One sees this question often posed, and I think rightly so. I've
been introduced to some fine music and performance by my friends and associates. In fact, they're better than reviewers!
So I was dismayed when I started off a post with a question to
everyone about Beethoven piano sonata sets, and name my own
favorites. Realize, please, I've been exploring this repertoire for
decades; my college graduation present to myself was the Schnabel
set. Many, many were the hours I spent with it; I accepted the
general view that it was the best, ditto his Schubert. Gradually
however I learned there was competition.
Twenty-five years ago I embarked upon a project of identifying
the greatest performances of the standard repertoire. While still a
practitioner of audio and highly interested in obtaining the best possible sound at my old Listening Studio (1980-2000, R.I.P.), at home it was just the music, never the sound. To my surprise, after ten or fifteen
years on the project I noticed that 80% of my choices were -- in mono! Huh!
Indeed the earlier eras provide us with superior musical insight,
if not execution, although never do I go for shoddy. Back
specifically to Beethoven (although I am preparing an article on
the greatest Schubert), I found a panoply of recordings whose
individual merits outweighed the Schnabel approach, in most cases.
Well, I reasoned, the problem must lie with the set mentality.
Although maybe not! Claude Frank turned out a set every bit as
wonderful as his teacher's. Then twenty years later I discovered
Yves Nat, whose early-fifties set was distinguished by terrific
performances of the earlier sonatas, where I feel Schnabel is weakest.
Soon afterwards, owing to her explosive Symphony Hall recitals, I
hooked onto the Annie Fischer set mon Hungaroton. Most were great,
and many of the sonatas (and/or movements within them) ranked top of the list. Guess sets can be OK!
But neither did I stop looking for individual performances. Thus I
encountered Glenn Gould, Anya Dorfman, Solomon, Firkusny, Tomsic,
Sherman, Haskil, Badura-Skoda, Gulda, Richter and (the first)
Brendel. Oddly, and with some chagrin, I have neglected Kempff and
Backhouse, for no visible reason; I'll get there! As for the later
Brendel, I find him too "academic"; Goode, overly personalized
(although his Pastoral is quite fine, especially Mvt.II). Still, I
have not heard them *all*.
Then two months ago I discovered Dino Ciani. The rest is Asylum history.
I was scorned, torched and humiliated -- by all the usual suspects.
Why? For expressing a definite opinion. One mustn't ever say, This is the best. One must pussyfoot so as not to disturb their feelings. Samples:
> Who, seriously, declares a 9 CD scratch and cough fest as "the
> greatest Beethoven Sonata cycle ever" -- AND discounts almost the
> entire canon of historic artists as footnotes? And you're defending
> him? Sheesh.
Hmm... This poster seems unable to separate noise from
music; one hopes he doesn't raise a hush at live concerts. Also,
while he's asserts that I have discounted "almost the
entire canon of historic artists as footnotes," another suspect
writes of "all of the obscure performances to which [Johnsen]
refers." Those would of course be the historical ones.
> When you are in your arrogant, self-pleasuring mode and decide to
> dismiss a pile of historically significant artists and recordings...
Oh will the calumny and misrepresentation never end!? But I do wish
you guys could get your case together better! Do I, or do I not,
dismiss the obscure and the historical?
> "Schnabel, Solomon, Kempff, Richter... they're all sooooo passé!"
Those are the words the gentleman falsely puts in my mouth. I
won't argue, I suppose he just can't resist prevarication.
As I said in my original post, I have an extensive list of great
performances (if that phrase may be allowed) and would share it
willingly. None of my antagonists were interested, exciting
themselves instead with personalities. Sad.
Yes, Schubert is upcoming and I can assure you there are no
recommended sets, as there are so few anyway. Walter Klien and Jeno
Jando are not bad, however. The "winners" may come as a surprise.
Also I have subjected Brahms to my loving ministry and I'll give a
hint of things to come. The greatest single Brahms piano record?
Glenn Gould doing the Ballads and Intermezzi. Incomparable!
[Post appeared originally at http://www.audioasylum.com/audio/music/messages/129654.html ]