Started by George, July 21, 2007, 07:27:17 PM
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Quote from: NorthNYMark on February 09, 2024, 03:36:52 PMHello, GMG-ers! I was active on the forum for a while, quite a few years ago at this point, but then took a long-ish break from classical music obsession. That obsession returned with a vengence over the past couple years, but only recently have I found the time to return to the forum and start exploring some of these threads. In particular, I have been focused on Beethoven's sonatas over the past weeks, and have managed to read this entire thread. What a wonderful trove of insight, especially from regular contributors like Todd, George, Mandryka, Premont, and AMW, among others.It was also kind of fascinating to come across my own posts from back in 2015. At that time, I was new to the sonatas, but had done enough reading and sampling to have purchased two complete sets: the Backhaus stereo and the Annie Fischer. I was contemplating acquiring the Gulda Amadeo and the Lucchesini sets (the latter of which was very tough to acquire at that point). Fast forward all these years, and I recently acquired both those sets, along with the period-instrument Badura-Skoda set.First of all, it probably goers without saying that I am just in awe of these compositions. I'm not one who tends to believe in transcendental concepts like "genius," but I can certainly see why Beethoven's body of work would prompt such thinking. Even knowing next to nothing about music theory, the sheer complexity of both sound and emotion that emerges in these performances from this seemingly straightforward instrument consisting of 81 hammered notes is nothing short of staggering.I'd like to share a few thoughts about the cycles I currently own, and some others I'm considering acquiring in the near future. To begin with, for my own tastes, I think I made a wise decision with my initial purchase of the Fischer and stereo Backhaus cycles. For one thing, I really seem to enjoy the sound of Bösendorfer pianos, with what I would describe as an enhanced sonic contrast (in comparison to other modern pianos) between the powerful, thundering growling lower notes and the twinklingly delicate higher notes. Both these sets feature fantastic recorded sound as well, with the Fischer standing out for the sheer palpability of the bass and the Backhaus featuring a perfect balance of clarity and sweetness throughout the tonal range.I also enjoy both their interpretive voices, with Fischer having a very dramatic, intense approach, and Backhaus favoring a somewhat smaller-scaled, more spontaneous-seeming approach that somehow strikes me as "just right" in a way that's hard for me to put my finger on in many of the sonatas. Lucchesini is interesting in that I think I enjoy his lushly sensuous style, but (as I now see I pointed out back in 2015, when I must have sampled it over my speakers via Spotity from my iPad) I find the highly reverberant live acoustic distracting. I noticed Brian mentioned a few pages back that he loved the reverb, but thought it worked better in the car or with headphones than over full speakers. I think there's something to that, as I didn't notice the problem until I heard over my full system. I don't think the engineering is bad--to the contrary, it's tonally very balanced--but it seems to be a nice capture of a performance in what to me is simply an overly reverberant space (though perhaps different microphone placement could have created a closer piano sound). Brian thought a drier perspective would have taken away some of the magic of this singularly flowing performance. I can see that up to a point, but perhaps something somewhere in between this cavernousness and a more traditionally audiophile perspective may have been ideal. That said, I've just discovered what may just be my ideal recording, particularly from the perspective of the sound capture, in the Badura-Skoda period set. Good heavens, what I'm hearing from this set simply leaves me awestruck. From having previously sampled some of the Brautigam set, which everyone was talking about back when I was first exploring the sonatas, I had the idea that a fortepiano sounded kind of like a neutered modern piano, and the source of interest was in hearing how the pianist would try to make up for its limitations. With Badura-Skoda, I'm not getting that impression in any way, shape, or form--rather than working around its limitations, he seems to be making the case that these fortepianos (actual vintage ones, as opposed to the modern recreations many pianists seem to have used) can do many things that modern pianos cannot, particularly in terms of textural contrast and spectacular (sometimes almost psychedelically so) tone colorations. The contrast between bass and treble textures I enjoy on Bösendorfers is even more pronounced on these instruments, and their relative lack of sustain also allows for faster playing to sound far more natural and clearly articulated than on modern pianos, perhaps allowing Beethoven's oft-debated tempo indications to make more sense. For the most part, the interpretations have lived up to the incredible sonics, with even the more tender moments coming across as effectively as the spectacular ones. I'm honestly surprised this set hasn't produced more discussion, pro or con. (For those who are curious, it's available for only $20 as a FLAC download from Qobuz, as is the once-unobtainable Lucchesini set).To further emphasize the strengths of this set, I downloaded it on the very same day I received the Gulda set in the mail. The Gulda was a surprising disappointment--I never would have guessed from my online sampling how mediocre the sonics were, and I also remembered the the performances being less bland, though I think there are some nice aspects to several of the interpretations I've heard so far that are quite different from what most people (both supporters and detractors of the set) have described. First, on the sonics: they are not terrible, but I hear a kind of glaring upper midrange that isn't exactly harsh, but is kind of overbearing and even slightly fatiguing. Conversely, bass and upper treble seem rolled off, leaving an impression of somewhat blurry mushiness to go along with the midrange glare. This is the Amadeo Decca Eloquence version, so it's possible that the Brilliant version avoids these problems (though some posters in this thread have said that the sonic differences are minimal).Interpretation-wise, my initial instinct (starting my listening with the Pastoral and Op. 31 sonatas) was that these came across as very bland, somewhat uninpspired sight-readings. I've never heard Jeno Jando's performances, but these sounded pretty much what I imagined Jando's interpretations to sound like based on how people describe them. I didn't really notice the speed people usually talk about with regard to Gulda, in part because the notes tend to blur together enough that the overall impression lacks energy. On the other hand, there is something kind of subtly compelling about his swift but soft-edged approach--it can sound kind of relaxed (despite the quick tempos) and even conversational at times, somewhat in the vein of Backhaus, but in a less unpredictable way. I noticed he had a surprisingly effective "Moonlight" sonata, and I thought his no. 28 had an extra bit of subtle tension that made it one of his more effective performances (it probably helped my impression of this Gulda performance that no. 28 seemed to be a rare sonata where Badura-Skoda felt a little uninspired). I thought Gulda's "Hammerclavier" was enjoyable as well, albeit in a considerably more low-key way than most of my favorite versions. On the other hand, his final three sonatas just felt a little too bland and lacking in both sonic and emotional texture to me.I realize this is a LONG post--sorry about that, and many thanks to anyone who's actually read this far! I'm curious as to whether anyone has any thoughts about my impressions of these particular cycles. I'll probably follow up shortly with some thoughts on cycles I'm considering for future purchases, as well as further explorations of some of the earlier sonatas that I've been somewhat neglecting so far in my journey of discovery.
Quote from: Jo498 on February 11, 2024, 06:57:16 AMIt's been a while that I listened to these recordings but I struggle with your comments on the sound quality. I remember the Lucchesini as pleasant and "natural" not overly reverberant and the Gulda (amadeo, eloquence might have "improved" it) as unremarkable but solid late 60s sound. And while I don't think I can hear that Fischer's was split together from dozens of takes (thus posthumeously published because the pianist would not authorize it) I found this sometimes unpleasantly direct/harsh (which adds to the powerful way of her playing, though).
QuoteI'll probably always have a soft spot for Gulda/Amadeo for biographical reasons. I had had most of the sonatas piecemeal, than got Gilels almost complete Box but was rather disappointed by the sometimes slow, heavy and always very serious readings. A year or two later (all this was in the late 1990s) I got the Gulda box and finally "got" many of the earlier works. Yes, he is often a bit fast and not poetic enough in some late sonatas (although his opp.106 & 111 are still among my favorites) or slow movements but it has a vigour, sweep and "naturalness" that for me works very well in many, especially earlier and more humorous works (that are, after all, the majority: everything up to op.31 & 49 is "earlyish").
Quote from: Hans Holbein on February 07, 2024, 08:23:36 PMThank you! You've solved a very frustrating problem and I appreciate it.
Quote from: George on February 11, 2024, 07:10:50 AMGetting Gulda's set years ago was like an ice cold glass of water on a sunny day. Like you, I sometimes find it difficult to enjoy Gilels recordings of this music, but Gulda's I enjoyed from the opening notes.
Quote from: Jo498 on February 11, 2024, 06:57:16 AM.. A year or two later (all this was in the late 1990s) I got the Gulda box and finally "got" many of the earlier works. Yes, he is often a bit fast and not poetic enough in some late sonatas (although his opp.106 & 111 are still among my favorites) or slow movements but it has a vigour, sweep and "naturalness" that for me works very well in many, especially earlier and more humorous works (that are, after all, the majority: everything up to op.31 & 49 is "earlyish").
Quote from: Iota on February 11, 2024, 09:01:21 AMYes! Gulda is fantastic in the early sonatas particularly. And though he's definitely on the fast side in many from the whole set, I found the speed often spotlighted structural cohesions/opposites in thrilling ways, and created intensity and a sense of danger almost at times, making them feel like the vigorous musical dramas they are.
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