano Sonatas
« Reply #4525 on: December 19, 2020, 08:29:35 AM »
Rosen's Op 106 are: 1965 on Epic BC LC 3900 BC 1300 (with 110, reissue 1997 on MusicMasters 67183) and 1971 on Columbia M3X 30938 (late sonatas set, reissue 1994 on Sony 53531). Both miss the music in the name of loyalty to score.
« Last Edit: December 19, 2020, 08:35:27 AM by Brass Hole »

Offline hvbias

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Re: Beethoven's Piano Sonatas
« Reply #4526 on: December 19, 2020, 09:05:41 AM »
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I have to revisit that one but I don't recall thinking it was better than average.

I find the performance generally very good and don't see it as diverging much from the score, maybe some uglier forte passages, but this sounds more like limitations for the early digital recording and in general seemed like it was in line with your criteria. But you have his Arkadia ranked high so I will have to revisit that. I was trying to discern if it was Ciani or not (I know very little about him) and in doing that I was focusing on more on if it was Pollini and the approach between it and the DG didn't sound that different.

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No, if anything in the piece should be taken at exactly Beethoven's tempo markings it's the opening of each movement, as was his practice. The C for Goodyear is because he smoothes over all those aspects of the piece that I mentioned, and turns it into a somewhat trivial athletic display.

Got it, we're on the same page, that is why I only find the opening movement interesting. All that you've wrote I find applies to his cycle as a whole.

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106, 2/3, 22, 28 to some degree, 31/1, and outside the sonatas, the Archduke Trio & most of the symphonies. 111 is a much more subjective piece: the constant shifts in tempo in the first movement, the written-out "cadenza" after the cadential trill in the second movement, and a general tendency towards wild shifts of mood and register. Drama works well there.

Very good information, I will approach these with different ears next time I hear them. I remember your rankings of the symphonies and I take a rather different path with them.

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but if you really want someone who ornaments and embellishes the sonata, I'd go with Frederic Rzewski

Rzewski is quite the character. Is it this performance on Youtube? Within the first minute alone I'd think he is Russel Sherman's long lost twin :)

<a href="https://www.youtube.com/v/tGyX5W9a_IE" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer" class="bbc_link bbc_flash_disabled new_win">https://www.youtube.com/v/tGyX5W9a_IE</a>
« Last Edit: December 19, 2020, 09:20:27 AM by hvbias »

Offline amw

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Re: Beethoven's Piano Sonatas
« Reply #4527 on: December 25, 2020, 12:10:48 AM »
No, the Rosen set of the 6 last sonatas was recorded 1968/69, not 1980ish. So I guess you meant that one.
I'm not sure why I thought it was recorded in the 80s, but yes. I am wrong sometimes. (most of the time.)

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How come that the most easily available ones of pianists who did several always seem the worst rated? Surely, there must some unfindable Richter from the Azerbaidshani Radio that is the best....
Most pianists seem to do better with the piece when they are young—not only because of the physical difficulties of the music, but also I think because younger musicians are more inclined to follow the score directly, and have not yet necessarily developed their own individual aesthetic convictions about what Beethoven did wrong in the sonata. So it's not an accident that among most of the pianists who recorded the piece multiple times, the earliest recording is to be preferred—as in e.g. Gulda, Pollini, Ashkenazy, Barenboim, also probably Backhaus and Kempff (I have not listened to all their recordings). Meanwhile, record companies tend to focus on releasing later performances, since they can hold the copyright on those for a longer period of time.

Offline amw

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Re: Beethoven's Piano Sonatas
« Reply #4528 on: December 25, 2020, 01:05:32 AM »


Hisako Kawamura has already recorded one of Beethoven's "purely objective" sonatas, Op. 7, which did give me an idea of what to expect for this release of the Hammerklavier. She's hardly an "objective" artist the way someone like Gulda is, but rather has developed a subjective and personal style that happens to suit the character of Beethoven's more objective pieces quite well.

Some facts about this recording: in Op. 81a and 106, all of Beethoven's notes, pedal indications, dynamics, articulations and other expressive marks are followed very precisely, and with a high degree of intensity in the amplitude of those expressive marks. Fortes are very loud, pianos are very soft, accents are very sharp, staccatos are very short, et cetera. Op. 90 is less accurate, because she adds many new expressive marks of her own, as pianists are typically tempted to do in Beethoven's more "subjective" works. Tempos in all three sonatas are slightly too moderate by Beethoven's standards, the most accurate movement being the scherzo of Op. 106 (at 2:25). The first movement of the Hammerklavier is 10:58, the adagio 16:42, the fugue 10:05—comparable timings (and character, incidentally, but that's an opinion not a fact) are those by András Schiff and Ursula Oppens, or among recordings entirely different in character, by John Ogdon and Éric Heidsieck. Throughout, Kawamura displays a very well controlled piano touch, to a level comparable to only a handful of other pianists (among the currently living: Arcadi Volodos, Pavel Kolesnikov, Yeol Eum Son, Maria Tipo, etc).

Some opinions about this recording: The control of the piano keyboard is likely to be the main appeal for most listeners (if there is one) but there are three additional aspects that need to be mentioned: character, mannerism and phrasing. The character of every movement of Op. 81a and 106 is almost perfectly realised in spite of the moderate tempos, due to managing the intensity level of the various dynamics and expressive marks, a careful additional use of pedal, and well-judged luftpauses in time and position. If Op. 90 is less successful, it is because the mannerisms in the second movement especially are often intrusive, although more in a Paavali Jumppanen sort of way than a Glenn Gould sort of way, thankfully. These mannerisms undoubtedly also exist elsewhere, but blend in well enough with the character of the music as to be unobtrusive and occasionally even enlightening, drawing attention to details that might otherwise go unnoticed. The phrasing displays sensitivity to the long line, if not always mastery of it. An interesting effect Kawamura resorts to occasionally is stopping or slowing the music in the middle of a longer phrase, but in a way that does not seem to interrupt the momentum of that phrase. That might appeal to Ernst Levy fans, even while nothing else about the recording does.

I actually find this the most successful new Hammerklavier since Steven Osborne's, but there hasn't been much competition, honestly.

Evaluations:
Op. 81a B
Op. 90 C
Op. 106 A-/B+
Overall advice: sample first movement of Op. 106 and second movement of Op. 90 before buying.

Offline amw

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Re: Beethoven's Piano Sonatas
« Reply #4529 on: December 25, 2020, 01:58:03 AM »


Quick comparison with the other Op. 106 I thought looked promising this year.

Timings 10:14 / 2:38 / 18:31 / 2:35 / 9:15 (comparable to: François-Frédéric Guy I, Jean-Frédéric Neuburger, Russell Sherman, Charles Rosen I & II)

This recording is less engaging than Kawamura's in a few respects: the slow movement feels much longer and indeed unnecessarily dragged out, mostly as a result of a lack of energy and tension in the playing; the lower end of the intensity scale is not well represented (i.e. the pianos and pianissimos are not soft enough, etc); and the character of the first three movements is only partially conveyed. The first movement lacks the last degree of violence, the scherzo lacks humour, the slow movement lacks sentiment. On the other hand, there is absolutely no mannerism whatsoever, and the fugue is very well played and characterised, essentially "saving" the performance. I'd give it about a B. It's not bad, overall.

Offline grocklin

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Re: Beethoven's Piano Sonatas
« Reply #4530 on: December 28, 2020, 02:07:23 PM »
I did some analysis of track lengths for fun. Here's the Hammerklavier:



Here's all 32 sonatas. I think the track lengths mostly indicate overall speed, but sometimes there is variation in whether a repeat is taken or not.

Offline amw

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Re: Beethoven's Piano Sonatas
« Reply #4531 on: December 28, 2020, 04:20:19 PM »
When making track length timetables (which I have done for the Hammerklavier and Op. 109 and 111, at least) I usually add the length of the repeats to recordings without them in order to get a more accurate picture. Of course track length itself doesn't correlate exactly to prevailing tempo, so it can be useful to open your metronome app (something everyone should have, of course) and tap in time with the recording you're examining in order to determine their approximate tempo.

I've analysed a lot of recordings of the Hammerklavier but have not looked at all of them, and especially have tended to ignore recordings on the extreme slower end, which are usually by amateurs or professionals well past their prime. Have not made a graph but here's the fastest and slowest that I've recorded for each movement:

1 Allegro - Schnabel 8:49 / Gould 14:28
2 Assai vivace - Möller & Buchbinder Teldec both 2:17 / Rangell 3:15
3 Adagio sostenuto - Lim 12:50 / Korstick 28:42
4 Largo - Backhaus mono 1:13 / Solomon 3:18
5 Allegro risoluto - Goodyear 8:12 / Lortie 11:37

Brass Hole

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Re: Beethoven's Piano Sonatas
« Reply #4532 on: December 30, 2020, 06:17:48 AM »
Here is another perspective to tempo and timing...  :) This is from Schabel's Beethoven Op 27/2 I.Adagio sostenuto.The dark vertical lines are bars, light vertical lines are crotchet boundaries. The expressive timing information is represented by the
dots and phase shifts are represented by lines. If the dot is above the tempo graph, he is late relative to the time
predicted by the underlying tempo; if the dot is below he is early. You can see how Schnabel progresses through until the end of the first complete phrase after four bars in one long breath where generally other performers stop with each bass note at the beginning of the bar...or slow at the beginning of each bar:



Edit: This is Pollini's:




« Last Edit: December 30, 2020, 06:23:52 AM by Brass Hole »

Offline hvbias

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Re: Beethoven's Piano Sonatas
« Reply #4533 on: December 30, 2020, 05:02:41 PM »
Here is another perspective to tempo and timing...  :) This is from Schabel's Beethoven Op 27/2 I.Adagio sostenuto.The dark vertical lines are bars, light vertical lines are crotchet boundaries. The expressive timing information is represented by the
dots and phase shifts are represented by lines. If the dot is above the tempo graph, he is late relative to the time
predicted by the underlying tempo; if the dot is below he is early. You can see how Schnabel progresses through until the end of the first complete phrase after four bars in one long breath where generally other performers stop with each bass note at the beginning of the bar...or slow at the beginning of each bar:



Edit: This is Pollini's:



Oh god I see an antidromic reentry tachycardia in that second image. Flashbacks to getting tortured with obscure EKGs as an M3 student shudder

Offline amw

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Re: Beethoven's Piano Sonatas
« Reply #4534 on: December 31, 2020, 02:04:08 AM »


New release, somewhat of a curiosity: three Beethoven sonatas (the Waldstein having the Andante favori incorporated as slow movement) performed on a 102-key grand piano designed in 2015.

I call it a curiosity only because on a very cursory listen of about three minutes' worth, the piano sounds interesting (much more like a period instrument than one might expect) but the pianist sounds pretty boring. If you listen and find out he's not, let me know.

Offline Todd

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Re: Beethoven's Piano Sonatas
« Reply #4535 on: December 31, 2020, 07:51:31 AM »


New release, somewhat of a curiosity: three Beethoven sonatas (the Waldstein having the Andante favori incorporated as slow movement) performed on a 102-key grand piano designed in 2015.

I call it a curiosity only because on a very cursory listen of about three minutes' worth, the piano sounds interesting (much more like a period instrument than one might expect) but the pianist sounds pretty boring. If you listen and find out he's not, let me know.


The concept reminds me of Gerard Willems' cycle on a super-sized Stuart & Sons piano, just limited.  Which reminds me, that piano maker now has a 108 key, nine octave instrument.  If Mr Weber records an entire cycle, I will buy it to buy it, but otherwise, I'll probably pass.

Georges Pludermacher uses a Paulello, though an earlier one, in his Debussy and Ravel sets for Transart.  Perhaps I should revisit those.
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Offline Hobby

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Re: Beethoven's Piano Sonatas
« Reply #4536 on: February 23, 2021, 07:32:45 AM »
Hi Todd
I’m new to the forum. Some time back you posted a guide to the different characters of Beethoven cycles. Eg
Intense, strong: Annie Fischer
Fast, lean, intense: Friedrich Gulda (Amadeus) etc..
Is there any chance of you updating that useful guide as you’ve added so many cycles since that posting?

Offline Todd

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Re: Beethoven's Piano Sonatas
« Reply #4537 on: February 24, 2021, 08:30:11 AM »
Hi Todd
I’m new to the forum. Some time back you posted a guide to the different characters of Beethoven cycles. Eg
Intense, strong: Annie Fischer
Fast, lean, intense: Friedrich Gulda (Amadeus) etc..
Is there any chance of you updating that useful guide as you’ve added so many cycles since that posting?


That would prove somewhat challenging for many of the fourth tier sets and perhaps even third tier sets, and would necessitate sampling from all cycles.  That, in turn, would require coming up with a representative sample of sonatas to assess whole cycles quickly.  I'm thinking 10/3, 31/3, 53 or 78, and 110 would do the trick.  Hmm.
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Offline Hobby

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Re: Beethoven's Piano Sonatas
« Reply #4538 on: February 25, 2021, 08:26:32 AM »
I’d settle for your top two tiers. Sampling core key works also a good way of reducing the huge (and much appreciated) effort required.
Occasionally you’ve threatened to do a shootout for one or more of the late sonatas, perhaps most often op 111. I really enjoyed the insights in the one on op31.3. Again it may be good to largely confine to your top two tiers, perhaps with judicious additions based on recall of special items.
This whole thread has really opened my eyes as someone brought up on Gramophone and related guides and thus biased to Gilels, Kempff, Uchida, Goode, Lewis, etc. I adore Steven Osborne’s playing in almost everything including his Beethoven. But I’ve made great discoveries since exploring further with the aid of Qobuz - hadn’t really appreciated op 31 fully - love Kosuge in these. Crawford in late sonatas also a great discovery. You haven’t yet quite converted me to St Annie.

Offline Hobby

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Re: Beethoven's Piano Sonatas
« Reply #4539 on: February 25, 2021, 10:51:12 AM »
I’d be happy if you went for op53 as the Gilels recording of 53, 57 and 81a has long been one of my all time favourite CDs and I could learn about alternatives perhaps.