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HutchFan

A Quick Survey of Recordings: Beethoven's Piano Sonata, Op.110

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Some stressful things are happening at work.  To keep myself distracted, today I decided to conduct an impromptu listening experiment.  I just finished listening to to ten different recordings of Beethoven's Piano Sonata No. 31 in A flat major, Op. 110.  The recordings I chose:

  • Arrau (Philips)
  • Barenboim (DG)
  • Brendel (Philips I)
  • Buchbinder (Teldec)
  • Hungerford
  • Kempff (DG II)
  • Kovacevich (Warner Classics)
  • Pollini
  • Serkin (1960)
  • Solomon

I enjoyed listening to all of these recordings, but -- for this listener, today -- three stood out.  They are (in no particular order):

  • KOVACEVICH - for his dark and brooding weightiness; it's a "heavy" reading--in the best sense of the word. Think Otto Klemperer.
  • SERKIN - for his sense of pathos and subsequent joyousness; there's also a singing quality in Serkin's playing that brings the "Choral" Symphony to mind.
  • HUNGERFORD - for creating such a profound sense of drama; if you want a visual image of Hungerford's way with this music, think of Zeus, his arm raised above his head, casting his lightning bolt.

 

It's fun to do these sorts of listening comparisons, occasionally.  It's a bit like comparing ten different jazz versions of "Body and Soul."  Some might be more important than others (historically speaking), but I'm resistant to the idea of finding a "definitive" one. 

So, do you have a favorite recording of LvB's Op.110 sonata?

 

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Interesting project! I've been listening to a lot of Beethoven over the past week (string quartet and piano sonata cycles), so will hold off for now. "Only" have 5 cycles (Kempff DG mono, Serkin - Sony box not complete cycle, Kovacevich -Warner orig. EMI, Eric Heidsieck, Yves Nat). Off the top of my head, it's between Heidsieck (who I really like in the late sonatas) and Serkin, but the outcome might well differ if I do a "laboratory" comparison.

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Posted (edited)

Interesting project indeed. I have more than 30 cycles, most of them complete and some incomplete, but I can't name any favourites - it all depends on the sonata, and the mood I'm in also plays a part.

Edited by J.A.W.

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I have 7 versions of Op.110

Two by Kempff, two by Serkin and one each by Schnabel, Lucchesini and Buchbinder (RCA)

 it is difficult to decide which I like best without sitting down and playing all the versions in a fairly compact time frame. And as J.A.W. said, the mood I am in would likely be a factor.

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IIRC, I have Schnabel, Kempff 1, Wuhrer, Brendel 1, Gould and Rosen. Have probably disposed of a dozen.

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2 hours ago, J.A.W. said:

Interesting project indeed. I have more than 30 cycles, most of them complete and some incomplete, but I can't name any favourites - it all depends on the sonata, and the mood I'm in also plays a part.

Wow. 30 sets is a lot!  

I'm jealous. :g

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Posted (edited)

30 minutes ago, HutchFan said:

Wow. 30 sets is a lot!  

I'm jealous. :g

Actually, 36 - below are the (almost) complete cycles I have (I was thinking of getting rid of some of them, but no one wants classical CDs anymore, so I might as well keep them):

(listed chronologically, with recording dates)

Wilhelm Kempff (Polydor, Grammophon; incomplete, 1925-1936, 1940-1943)

Artur Schnabel (EMI; 1932-1937)

Rudolf Serkin (RCA; incomplete, 1941-1977)

Wilhelm Backhaus (Decca; 1950-1954)

Wilhelm Kempff (DG; 1951-1956)

Walter Gieseking (EMI; incomplete, 1951-1956)

Solomon (EMI; incomplete, 1951-1956)

Yves Nat (EMI; 1953-1955)

Wilhelm Backhaus (Decca; incomplete, 1958-1969)

Claudio Arrau (Philips; 1962-1966)

Sviatoslav Richter (Philips and Melodiya; incomplete, 1963-1992)

Wilhelm Kempff (DG; 1964-1965)

Friedrich Gulda (Amadeo; 1967)

Claude Frank (RCA; 1967-1969)

Éric Heidsieck (EMI; 1967-1973)

Bruce Hungerford (Piano Classics; incomplete, 1967-1976)

Alfred Brendel (Philips; 1971-1978)

Emil Gilels (DG; incomplete, 1972-1985)

Vladimir Ashkenazy (Decca; 1974-1982)

Maurizio Pollini (DG; 1975-2014)

Annie Fischer (Hungaroton, 1977-1978)

Rudolf Buchbinder (Teldec; 1980-1982)

Claudio Arrau (Philips; incomplete, 1984-1990)

Stephen Kovacevich (EMI; 1991-2003)

Alfred Brendel (Philips; 1992-1996)

Richard Goode (Nonesuch; early 1990s)

Andrea Lucchesini (Stradivarius; 1999-2001)

Ronald Brautigam (BIS; 2003-2008)

András Schiff (ECM; 2004-2006)

Daniel Barenboim (Decca; 2005)

Paul Lewis (Harmonia Mundi; 2005-2008)

Jean-Efflam Bavouzet (Chandos; 2008-2014)

François-Frédéric Guy (Zig-Zag Territoires; 2009-2012)

Stewart Goodyear (Marquis; 2010-2012)

Igor Levit (Sony; 2013, 2017-2019)

Konstantin Lifschitz (2017-2019)

 

53 minutes ago, Chuck Nessa said:

IIRC, I have Schnabel, Kempff 1, Wuhrer, Brendel 1, Gould and Rosen. Have probably disposed of a dozen.

Wilhelm Kempff made his first recording of Op.110 in 1936, but I assume you mean his 1951 recording.

Edited by J.A.W.

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5 hours ago, J.A.W. said:

Actually, 36 - below are the (almost) complete cycles I have (I was thinking of getting rid of some of them, but no one wants classical CDs anymore, so I might as well keep them):

(listed chronologically, with recording dates)

Wilhelm Kempff (Polydor, Grammophon; incomplete, 1925-1936, 1940-1943)

Artur Schnabel (EMI; 1932-1937)

Rudolf Serkin (RCA; incomplete, 1941-1977)

Wilhelm Backhaus (Decca; 1950-1954)

Wilhelm Kempff (DG; 1951-1956)

Walter Gieseking (EMI; incomplete, 1951-1956)

Solomon (EMI; incomplete, 1951-1956)

Yves Nat (EMI; 1953-1955)

Wilhelm Backhaus (Decca; incomplete, 1958-1969)

Claudio Arrau (Philips; 1962-1966)

Sviatoslav Richter (Philips and Melodiya; incomplete, 1963-1992)

Wilhelm Kempff (DG; 1964-1965)

Friedrich Gulda (Amadeo; 1967)

Claude Frank (RCA; 1967-1969)

Éric Heidsieck (EMI; 1967-1973)

Bruce Hungerford (Piano Classics; incomplete, 1967-1976)

Alfred Brendel (Philips; 1971-1978)

Emil Gilels (DG; incomplete, 1972-1985)

Vladimir Ashkenazy (Decca; 1974-1982)

Maurizio Pollini (DG; 1975-2014)

Annie Fischer (Hungaroton, 1977-1978)

Rudolf Buchbinder (Teldec; 1980-1982)

Claudio Arrau (Philips; incomplete, 1984-1990)

Stephen Kovacevich (EMI; 1991-2003)

Alfred Brendel (Philips; 1992-1996)

Richard Goode (Nonesuch; early 1990s)

Andrea Lucchesini (Stradivarius; 1999-2001)

Ronald Brautigam (BIS; 2003-2008)

András Schiff (ECM; 2004-2006)

Daniel Barenboim (Decca; 2005)

Paul Lewis (Harmonia Mundi; 2005-2008)

Jean-Efflam Bavouzet (Chandos; 2008-2014)

François-Frédéric Guy (Zig-Zag Territoires; 2009-2012)

Stewart Goodyear (Marquis; 2010-2012)

Igor Levit (Sony; 2013, 2017-2019)

Konstantin Lifschitz (2017-2019)

 

Wilhelm Kempff made his first recording of Op.110 in 1936, but I assume you mean his 1951 recording.

yes.

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Posted (edited)

On 27/05/2020 at 8:39 PM, HutchFan said:

Some stressful things are happening at work.  To keep myself distracted, today I decided to conduct an impromptu listening experiment.  I just finished listening to to ten different recordings of Beethoven's Piano Sonata No. 31 in A flat major, Op. 110.  The recordings I chose:

  • Arrau (Philips)
  • Barenboim (DG)
  • Brendel (Philips I)
  • Buchbinder (Teldec)
  • Hungerford
  • Kempff (DG II)
  • Kovacevich (Warner Classics)
  • Pollini
  • Serkin (1960)
  • Solomon

I enjoyed listening to all of these recordings, but -- for this listener, today -- three stood out.  They are (in no particular order):

  • KOVACEVICH - for his dark and brooding weightiness; it's a "heavy" reading--in the best sense of the word. Think Otto Klemperer.
  • SERKIN - for his sense of pathos and subsequent joyousness; there's also a singing quality in Serkin's playing that brings the "Choral" Symphony to mind.
  • HUNGERFORD - for creating such a profound sense of drama; if you want a visual image of Hungerford's way with this music, think of Zeus, his arm raised above his head, casting his lightning bolt.

 

It's fun to do these sorts of listening comparisons, occasionally.  It's a bit like comparing ten different jazz versions of "Body and Soul."  Some might be more important than others (historically speaking), but I'm resistant to the idea of finding a "definitive" one. 

So, do you have a favorite recording of LvB's Op.110 sonata?

 

I love those you mention too. My personal favourite would be Pollini (n.b. to the curious - there are, as of a couple of months ago - new Pollini recordings of 109/110/111).

Richter I'm intrigued by in this one...his second movement is SO slow it's very odd; so I couldn't say it was a favourite, but I like it because it's challenging in some way...

Solomon and Annie Fischer I also love.

Edited by Alexander Hawkins

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3 hours ago, Alexander Hawkins said:

I love those you mention too. My personal favourite would be Pollini (n.b. to the curious - there are, as of a couple of months ago - new Pollini recordings of 109/110/111).

Richter I'm intrigued by in this one...his second movement is SO slow it's very odd; so I couldn't say it was a favourite, but I like it because it's challenging in some way...

Solomon and Annie Fischer I also love.

I've never heard Richter's version.  Sounds intriguing.

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