T.D.

Beethoven piano sonatas - Pienaar?

47 posts in this topic

I own 2 complete LvB piano sonata sets: Kempff mono and Yves Nat. Would purchase Eric Heidsieck at a reasonable price (I'm somewhat of a Francophile re. classical performance).

Want to add a good modern set which is somehow different, eccentricities welcome if they're well done. The set by Andrea Lucchesini has gotten great reviews, but seems impossible to find.  Thinking that the set by Daniel-Ben Pienaar might fit the bill, highly individualistic but overall well-received. 

Can anyone comment on the Pienaar set? Other recommendations welcome.

Edited by T.D.

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And - although incomplete - Emil Gilels ....

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I have the complete sets by Kempff and Lucchesini.

I also have the complete set by Buchbinder which I strongly recommend.

The other recommendation I would make is the Sony Box - Rudolf Serkin plays Beethoven. It includes 18 piano sonatas as well as other things.

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I'm afraid I haven't heard Pienaar play Beethoven...the only one of his recordings that I can bring to mind at the moment is of Gibbons, which I recall liking a great deal!

For 'modern', I guess approach/sound quality/date of recording could all diverge. For sure, I'd second Larry's recommendation of Kovacevich (the concerti/Diabellis/Bagatelles are also masterful). For me personally, my desert island Beethoven sonatas set is Pollini, so I'd also recommend that (as well as his recordings of the Diabellis and concerti; too bad he's never recorded any bagatelles, although I've heard him play a number as encores).

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Thanks for the suggestions. For now I went for the Kovacevich set, just over US$ 17 shipped incl. sales tax (discogs). Have always meant to listen to his Sonatas, and for that matter Concerti, but never got around to it. The earlier Philips recordings of the Sonatas seem slightly better regarded, but are not a complete set and are easily available only within a "Complete Philips" megabox.

Funny addendum: I notice that classicstoday.com's piano expert Jed Distler does not love Kovacevich. But my tastes differ strongly from Distler, to the point that I consider him practically a contrarian indicator. ;)

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Kovacevich is my first and only cycle. At this point I'm not qualified to judge musical quality but the sound quality is excellent. When I was researching cycles I found plenty of recommendations for  Kovacevich as well as some who don't love him, but that's par for the course. The critics are never unanimous about anything.

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I was somewhat joking...When I started collecting classical recordings (early '90s) I relied heavily on the Gramophone and Penguin Guides. There were some notable successes, but enough major clinkers that I stopped using such sources. Over time I came to rely more on discussion forum recommendations from people whose tastes I was familiar with, or (in the case of weird modern music) a few specialized web sites.

I had to mention Distler because I read a lot of classicstoday reviews for a few years, and it was remarkable how often our opinions strongly diverged (admittedly more so for 20th century repertoire). I honest to God regard him as a contrarian indicator! And I once attended a concert (F. Rzewski solo @ Jazz Gallery, NYC) at which Distler was an MC/speaker, and he didn't make a great impression.

Edited by T.D.

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I am in the fortunate position of not being able to distinguish a good performance from a bad one, so I generally look at which recordings garner the most recommendations, then choose from amongst those based on price and sound quality. :D

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Did I mention .... Emil Gilels 😎 .... ?

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T.D. - since you mentioned Heidsieck and were looking for a more eccentric set this is definitely one that is at the very top of my list in interpretation.

I was not that impressed with Pienaar, his interventions don't bring anything new to the table for me. They seem superficial and done for the sake of recording a cycle to be different. Whereas Heidsieck and Sherman's usually (more below on Sherman) sense.

I'll copy and paste what I posted to GMG after hearing Sherman's cycle:

I've now made it through Russell Sherman's cycle. I remember hearing it a while ago on Tidal streaming, listening to it in order and immediately being turned off by it as at least for my tastes the Op. 2 sonatas were really, really off putting to me. And then reading one of Jed Distler's reviews where he gave one of the discs a comically bad 2/10 rating; it just didn't have me interested in hearing more. I am sort of puzzled why Jed Distler felt the need to slam it to that extent when he often extols the virtues of Schnabel.

Fast forward to a few weeks ago I came across these for cheap and then decided to complete the set. Besides the Op. 2 sonatas which I'm still not a big fan of I think this is an extremely interesting cycle. Sherman's tremendous dynamic range, tonal color and his obsession with really bringing out the voices makes for a very interesting non-reference cycle. If you can look past his sometimes reckless use of rubato, tempo stretching, the little pauses he takes, etc. What I have founds helps is "listening to them from afar" instead of honing on these things, with that frame of mind Sherman has some tremendous ideas. This will be one of those great cycles I'll be enjoying for years, I think the way he breaks up the sonatas by volume was very well done as this isn't a cycle I'd want to listen to from start to finish but instead focus on in the order he presents them.
 
These were some sonatas I listed after someone asked for some recommendations:
The Pastoral Sonata is a real high point. Others are 10/3, an unusual Appassionata, 109 and Op 90. Op. 110 is also good.

If it came down to a choice between Heidsieck and Sherman it would be a tough choice. Sherman has more sonatas where he goes too far with his idiosyncrasies like the Op. 2 sonatas, in that regard Heidsieck is more consistent. Heidsieck's recordings of the final 3 sonatas are also some of the finest I have ever heard (along with Lucchesini's).
 
Either way these are two cycles that I absolutely would not want to be without and will be enjoying them for decades to come. Jed Distler trashed one of Sherman's volumes and it's one of his reviews I feel could not be further from the mark.
 
Since you mentioned Jed Distler in a later reply, I have found he writes in a strictly objective style. If you play piano you will immediately understand what he is saying. I want more than from a reviewer; tell me about the pianist's realization of the works, their insights, their "depth" of interpretation (sorry hate to use that word). Having said that I find his tastes lean from the conservative to the ultra conservative when it comes to interpretations. I'm often left scratching my head in many of his 8-10/10 artistic quality ratings that are nothing more than fairly straight forward, very well played recordings. On a true scale of 5 being average I would be marking these recordings far lower. Truly great interpretation goes beyond merely playing the notes at written tempi markings, accents, etc. Even something as simple as allegro con brio appassionato should tell an interpreter that much. Fortunately most of the great pianists know this already.
Edited by Deepak

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Deepak,

Thanks very much! Sherman has been on my "radar" because it's been praised by some reviewers whose tastes seem kind of parallel to mine. 

I gave my father the Heidsieck set some years ago, but he apparently lent it out and never got it back. Now that he has Alzheimer's there's nothing to do in that connection.

Re. Distler, his reviews show technical grasp,  but he's trashed many recordings I like. I listen to a lot of modern-ish music, so some of it could be down to conservatism. I have a feeling that in core repertoire he'll basically repeat "received values" and never recommend anything off-the run.

Heidsieck and Sherman are both sets I'd buy in a flash at "the right price". Heidsieck was included in an EMI 50-cd Beethoven super-budget box, but that's oop and now hard to find. Unfortunately, some Amazon offerings are by the notorious momox from Germany, who I'm reluctant to trust with a significant order.

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35 minutes ago, T.D. said:

Deepak,

Thanks very much! Sherman has been on my "radar" because it's been praised by some reviewers whose tastes seem kind of parallel to mine. 

I gave my father the Heidsieck set some years ago, but he apparently lent it out and never got it back. Now that he has Alzheimer's there's nothing to do in that connection.

Re. Distler, his reviews show technical grasp,  but he's trashed many recordings I like. I listen to a lot of modern-ish music, so some of it could be down to conservatism. I have a feeling that in core repertoire he'll basically repeat "received values" and never recommend anything off-the run.

Heidsieck and Sherman are both sets I'd buy in a flash at "the right price". Heidsieck was included in an EMI 50-cd Beethoven super-budget box, but that's oop and now hard to find. Unfortunately, some Amazon offerings are by the notorious momox from Germany, who I'm reluctant to trust with a significant order.

You're welcome, and I completely understand about Momox Shop, I'm going through a nightmare with them now. It baffles me how they can treat customers so poorly in these times of declining music sales.

I don't know if you have any Rudolf Serkin, to me this is one of the easiest "no brainer" bargain sets of Beethoven, I can't think of a better way to spend $15 if you don't have it :) I can't say anything about the sound quality though, all my Serkin CDs pre-date that set and I completed my collection with the big Sony box of his. Serkin makes my list of the truly elite Beethoven interpreters. From all the live recordings I've heard of him, he is one that played as well live as in the studio. Though he never recorded a complete cycle and a few sonatas in that box have superior performances not available in it (from what I can tell that set is his newest recordings and officially approved), even his "lesser" performances (almost comical to say that given his high level of interpretation even on them) are wonderful.

And you get a full complement of the piano conerti, the ones on that box with Ormandy are great.

71Nrxhu7x%2BL._SL500_.jpg

Edited by Deepak

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Thanks again, will take into account.

Adding to my frustration, Amazon's search engine has recently gone to hell. Search for Russell Sherman's cycle seems to redirect to one by Bernard Roberts, and the customer reviews thereof refer to several different sets (incl. Nat,  Badura-Skoda)! Hard to trust them either. No wonder I've been going more to discogs or even eBay of late...

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2 hours ago, T.D. said:

Thanks again, will take into account.

Adding to my frustration, Amazon's search engine has recently gone to hell. Search for Russell Sherman's cycle seems to redirect to one by Bernard Roberts, and the customer reviews thereof refer to several different sets (incl. Nat,  Badura-Skoda)! Hard to trust them either. No wonder I've been going more to discogs or even eBay of late...

Sometimes google search produces better results than amazon's own search. https://www.amazon.com/Beethoven-Complete-Piano-Sonatas-L-V/dp/B00004YNI2 Aslo, if you can get a UPC code for the item you want you can get precise search results at amazon.

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17 minutes ago, Captain Howdy said:

Sometimes google search produces better results than amazon's own search. https://www.amazon.com/Beethoven-Complete-Piano-Sonatas-L-V/dp/B00004YNI2 Aslo, if you can get a UPC code for the item you want you can get precise search results at amazon.

Thanks, I already found that Google is the only way to locate this set (and some other products) at Amazon. Weirdly, though, when I click through to the sellers I'm back to the Bernard Roberts issue. I guess I'd have to ask a seller whether it's actually the Sherman set.

The UPC code search is news to me.

Edited by T.D.

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5 minutes ago, T.D. said:

Thanks, I already found that Google is the only way to locate this set (and some other products) at Amazon. Weirdly, though, when I click through to the sellers I'm back to the Bernard Roberts issue. I guess I'd have to ask a seller whether it's actually the Sherman set.

The UPC code search is news to me.

Oh I see what you mean. Amazon can be maddening sometimes.

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3 hours ago, Captain Howdy said:

Oh I see what you mean. Amazon can be maddening sometimes.

Changing the search engine a couple of months ago seems and works like a move to wipe out smaller platform sellers .... money makes the world ....

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The Buchbinder box is my top favorite. The sound quality is excellent as well

I agree that the Serkin box is a fine choice, but for a set of the complete Beethoven sonatas, the Buchbinder box is worth consideration.

 

51b1RtYO97L._AC_UL436_.jpg

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On 7/21/2019 at 5:58 PM, T.D. said:

Thanks again, will take into account.

Adding to my frustration, Amazon's search engine has recently gone to hell. Search for Russell Sherman's cycle seems to redirect to one by Bernard Roberts, and the customer reviews thereof refer to several different sets (incl. Nat,  Badura-Skoda)! Hard to trust them either. No wonder I've been going more to discogs or even eBay of late...

 

That combining of releases that have similar name is absurd. I was looking for a certain Bartok String Quartet cycle for a long time and Amazon had it listed for a few bucks, of course clicking on purchase took you to an entirely different quartet's recording of those works!

Edited by Deepak

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30 minutes ago, Deepak said:

 

... I was looking for a certain Bartok String Quartet cycle for a long time and Amazon had it listed for a few bucks, of course clicking on purchase took you to an entirely different quartet's recording of those works!

which quartet were you looking for, if you don't mind me asking?

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10 minutes ago, JSngry said:

which quartet were you looking for, if you don't mind me asking?

 

Ramor Quartet. I have them on LP and enjoy them quite a bit, but would prefer digital for the lower noise floor.

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Thank you. I will keep an eye open for them. Bartok (and Beethoven) quartets are a (very) slowly unfolding project of mine, and new names are always welcome.

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9 hours ago, Peter Friedman said:

The Buchbinder box is my top favorite. The sound quality is excellent as well

I agree that the Serkin box is a fine choice, but for a set of the complete Beethoven sonatas, the Buchbinder box is worth consideration.

 

51b1RtYO97L._AC_UL436_.jpg

 

Peter- since you own Lucchesini's cycle I am very surprised you find Buchbinder's RCA superior? I would love to read more about why you think this. I heard Buchbinder's RCA a while ago and it didn't stand out in my mind. Interestingly I see that Buchbinder has recorded this cycle three times! I am not sure anyone else has done that besides Alfred Brendel and Takahiro Sonoda.

I have been re-listening to Lucchesini's 109-111 over the last few weeks and these are to me some of the very finest late Beethoven interpretations I've ever heard. He is a master of tempo (I find I am nearly always agreeing with his tempo choices, except for the opening movement of the Hammerklavier) and really drawing everything out in these final three sonatas. Along with his tremendous dynamic range, powerful left hand articulation, and tone all qualities that really lend themself to that celestial quality of late Beethoven.

 

28 minutes ago, JSngry said:

Thank you. I will keep an eye open for them. Bartok (and Beethoven) quartets are a (very) slowly unfolding project of mine, and new names are always welcome.

You're welcome. Ramor aren't what I would consider a first choice. They are more sentimental, romantic performances and there are some intonation issues now and then with both violinists. I am quite fond of Bartok's String Quartets (for me Beethoven and Bartok's are the greatest string quartet cycles), so I am always looking for alternative interpretations.

My first two choices for complete Bartok sets are Hungarian Quartet (still in print on DG) and Tatrai.

Edited by Deepak

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