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Beethoven Piano Sonatas

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Showing 1-25 of 57 posts in this discussion
Initial post: 29 Mar 2012 09:25:17 BDT
Malx says:
I currently have two complete sets: Schnabel, and Barenboim. Recently i've come across the sets by Takacs, Lortie and Oppitz at very reasonable prices for downloads, my question: is does anyone have/know any of these sets and if so what are their opinions of them?
On a general point, which set(s) are your favourites?

Posted on 29 Mar 2012 09:58:59 BDT
Sorry, but I have no knowledge of Takacs, Lortie and Oppitz. I have two complete sets - Barenboim and Lewis. Additionally, I also have two sets of the late sonatas - Pollini and Brendel. Also selections from Uchida, Solomon, Serkin, Kovacevich and others. It is difficult to choose favourites except for Op 111 where it is Pollini.

Posted on 29 Mar 2012 10:07:25 BDT
Last edited by the author on 29 Mar 2012 10:07:50 BDT
I have three complete sets, and it seems, as everyone else, one of them's Barenboim's (EMI)! I also am the proud owner of a cycle by Eric Heidsieck (not a major name, but really not at all bad!) and Bernard Roberts. I do think of the Barenboim set as my primary one here. Also various others in various other sonatas, some by Jeno Jando, Alfred Brendel, Pollini, Gilels, Ashkenazy. My favourite of the late sonatas - narrowly beating Pollini and Brendel - is Wilhelm Kempff, who to my knowledge did two complete cycles for DGG, one in mono (?).

Posted on 29 Mar 2012 10:10:52 BDT
Don't know Takacs at all. Have heard bits of Lortie's Beethoven and quite like it - fleet, mercurial playing, an interesting new view of Beethoven. Have heard a little more of Oppitz in this repertoire and I find his playing very different, generally heftier and fuller-toned, possibly more like one would usually expect Beethoven to sound, reliable interpretations but lacking the last ounce of vitality. Haven't heard the full cycle from either one. Forced to choose between them I'd go for Lortie but, based on what I know of them, neither would be my first choice TBH.

In reply to an earlier post on 29 Mar 2012 19:11:22 BDT
Last edited by the author on 29 Mar 2012 19:13:26 BDT
D. M. Ohara says:
Yes, two complete sets by Kempff: one from the 1950s in mono, and another from the 1960s in stereo.

In addition, he recorded a number of the sonatas on 78s in the 30s and 40s.

I remember Artur Rubinstein being very complimentary about Eric Heidseick: he was a member of the champagne-producing family, but that did not influence Rubinstein's judgement!

Posted on 29 Mar 2012 21:24:19 BDT
Last edited by the author on 29 Mar 2012 23:25:45 BDT
Edgar Self says:
I have sets by Nikoayeva, Grinberg, Kempff, Paul Lewis, and Schnabel, with individual sonatas by Rubinstein, Richter, Ney, Edwin Fischer, Pollini, Anthony Goldstone, Igor Kipnis, Cortot, Michelangeli, Pogorelich, Pollini, Landowska, Horszowski, Francois-Frederic Guy, Nikolai Lugansky, Moiseiwitsch, and others. I like Paul Lewis's for a modern set up through his excellent Hammerklavier, but then need other points of view for the last three sonatas.

Posted on 29 Mar 2012 21:32:26 BDT
Solomon (appropriately enough) does those beautifully in my view.

Posted on 29 Mar 2012 23:21:57 BDT
Last edited by the author on 29 Mar 2012 23:24:57 BDT
Edgar Self says:
He does indeed, Harry. Solomon also has an excellent Hammerklavier, and several early sonatas. In fact, he was set to record all of them when he fell ill I think.

Among the earliest records of Beethoven piano sonatas I had when starting out were Serkin, Gieseking, Horszowski, Schnabel, and Rubinstein. I should have mentioned also Francois-Frederic Guy's ideal Hammerklavier, his first recording ... he now has another that I don't like quite as much. A young Mormon pianist named Beuss has or had an astonishing Hammerklavier fugue only on YouTube that impressed me. It's such a bear to play.

Posted on 30 Mar 2012 22:40:14 BDT
Last edited by the author on 30 Mar 2012 22:54:50 BDT
Allow me to toss in mention of the four full sets I own, all of which are probably far off the standard radar screen:

Paul Badura-Skoda, on modern piano - NOT his pianoforte edition which was so poorly recorded as to be a joke. The modern-instrument set he did in Austria in the late 1960s seems not to be for sale anywhere at the moment, but keep looking, it'll turn up. On the Gramola label. ( has a picture and listing, but no copies currently on offer.)

Claude Frank. This one is for sale now on Music & Arts, and is even distributed in the UK for a fairly good price: Beethoven: Complete Piano Sonatas, Performed by Claude Frank

Friedrich Gulda. His second traversal, from 1967, originally on Amadeo in Austria, released in the US by the Musical Heritage Society, now for sale in the UK on Decca and including the concertos (cond. Horst Stein, 1973). A bit of a legend at least in America during the years when it was gone from the catalogues, and sold really quite well when reissued first on Brilliant, now on London which is what we call Decca over here. GULDA PLAYS BEETHOVEN:COMPLETE PIANO CONCERTOS, 32 PIANO SONATAS/DECCA 1968-1973/ 12CD Gulda's earlier cycle, from the mid-50s, can also be had on Orfeo; I've heard parts of it but don't own it. Sound is mono and not as well transferred. Performance: Less depth but more exciting in the 'fun' passages.

Anton Kuerti. On the Canadian label Analekta, and for sale on, or (Canada). Strangely, I cannot find it for sale on Analekta's own web site, but their search functions are annoying in the extreme so maybe I mucked it up.

Of the four: Frank is the most straight-down-the-middle traditional, with Badura a close second; both men are brilliant performers but neither ventures too far from established "norms," so you don't get flashes of individual brilliance (or disaster) as often as others offer. Gulda was the best technician and indeed very much given to going off on a tangent the likes of which you'd never find elsewhere; and frequently they work stunningly. At times they fall flat. The biggest weaknesses tend to come in slow movements where the Beethoven heartache is less intense than it might be; the grand successes are in the fast, technically "unplayable" things - cf. Waldstein, which you simply have not heard at all until you've heard Gulda.
ADDENDUM: I just noticed that, if one reads the customer comments of this set, one will be utterly confused as to what one is getting. The box set I've linked above is the 1967 Amadeo set despite what one reviewer says (and later corrects). Brilliant's edition (now o.o.p.) is also the 1967, and there's a third issue - also Decca but with a different cover, Beethoven staring at you - which is a German pressing and is in fact the specific one I have.

And then there's Kuerti, he of a reputation for quirky and strikingly original approaches to everything he tries - he's also done a Schubert box that is thought of the same way. I do not always agree with Kuerti's take on a given sonata; but I am NEVER disappointed in his ability to give me insights and shadings that I otherwise would never have found. Also, his box has the best notes - by Kuerti himself.

In reply to an earlier post on 31 Mar 2012 02:53:06 BDT
[Deleted by the author on 31 Mar 2012 02:53:56 BDT]

In reply to an earlier post on 31 Mar 2012 02:53:27 BDT
Edgar Self says:
Uncle Conrad -- In a recent "Music Of My Life" back-page article for "International Piano" magazine, Paul Badura-Skoda, who is now 85, paid tribute to Friedrich Gulda's "Hammerklavier".

Gulda, Joerg Demus, Geza Anda, and Badura-Skoda were among the new generation of pianists to come to notice after the war ended, along with Alfred Brendel, Ingrid Haebler, and a few others. Friedrich Wuehrer was a little older I think. Their LPs on DGG, Vox, and Westminster, Anda died early, like Fricsay with whom he often worked, and both Hungarians. I saw Demus and Badura-Skoda play piano duets in San Francisco; Claude Frank in Mozart concertos on the terrace of a Napa Valley winery; Brendel several times, but the rest I haven't heard.

Demus was a sensative Lieder accompanist for Fischer-Dieskau and others, lived and taught in a great many-sided room, and collected keyboard instruments. Gulda went into jazz. Skoda kept the faith and helped issue recordings by his teacher, Edwin Fischer, with his trio (first Kulenkampf, then Schneiderhahn, and Enrico Mainardi), live broadcasts, concertos, solo works, and Lieder accompaniments of Brahms and Schubert for Elisabeth Schwarzkopf.

In reply to an earlier post on 31 Mar 2012 21:18:40 BDT
D. M. Ohara says:
On those early VOX lps, Friedrich Wuehrer was one of the pianist I remember well: and another was Orazio Frugoni. What is know about him? I have heard nothing of him since. And the bargain SAGA label used to feature another Italian pianist, Sergio Fiorentino. He has been restored to circulation by APR.

Posted on 31 Mar 2012 22:03:09 BDT
I wonder if they'll re-release Fiorentino's recording of the "Appassionata" in which he fluffs the first trill, practises it a couple of times, then restarts the piece from scratch and plays it through, the whole thing having been left on the tape and transferred to the record! I never heard it myself, but I remember reading the review in a very early Penguin Guide.

In reply to an earlier post on 1 Apr 2012 03:43:53 BDT
Edgar Self says:
Dan Ohana -- I want to say that Orazio Frugoni ... marvelous name ... later taught at the famous music school of the North Texas State Teachers College in Denton, Texas, now a part of the University of Texas system and the nearest thing then to a conservatory in the Lone Star State.

Friedrich Wuehrer recorded Scriabin and I think Anton Rubinsteini's fourth concerto among others. I saw him play a recital in the Alte Aula of the University of Heidelberg, where his old friend Prof. Friedrich Schery taught. I thought Wuehrer quite impressive. A friend of mine studied with Prof. Schery, who had an English wife whose English father lived with them in Heidelberg all through the War.

Sergio Fiorentino recorded all Chopin's nocturnes for a small label, but I forget which. The sound was not good, and I gave it away. APR issued his later and last CDs, among them a Schubert B-flat sonata and Schumann Fantasy ranked with the best (i.e., Benno Moiseiwitsch).

The Italian pianist I would like to find on CD is the elusive Carlo Vidusso, who taught Pollini before Michelangeli. Vidusso had an Allegro LP of Chopin's first concerto and went through the melisma in the adagio like a buzz saw, absolutely in strict time, ben marcato, with no fudging or expressive rubato whatever, and taking my hair off in the process..

Posted on 1 Apr 2012 11:58:16 BDT
I have just taken the plunge on the Lewis set and am eagerly awaiting it. From what I have of Barenboim's EMI cycle (ie: 8, 14, 23), they are thoughtful, incredibly intense performances: beautifully recorded. One of my earlier discs and a long time favourite. I also have some Brendel versions. The reason I have bought the Lewis is because I wanted a complete cycle.

I'm hoping that Lewis' approach will be beautifully recorded, spacious, and have lots of moments of 'repose'. I find that it's generally much harder to put into words what you 'want' out of the piano repertoire. It is quite an elusive chunk of gorgeousness!

Thanks to Piso and Geoffrey for their previous expressed opinions on the Lewis set. Any other comments, more than welcome and desirable from my point of view.

In reply to an earlier post on 2 Apr 2012 01:49:36 BDT
Yi-Peng says:
Brendel and Schiff. They strike me as well-balanced in their renditions of the sonatas. I tend to like them a lot. Schiff is always very insightful in his performances but they always move forward.

Posted on 2 Apr 2012 07:50:41 BDT
Mandryka says:
I thought Peter Takacs was very good.

Posted on 2 Apr 2012 10:46:14 BDT
Malx says:
Mandryka: thanks for your comment on the Peter Takacs set I mentioned in the original post. Could you please elaborate a little on what you like about them, many thanks.

Posted on 5 Apr 2012 18:27:49 BDT
Last edited by the author on 5 Apr 2012 18:46:19 BDT
Mandryka says:
I like the sound of the bass registers in his Bosendorfer. Tonally he's colourful. I like the basically poised and classical, very serious style, especially in middle period sonatas. He's an intellectual, not a romantic. His appassionata, for example, is both restrained and yet loses no impact in the climaxes. I have a problem with heroic approaches to Beethoven so I particulrly appeciated this aspect. He's one of the very few pianists I enjoy in the big middle period sonatas.O

If you want fireworks, big storms, comedy ... if you want romantic feeling ... then look elsewhere. I suggest you download the appassionata and see what you think.

If you do like it then let me know. This sort of refined and beautiful, poised and aristocratic approach to Beethoven interests me, and I'm trying to build a collection of interpretations in this style.

Posted on 10 Apr 2012 00:58:44 BDT
km.ord says:
Over the years, I have owned a few cycles, namely by Gulda, Barenboim (later DG cycle), Bernard Roberts (better than you might think), and both of Kempff's available cycles. After culling my CD collection, I recently purchased the Kempff '50's mono cycle, which I have to say, to my ears, is terribly disappointing. It lacks the tonal colour and technical perfection that he demonstrated in his '64 cycle, and the '50's sound is really awful, contrary to the rave reviews. I do not understand why this set was allocated a Rosette in the Penguin CD guide. Whereas Gulda is almost dismissive in his hair raising renditions, Kempff comes across as a student who is battling with the scores. In the development sections in many of the first movement allegros, he has a tendency to slow things down just before the big moment, then he proceeds with a few notes which are real clangers - how they managed to get through to the final pressings I don't know. The treble notes ping, at a high frequency, sounding like a doorbell, and the mid and lower registers are an inarticulate, blustery mess. If you listen to Kempff's opus 109, and then Pollini's '77 recording immediately after, the difference is astonishing. Pollini's sound like demonstration recordings in comparison.

In hindsight, I feel that I should have kept either the Gulda (although Gulda's speedy interpretations do lack soul) or later Kempff set. Luckily both are available on flac files available for download via torrent client. I won't feel guilty downloading them because I've purchased them in the past already. Personally, I would advise to stay away from the '50's mono set. Some of the best individual interpretations of Beethoven's sonatas are: Pollini (late sonatas), Jando (late sonatas and Op. 10, 1-3, amongst others); also, I've never heard a better interpretation of the Appassionata than Murray Perahia's recording from the '80's, coupled with Op.10 no.3, or as part of a CD called 'Portrait of Murray Perahia'. Perahia also released lovely single CD of the Opus 2 sonatas, which is still available on Sony. Another fine disc of his, is his '86 recording of the Tempest, Les Adieux and Hunt sonatas. It's a shame he has shied away from a complete cycle.

Posted on 10 Apr 2012 16:46:05 BDT
Last edited by the author on 10 Apr 2012 17:14:51 BDT
Mandryka says:
Kempff's mono OP 2/2 is good. Great in fact. As is his Op 110 and Op 28 and op. 78 and op. 90. That's 5 interesting performances -- there aren't many bettter integrals than that. If you're going to get a Gulda, which one? There are three different complete sets of the sonatas (I like the live one most)

But I don't care about technical perfection really, so maybe we have different values. I thought that Perahia's Op2s were laser sharp and unspontaneous: that's a deal breaker for me. I know a lot of people are affectionate about that record because it heralded his return to the piano after a long period of illness -- I sometimes wonder if that doesn't cloud their judgement. I haven't heard his Appassionata, but maybe I will. That's a challenging sonata to make more than bluster, and maybe Perahia can do it.

If you want to hear a set of Op2s I like try Annie Fischer or Richter or Michelangeli or Arrau. Or even Schnabel and . . . Kempff mono.

In reply to an earlier post on 10 Apr 2012 20:37:51 BDT
km.ord says:
I was thinking of getting the 1967 Gulda set again but it seems to be out of print now. It is available via torrent but I can't be bothered downloading it. There were occassions when I found that listening to Gulda was like listening to a machine, although some of his performance were marvellous, such as his Op. 22 sonata. I'm going to sell the Kempff set and make do with the single discs that I have, which cover around about eighteen of the sonatas.

I agree that Kempff's op.110 is ok, but it is hardly groundbreaking. It is sadly flanked by two red herrings, the op.109 (a dull and lifeless performance), and, his Op.111, which I can only describe as ghastly. It is quite possibly the worst rendition of the (Op. 111) sonata that I've ever heard.

If Naxos were to box all of Jando's Beethoven sonata recordings and sell them at mid price, like they did with his Haydn sonatas, I'd snap them up without hesitation.

In reply to an earlier post on 10 Apr 2012 21:08:40 BDT

The Gulda Sonatas and concertos are available in budget packaging from

It says 1968 for the sonatas on the packaging and then another two sonatas are included as bonus in 1973 versions plus the piano concertos.

Posted on 11 Apr 2012 09:18:03 BDT
Last edited by the author on 11 Apr 2012 12:20:20 BDT
Bella says:
I am slightly puzzled at some of the criticisms levelled at Kempff's mono set of Beethoven sonatas - in fact, I can't quite reconcile them to what I hear on the original LPs, which lurk in one of our cupboards, I'm not sure how they got there. The piano sound is certainly rather brighter, and perhaps lighter, than what I am used to, I don't know whether it reflects the instrument, or the recording, or both. But I can't say that I notice weaknesses in the playing, though obviously there are many other approaches.

Posted on 11 Apr 2012 10:12:20 BDT
km.ord says:
Rasmus - thanks for that info. I looked it up and decided to take the plunge. The Gulda set came to just over £25 due to international shipping, but with the concertos thrown in, it is a very good deal. Cheers.
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