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Schumann - Piano Works, Vol 1
Schumann - Piano Works, Vol 1
Price: 9.76

5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Very passionate, detailed and clear Schumann, 13 Mar 2004
This is a Schumann set you should not overlook. It contains three discs of - mainly - masterful playing of some piano works. Klara Wurtz does an excellent job in portraying every kind of detail and emotion Schumann asked for, as it shows immediately at the very intense start of the Kreisleriana. The whole performance has everything you want in Schumann - chased rhythms, passion, a powerful drive and also subtlety when needed. The Fantasy may be the best performance of the set, as Wurtz' playing simply fits perfectly in the demands of the piece. She plays the outer movements in a very introspective way, while the March sounds joyously and fresh. It's simply one of the best recordings of this piece I've heard. Then, there's the first sonata, in which Wurtz surpasses even Pollini in analytics and fierceness. Another absolutely stellar performance! Her second sonata is not as hurried as Hamelin's but that's no problem at all. Her high speed in the outer movements is still very evident and again she doesn't miss out anything. Overall this is a very solid performance too. The recording of the Piano concerto isn't bad but it's not up there with the recent recording of Andsnes, to name one. Wurtz is a little too mechanic at times and the Nordwestdeutsche Philharmonie, though trying their best, isn't the Berlin Philharmonic. Certainly good for starters but not the best. The Faschingsschwank aus Wien, the last set of pieces (somewhere in the first movement you even hear the French national anthem passing!) is done well though I'm not as enthusiastic as with the other performances; the piece itself anyway isn't Schumann's best. Overall simply a must-have for those who like Schumann: they will find some of the finest performances of the genre here. And at this price, you can't let it stay on the shelves anyway.


Shostakovich: 24 Preludes & Fugues, Op.87
Shostakovich: 24 Preludes & Fugues, Op.87
Price: 19.92

18 of 19 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Luminous rendition of this masterwork, 12 Mar 2004
Since he turned his attention from piano playing to conducting, Ashkenazy has stayed away from the recording studio for some time, but in the last years he seems to be picking up his old career again. A good decision, as he never equalled his keyboard success with his baton. He finally set to recording the complete Shostakovich Preludes and Fugues, a huge undertaking, as he says himself in the liner notes: "You have to devote so much time and energy and concentration!" That he eventually took the effort is something that deserves only applauds, as this is an absolutely superior recording of this 20th century masterwork. Compared to Ashkenazy's earlier recordings (those of the Rachmaninov Preludes, for example) he hasn't lost anything of his old musical feeling and sensitivity. What is gone a little is the energy and risk-taking he used to expose. But then, this set of Preludes and Fugues doesn't ask for so much virtuosity as it does for musicality. Because of that, Ashkenazy's approach does full right to the work. Even more so than the famous Nikolayeva (that is, in her 1990 Hyperion recordings; I don't know her 1987 set), as the famous dedicatee of this work plays much too slowly and heavy for my taste.
If anything distincts Ashkenazy's recordings so much, it's the vitality and relaxedness he plays with. His approach is quite 'clean': he doesn't impart much romanticism or overwrought feelings, and this is something I admire greatly: Ashkenazy makes everything sound very direct and intimate. And above all: everything is so 'naturally good' (an ability he has always had). He focuses rather on the work's musical side than its emotionality, and does this very successfully. These preludes and fugues are mainly a great thematic and musical traversal, as another reviewer rightfully commented, after the example of Bach, and hearing Ashkenazy makes me wish he would record some Bach too (the WTC maybe?). Most of his preludes sing beautifully, while the voicing in the fugues is very clear and architectural. I've heard comments that he is just too clean at everything, or that he sounds bored; this is definitely not the case. I'd rather say that he often reaches some kind of a transcendence in which his own person doesn't count much anymore. Many fugues in particular have very meditative qualities and it's absolutely wonderful to hear how much Ashkenazy unifies his mind with the music at those places. I have to say that Richter does this even better in the few preludes and fugues that he recorded, but Ashkenazy is a very close second after all.
Most of the 48 works on these discs are simply immensely enjoyable to listen, just because of Ashkenazy's greatly clear and communicative approach. When comparing Ashkenazy and Nikolayeva, I noticed something interesting: the latter usually plays slower and less interesting, but even when Ashkenazy plays slower than Nikolayeva he sounds far more expressive. Additionally, he's often much more at ease. The truly wonderful B flat minor fugue is a good example: he takes more than seven minutes for this piece, but has you hanging to the speakers every single second. I've always thought he has some natural talent for playing anything beautifully and easily and that's surely the case here too. On the other hand: in the more lively pieces, like the A flat major, B major or G major fugues, he gives much fresher and more vital accounts than Nikolayeva who's just too heavy for the faster works. His light touch is generally wonderful, though on a few occasions I'd like some more dynamic differences: in the concluding D minor fugue the end is a bit too understated for me, for example. On the whole, Ashkenazy seems to fully get the clue of all of these pieces and performs them masterfully.
Overall, a great set that makes more obvious than ever how good this music really is. This is a set that just can't make me stop listening. Ashkenazy's lucidity and transcendence is really wonderful for almost every of these 48 pieces and sets the absolute standard for this work so far. Only Sviatoslav Richter surpassed it at times but unfortunately he didn't record all 24 Preludes and Fugues. This one is fully worth its place on my shelves aside Richter's Well-Tempered Clavier. I hope Shostakovich' Preludes and Fugues will get more attention among other pianists in the coming time, though they will have a very hard job in beating these interpretations.


English Suites
English Suites
Price: 8.08

6 of 12 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Nice, but not the final word, 12 Mar 2004
This review is from: English Suites (Audio CD)
Perahia has made it his highest mission to play the music of Bach, as it seems. He always keeps returning to the composer, after having flirted with composers from the Romantic era. Yet I don’t know if he’s entirely right here. I wouldn’t deny for a moment that Perahia’s Bach shows great understanding of the music as well as a perfectly polished sound. But somehow it appears to me that these qualities are much better suited to the aforementioned Romantic composers. In Schubert, Chopin or Schumann Perahia has few equals. When playing Bach, he’s surely excellent, but he enters Glenn Gould’s territory here. Who seems, to me, nearly unbeatable. Gould’s style and personality were unique, and so are his Bach recordings. Gould can be revolutionary, shocking, intimidating. He can infuriate you with his playing, but even then he grabs your attention. While Perahia is, at least in Bach, rather pleasant and gentleman-like. These may very well be the most profound, fair recordings of the English Suites available, but it’s just not the real thing (a.k.a. Gould). If you like your Bach relaxed and melodical, then by all means get this. It won’t disappoint for a moment. But it could do so for those seeking adventure and new discoveries. As for myself, I strongly prefer Gould, but it’s simply undeniable that Perahia plays this music very well. To return to the main subject of this paragraph, however: there is so much more music that he plays well, without having an unbeatable rival. So he might focus on other terrain a little more.
For what we have here, I have a lot of praise but also some remarks. I mentioned Perahia’s extremely polished sound already: his Bach always sounds like a box of delicious chocolates. His subtle, slightly romantic touch is greatly enjoyable, and so is his reading of the music: it’s neither too fast nor too slow: just all perfect. The dynamic accents are not exaggerated, but very correct. So is his treatment of each kind of piece: the Gigues are nervous dances, the Gavottes are exquisite little gems (especially that of the third suite), the Sarabandes broad songs and so on. I can’t really say he does anything ‘wrong’. Yet it is his being just too neat and correct that makes the disc a little less satisfying or even a little boring. Maybe he should have taken more risks, but now we’re moving into the direction of Gould again. This is Perahia, however, and it’s his style to keep everything in a ‘fine’ spirit, without ever being brusque. It’s fine to listen to, but on the other hand there’s some lively spirit missing. Perahia certainly does an admirable job on these discs: I can’t recall any real negative things, but it just misses the crisp freshness and joy of Gould.
Nevertheless, I recommend this disc. This music can be interpreted in different ways and the two aforementioned pianists are a good combination of these different routes. With one clear favourite, however.


Liszt: Piano Concertos /Brendel/ Haitink
Liszt: Piano Concertos /Brendel/ Haitink
Offered by vinylandcds
Price: 13.99

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A very interesting take on these concertos, 12 Mar 2004
Liszt's piano concertos are often regarded as bombastic showpieces, and maybe they are. But these recordings of them are so stunning that I can only enjoy the performed music greatly. They're even so great that they belong to my top-favourite discs! People who know Brendel only from his Mozart and Beethoven may well be surprised when hearing these recordings. What we have here couldn't have been further away from his often restrained, lyrical playing in the Viennese classics. His readings of the Liszt concertos are revolutionary and modernistic, instead of the high-romanticism that is often associated with Liszt. I may exaggerate a bit, but I really get the idea that he wanted to make an anti-romantic statement with these concertos. The grungy, burnished sound of his tones, his almost too vigorous attacks on the notes and the specially tuned piano almost seem to point forward to the 20th century expressionism! Additionally, his approach sounds nearly mathematic at times: there is no single slight ritardando or rubato to be found here. The music is totally strained. This may sound a bit claustrophobic, but it isn't at all. It reminded me of Prokofiev at times, and say: is that a nasty composer? This is also the reason that the recordings don't carry a lot of bombast with them. Very few things in the orchestra (lead by Bernard Haitink) or the piano sound emotional, exaggerated or superficial (apart from those nasty fanfare-like bells maybe, but Liszt ordered to use them).
Haitink and the LPhO give great support to Brendel's pyrotechnics, with a very satisfying and full orchestra sound. The collaboration between the two sides is exceptional, as can be seen at many places. For example, in the Alla Marcia of the second concerto, there's some kind of a dialogue between pianist and orchestra. When these two don't match, the section can sound very unsatisfying. But here, Brendel and Haitink constantly accompany and assist each other, as it seems. Throughout both concertos, there's no single moment that they seem to be uneasy with each other. Whether it is in the shattering final of the first concerto or the Adagio sostenuto of the second, they always match each other fully.
Tempi are a bit slower than usually. But I think that's a good thing. Other performances of the concertos (e.g. Zimerman, Richter) sound much too hurried to me. The opening of the first concerto we get here is much better at capturing the 'maestoso' (sad) sphere that is written down by Liszt. But it loses nothing of its intensity. In the second concerto, there's a moment at which an Allegro enters suddenly, accompanied with powerful chords by the pianist. When this is played slightly slower, there's much more time to 'enjoy' the glorious sound. And the conclusion of the 2nd concert gives a much more majestic feeling throughout.
From the first octaves of the first concerto, Brendel unleashes an uncompromising firestorm that goes on and on. Throughout the two concertos, he plays with an unbelievable intensity that I've never heard with other pianists. All notes sound extremely severely and powerfully. Still though, I don't get a feeling of bombast. It is impressive, yes, but that's something else. It still has a great intellectual value apart from the excitement. I advise everyone to try to get hold of these recordings. They're worth it.


Liszt: Sonata in B Minor
Liszt: Sonata in B Minor
Offered by EliteDigital UK
Price: 19.95

5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars And awe-inspiring rendition of the Sonata!, 12 Mar 2004
If there's one work in the canon that's completely filled with romantic ideals like pianistic fireworks, strong climaxes and deep thoughts, it's Liszt's Sonata in b minor. During the thirty minutes of the work, which is written in sonata-form, Liszt does some genial things with the many themes. They keep returning, but every time in a different way. For example, the stoic song-like theme (that is first exposed at the 'Grandioso' of the first movement, mm.105) returns in a different shape in the Adagio. In the final, it appears two times; first as a quiet song loaded with suspense, as if 'something' is approaching; thereafter it forms the shattering fff conclusion to this thunder. Even more interesting may be the use of another theme, that is both used at the Adagio of the mid part and, much more vividly, as the presto theme that interludes the coda (in mm.650). There are even more obvious examples, such as the knocking motive that starts the sonata, and finishes it as well.
Anyway, this piece is a real showcase of musical architecture. In order to keep everything together, a pianist should make choices. Those who fill each tiny little corner of the sonata with emotion and virtuosity, may sound pretty at the surface (Argerich anyone?) but there's few to hear behind the notes. Playing this music with lots of bombast is fine to hear only because of the bombast. A really good performance of the work should not only be impressive, but also have an architectural build-up. I mean, when you're pounding out every forte-or-louder-chord (and there are a lot!) you'll get nowhere. This work is not only about excitement, but also about unity. It can only be reached by pianists who are a little more detached at times. For example, the real climax of the first part only appears after 205 measures! So the previous scenes should not be too much played as if the end is nearing... it doesn't yet. As everything is so much in connection, this connection should be showed.
And Brendel does so. This is easily the best rendition of the Liszt sonata I have heard, and I can't imagine it being played much better. He really plays as if he oversees the music from a great height, and governs everything at its right place. Take the first page of the piece. When the Allegro breaks out, Liszt indicates a short crescendo and then 'forte'. Most pianists just forget about this and go for the immediate attack. Brendel doesn't. He does what Liszt asks for: playing forte (and not fff, like some tend to do!) only after three chords. In this way, you can feel the thrill that is over these notes much better. Additionally, he plays the two descending octaves (we're in measure 7-12 now) with some variation. Only the last octaves get a really powerful hit, and sound very exciting therefore.
This is a strategy that Brendel uses throughout the whole work: he makes almost every phrase have differences in notes. So the important notes get more powerful accents than the less important ones. Of course, many pianists do this, but none as successful as Brendel. He plays the music as if with laser eyes: so precise and detailed is every measure. But, to return to the talk about bombast, he never sounds showy or anything near that. All sounds clear and fresh, but never glamorous. For instance, I can mention the first virtuoso scene of the sonata (after measure 32). Very few pay attention to the 'marcato' notes in the left hand over there, although these are part of the main melody. They just focus at the showy right-hand. Brendel puts the left hand into the foreground, where it belongs. Additionally, he plays the whole scene not too much agitatedly, which I think is very good. It's after all just a preparation for what has to come.
So on the whole Brendel is -rightfully- a little more detached, though always expressive. But when he reaches the climaxes, he rages like no other does. When he gets to the mentioned measure 205, he creates an overwhelming storm that only ends some hundred measures later. His technical abilities seem really limitless here! And what about the coda of the third movement! It's incredibly intense! But even here, nothing sounds exaggerated. It's clear that the pianist is wise and experienced rather than an angry young one. There's something with his basses (and other powerful chords) that's totally mesmerizing: they are absorbing and impressive like no other's are, but never showy and always serve a greater goal: the unity of the music. Same can be said of the accompanying fast fingerwork. Everything is played as if it were put aside a lineal, and also with a superb expressivity that is so characteristic of Brendel's entire repertoire. I've never heard any other pianist play with such ultimately intense tones.
And these comments also apply for the slower parts of the work. Brendel is always intense; he keeps you in awe for the entire thirty minutes. But not in the usual way: he is so impressive because everything he does seems to fit so easily into the whole pattern. Every note is treated with Brendel's superb touch and comes to life. And they do so in a way that cleans up the fuzzy mess of the music and brings the really important message of it to the front. Regarding the Liszt sonata as some kind of puzzle, you can find the solution here.
This is THE Liszt sonata to get, at least for the seriously interested music lovers. Unfortunately, it's hard to get this disc. But it's still available in the boxed set 'The art of Alfred Brendel' that I've seen recently available at budget price at both Amazon Germany and UK. By the way, his other Liszt is equally superb! Do whatever possible to get this recording. It's worth the effort.


Rachmaninov - Piano Concerto No 3
Rachmaninov - Piano Concerto No 3
Price: 11.36

2 of 7 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Lots of banging and nothing else, 12 Mar 2004
Rachmaninov’s Third Concerto is a big hype currently and there are few young pianists who haven’t made a recording of this mammoth concerto yet. Andsnes, Lang Lang, Volodos, Kissin, Thibaudet are just some names. Most of the aforementioned people have been quite successful with their performances of the concerto, and they leave little to be desired. They do not only get competition from each other, however, but also from many older colleagues, for example Argerich, Ashkenazy, Kocsis, Weissenberg, Janis, and Horowitz’ 1951 performance. In this enormously crowded field, a performance of the concerto has to be of great quality to impress the listener. Especially the listener who does not look at names and reputations, and judges a performance by its quality.
Unfortunately, Horowitz’1978 recording of Rach.3 does not have a lot of quality. It has a big reputation, because it was another comeback of the great man. But in terms of quality, it falls very very short. It's deplorable to see that many people like this because it is a portrait of a great artist in decay, who is still trying to return to his glorious years. Admitted, it's extraordinary that Horowitz was able to perform the concerto at such an old age. But I am getting tired of those people who praise just about everything Horowitz did, only because he had once been a great artist. I tend like a lot of his earlier recordings, but in his latter days, he sometimes made himself ridiculous (although he made some fine recordings on DG), and there's no better example than this disc. It is ugly from the first few bars. With many thanks to the most awful piano that has ever got into Carnegie Hall. (How could Horowitz ever have accepted this thing?) There’s nothing like ‘sphere’ to be detected, you just hear a completely wrong intonation with awfully loud accents on the wrong notes. And as soon as Rachmaninov indicates anything near ‘forte’ it seems the hall is too small for Horowitz as he tries to bang everyone out of the hall at such moments. I simply can’t describe how incredibly awful this performance is. Some say it is full of ‘emotions’ and the harshness is sublime, well trust me, it’s not. Sure many performances are a little exaggerated but make the emotional value much higher at that, but this one is something different. It is so wrong in all its aspects, that I have seldom heard anything as ugly as this. (Though David Helfgott hasn’t crossed my path yet). Throughout the first movement, we get to the cadenza that is not only ugly but also full of wrong notes, and way too much of them to have any ‘emotional’ value. The cadenza is a downright attempt to destruct your eardrums. Not to mention the final of the third movement.
His technique doesn’t help either. Like said before, he makes lots of mistakes, too many to remain acceptable anyway. His fingers are as brittle as you’d ever come across. It’s not like what I heard Helfgott do in samples, but not far away from that. The start of the third movement is again full of incredible mistakes, a total lack of any communication between pianist and orchestra (probably they didn’t even rehearse) and an unsympathetic harsh sound. It’s hopeless to hear what weird things both parties are doing. They try to solve it in some way by giving big bangs at the accentuated sections - no need to tell what the effect is. The orchestra members don’t know at all how to deal with it; they are just hanging around a bit and don’t really sound interested. The only thing they’re doing during the entire piece, is trying not to stand in Horowitz’ way. The solo whirls of the orchestra are totally unconvincing, as at result. A very bad performance of the concerto, after all.
In the end, that’s one star for the concerto and two for the sonata - rounded to two. There are so many good or even fantastic recordings of the concerto by promising young pianists and older pianists in their prime, then why buy this one? I was one of the trapped persons too. You should not be the next one. Get Ashkenazy if you just want the best performance. Argerich for the excitement. Weissenberg for the power. Kocsis for super-virtuosity. But avoid this one by all means! It blames Horowitz' otherwise great reputation and should never have got into the catalogue anyway.


Rachmaninov: Piano Concerto No.3
Rachmaninov: Piano Concerto No.3
Price: 6.76

5 of 10 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars This doesn't belong in the catalogue, 12 Mar 2004
Rachmaninov’s Third Concerto is a big hype currently and there are few young pianists who haven’t made a recording of this mammoth concerto yet. Andsnes, Lang Lang, Volodos, Kissin, Thibaudet are just some names. Most of the aforementioned people have been quite successful with their performances of the concerto, and they leave little to be desired. They do not only get competition from each other, however, but also from many older colleagues, for example Argerich, Ashkenazy, Kocsis, Weissenberg, Janis, and Horowitz’ 1951 performance. In this enormously crowded field, a performance of the concerto has to be of great quality to impress the listener. Especially the listener who does not look at names and reputations, and judges a performance by its quality.
Unfortunately, Horowitz’1978 recording of Rach.3 does not have a lot of quality. It has a big reputation, because it was another comeback of the great man. But in terms of quality, it falls very very short. It's deplorable to see that many people like this because it is a portrait of a great artist in decay, who is still trying to return to his glorious years. Admitted, it's extraordinary that Horowitz was able to perform the concerto at such an old age. But I am getting tired of those people who praise just about everything Horowitz did, only because he had once been a great artist. I tend like a lot of his earlier recordings, but in his latter days, he sometimes made himself ridiculous (although he made some fine recordings on DG), and there's no better example than this disc. It is ugly from the first few bars. With many thanks to the most awful piano that has ever got into Carnegie Hall. (How could Horowitz ever have accepted this thing?) There’s nothing like ‘sphere’ to be detected, you just hear a completely wrong intonation with awfully loud accents on the wrong notes. And as soon as Rachmaninov indicates anything near ‘forte’ it seems the hall is too small for Horowitz as he tries to bang everyone out of the hall at such moments. I simply can’t describe how incredibly awful this performance is. Some say it is full of ‘emotions’ and the harshness is sublime, well trust me, it’s not. Sure many performances are a little exaggerated but make the emotional value much higher at that, but this one is something different. It is so wrong in all its aspects, that I have seldom heard anything as ugly as this. (Though David Helfgott hasn’t crossed my path yet). Throughout the first movement, we get to the cadenza that is not only ugly but also full of wrong notes, and way too much of them to have any ‘emotional’ value. The cadenza is a downright attempt to destruct your eardrums. Not to mention the final of the third movement.
His technique doesn’t help either. Like said before, he makes lots of mistakes, too many to remain acceptable anyway. His fingers are as brittle as you’d ever come across. It’s not like what I heard Helfgott do in samples, but not far away from that. The start of the third movement is again full of incredible mistakes, a total lack of any communication between pianist and orchestra (probably they didn’t even rehearse) and an unsympathetic harsh sound. It’s hopeless to hear what weird things both parties are doing. They try to solve it in some way by giving big bangs at the accentuated sections - no need to tell what the effect is. The orchestra members don’t know at all how to deal with it; they are just hanging around a bit and don’t really sound interested. The only thing they’re doing during the entire piece, is trying not to stand in Horowitz’ way. The solo whirls of the orchestra are totally unconvincing, as at result. A very bad performance of the concerto, after all.
The filler of the disc, the 2nd Sonata, isn’t very pretty either. Surprisingly, Horowitz' technique is a lot better here, but the way he bangs the bass chords is pretty awful. He also added many notes to the sonata himself, thus making the piece even more bombastic than it already was. According to the notes, Horowitz thought Rachmaninov would approve this - well it doesn’t even hint at Rachmaninov. I strongly prefer the cooler, relaxed recording of the Sonata by Ashkenazy.
In the end, that’s one star for the concerto and two for the sonata - rounded to two. There are so many good or even fantastic recordings of the concerto by promising young pianists and older pianists in their prime, then why buy this one? I was one of the trapped persons too. You should not be the next one. Get Ashkenazy if you just want the best performance. Argerich for the excitement. Weissenberg for the power. Kocsis for super-virtuosity. But avoid this one by all means! It blames Horowitz' otherwise great reputation and should never have got into the catalogue anyway.


The Best of Chopin
The Best of Chopin
Price: 10.40

24 of 24 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The best introduction to Chopin, 12 Mar 2004
This review is from: The Best of Chopin (Audio CD)
These two discs were some of my first recordings and I have never regretted buying them. They offer a broad overview of Chopin's most important piano works. From the light-fast 'Grande Valse' to the dark and ominous fourth Ballade; from the dream-like Barcarolle to the Heroic Polonaise: all is inside. Philips has assembled all of its big cannons (Claudio Arrau, Zoltan Kocsis, Stephen Kovacevich, Rafael Orozco and many more), so the final product has become a meeting of giants. All eight pianists are performing at their very best. Most impressing were ALL performances by Stephen Kovacevich (a fantastic Barcarolle!), and on the other hand the virtuoso Waltzes by Zoltan Kocsis. The impromptus by Bella Davidovich are gracious, gentle pieces, and Nikita Magaloff's Etudes and Preludes sound as ferocious (or calm) as they should be. As I said, there are no really weak points.
It is a real shame that this set has been so underrated, when compared with Ashkenazy's best-selling 'favourite Chopin' set. I found this Philips set overall the best of the two. The fact that there are eight pianists included here offers a more 'mixed' sound than Ashkenazy's solo set has. Go for it!


Chopin: Favourite Piano Works
Chopin: Favourite Piano Works
Price: 9.45

54 of 55 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Great choice, but get the Philips too, 12 Mar 2004
There is not that much to add to the other reviewer's comments: these two discs are a bargain and unreservedly recommended. Ashkenazy is indeed the very best overall Chopin interpreter around. I immensely enjoyed his treatment of pieces such as the second scherzo and the g minor ballade. Not to mention the etudes, the preludes, etc. etc. All is crisp and clear, and the fact that some recordings are analogue doesn't matter at all: in fact, they are hard to be discovered.
But keep something in mind: as I said, Ashkenazy is arguably overall the best. This implies that he can be bettered in some ways. Philips has also released a Best-of Chopin set, which contains better renditions of some Waltzes (Kocsis), the Barcarolle and Mazurkas (Kovacevich) and the impromptus (Davidovich). Additionally, the Philips discs give you the Marcia funebre, the Fantaisie-Polonaise and the fourth Ballade, three big pieces that cannot be found over here. Overall it is more balanced too. So if you are going to buy just one best-of-Chopin set, go for the Philips. The best choice, however, is to get both of them!


Essential Richter
Essential Richter

31 of 35 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Essential Richter, indeed!, 12 Mar 2004
This review is from: Essential Richter (Audio CD)
In 1994, Philips issued a large, 21-disc set containing many Richter recordings that had never been published before. The set is, at the moment, still available on Amazon, but the price is a bit unfair: $500 for 21 cd's is quite ridiculous, not? But if you're a real Richter zealot with lots of cash... For the poorer fanatics like me, there is this 5-cd compilation at a much better price. Philips has put the best gems of the 21-disc set together in this box.
That's not entirely true, however: I've had some frustrations with the set which I'd like to state first before I go on praising the great man etc. Like Horowitz and in fact all other pianists in their final years, Richter's fingers were not entirely doing what he liked in the end. There's a famous quote from the end of documentary 'Richter, the Enigma', where the then 80-years old Richter comments on a recent performance of a Chopin Etude by himself: "I don't like myself". He was talking about the performance only, as it seems, but the statement is clear. Well, the fact is that when I heard the second disc of this set, named 'Richter, the virtuoso', it often reminded me of that comment. Richter's performance of the Chopin etudes on this disc is that of a pianist whose fingers can't listen to his head anymore. The performances are somewhat unsatisfying. And there are more examples. In this case I don't believe Philips' statement that it's the 'essential Richter'. It's annoying to have a great box with some errors inside. Yea, they were part of the later Richter, but that doesn't mean they should be released on cd. Richter should be honoured, not be mocked with! The later Richter also had many deeply serious, mystical moments that are far more interesting.
Now we come to the real core of the box: a splendid portrait of this greatest pianist of all time. It's not only the performances themselves, but also the way they are presented. Richter has become an almost mythical person, and this box really adds something to the legend. First, there is the box itself. It is the most beautiful box I own, especially when seen from the backside. The many colours and the silver 'Richter-logo' on the front are from great beauty. Second, there are the photos. Each booklet contains some interesting pictures. There is one really extraordinary picture, which appears on the front of the fifth disc, called 'Richter, the mystic'. It shows Richter with a lonely face-expression, standing in a mysterious place with strange lighting. It is this photo in particular that reminded me of the old Richter we see in the aforementioned documentary 'Richter, the Enigma'. There, he appears to be a really tragic, mystical person in his final years, and this image can be seen everywhere throughout this cd-set. That photo, together with the performances of the older Richter, adds to his melancholic image. Whether it's true or not, I can't get rid of the idea.
Then, what are those tragic-but-great performances? They are innumerable. The three discs in the set with the names 'The Poet', 'The Philosopher' and 'The Mystic' offer some of the finest piano playing in my collection, and nearly all recordings were made during Richter's last years. Although his fingers failed sometimes, he understood his music better than ever before. At 'The Poet', we get some perfectly silent Chopin preludes, rid of all pretentiousness and virtuosity. He also plays some hauntingly beautiful Liszt (Consolation no. 6, Harmonies du soir and Un sospiro) and great Schumann and Brahms. The Harmonies du soir, believe me or not, almost made me cry. Aaargh, fantastic! The 'Philosopher'-disc is just as impressive: here we can hear how Richter forever defines, among others, Beethoven's sonatas op.54 and 110, Bach and Mozart's fantastic Fantaisies, and Chopin's Polonaise-Fantaisie. But my favourite disc was the last one: 'The Mystic'. I tend to put this disc on when I arrive home very lately. The disc starts with one of the most mysterious moments of Western piano music: Liszt's Nuages gris. Richter is totally in his element in this piece. The piece becomes something like a meditation, no: it's a catharsis. If you don't feel like wandering between the grey clouds after you heard this... The other performances are mostly from the sixties, when Richter was about fifty. Whatever, he has always been great. This was the disc that put my attention to Prokofiev, after I heard the extraordinary Legende and the Waltz from the 6th sonata. Oh, and hear that Shostakovich Prelude and Fugue! Brilliant! Peaceful, even caressing music... But the greatest moment of the disc still has to come: Cesar Franck's Prelude, Choral and Fugue. This is not a very popular piece, but undeservedly: it is one of my absolute favourites since I heard Richter on it. Those absorbing waves of chords in the Choral... and the angry melody of the Fugue... and at last, the glorious conclusion of the Fugue... what a music! Richter plays it as if the music has been written for him, with great tonal colouring and instant changes of moods. Then there is the Beethoven op.111, which is not world-class level, but still intriguing. The disc finishes with glorious Scriabin.
There are two other discs: on of them is the disc with some virtuoso pieces that wasn't my favourite (see second paragraph), but nevertheless interesting, and the other disc contains Richter's famous 1958 Sofia-recital (yes, the one with Mussorgsky's Pictures). This is a great disc too, and it's also available on its own. For more information on this disc, look at its own page at Amazon (I don't have any more space...)
Altogether: a splendid view at Richter's later, melancholic years (also some recordings from the fifties) with many, many fantastic gems. My favourites are the Franck and Shostakovich, but really, you should check it out yourself. This set is, in one word, superb.


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