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on 27 December 2009
This download version is a superb way to explore the whole of the mystique that has built around Schnabel's landmark recordings. The previous reviewer has explained why these recordings demand to be heard, but there's no doubt there are some liberties taken with the score. Take the first two movements of the first sonata op2 No1 as an example. Most pianists aim to take about 4:30 over the first (allegro) movement and about 4:45 over the second (adagio). Schnabel races through the first in 3:18 and yet then extends the second to 6:02. So put the score aside and listen to the music. Remember there were virtually no recorded precedents when he performed these and these are very much his individual response to the score. And would Beethoven have followed his own markings anyway? Moot point. But it works (in the main). As already suggested, these are just beautiful readings - though I think you would always want an antidote of maybe a more modern recording or just a different approach. Brendel, Barenboim, Kovacevich, Kempff and many others provide this contrast well.

For those used to polished modern recordings the surface noise is initially intrusive but you quickly adapt. There have been subsequent remasterings of some of these - I know of at least two in 1991 and 2004. The other alternative is the Naxos series. These use very similar sources but a difference way of treating the surface noise. More `hiss' but maybe a clearer and brighter sound. So in short, there are differences amongst the various versions available but basically, these are 1930's recordings and so the consideration here is more about buying as a whole set versus `instalments'.

One more point before you click to buy: there is no Op110 (No 31) here, but there are a couple of other works - a Fantasia and the `Fur Elise' bagatelle. So if you want Op110, you'll need to get this from either the `Icons' set, or another EMI compilation available, or Naxos. A puzzle. But don't let this stop you from buying an affordable piece of recording history.
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TOP 500 REVIEWERon 12 January 2013
Artur Schnabel (1882 -- 1951) is one of the legendary pianists, revered for both the thoughtfulness and emotive quality of his playing. Up until the early 1930's, Schnabel played a broad repertoire. Beginning with his departure from Germany, he concentrated on the music of Schubert, Mozart, and Beethoven. In 1935, Schnabel completed recording the 32 solo piano sonatas of Beethoven. Although the cycle has been recorded by many pianists since then, Schnabel's Beethoven cycle was rightly regarded as a herculanean accomplishment. His readings of the sonatas still set the standard against which other recordings are measured.

In these readings, Schnabel captures the individualized character of each work, from the familiar to the lesser known. Schnabel offers oustanding interpretations of famous pieces such as the "Sonata Pathetique" and the "Moonlight" sonata, but he also treats with insight music that some listeners may find unfamiliar, such as the opus 10, sonatas, opus, 7, opus 22, and opus 28, the "Hunt" sonata, opus 31 no. 3, among others. I was paticularly interested in hearing his readings of the B-flat major sonata, opus 22, and the A-flat major, "Funeral March" sonata, opus 26, because these are pieces that I have recently been attempting myself.

These recordings are not technically flawless, Schabel goes well beyond mere techinque in his understanding of the spirit of this music.

At its bargain price, this MP3 download is difficult to resist. The recording quality is not up to modern standards but does not interfere with understanding what Schnabel was about.

In addition to the sonatas, this compilation includes two addition works for solo piano: the g minor fantasia, opus 77, and the famous little bagatelle "Fur Elise". Unfortunately one of the 32 sonatas, no 31 in A flat major opus 110 is missing. This is disappointing as that late sonata is one of Beethoven's greatest works in the form. I still felt grateful for all the music that was included more than I felt disappointed by the ommission.

I posted this review early in December, 2012, on the United States site but thought it would also interest review readers here. I had planned to hear the sonatas in chronological order at the rate of 2 or 3 per day, beginnning with the two early works published as opus 49 and then proceeding numberically from opus 2 through the final sonata, opus 111, My plan was to review the set on December 16, Beethoven's birthday. I had been ill for the past several days, however, and used my sick time to play through the set, in the chronological order I had planned. This chronological approach to the sonatas will allow the listener to hear the development of Beethoven's piano style.

Schnabel's Beethoven cycle remains an inspiration and a classic recording. Listeners with a serious interest in the Beethoven piano sonatas will want to know and reflect upon Schnabel's Beethoven.

Robin Friedman
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on 5 July 2012
This is superb in every way - 101 tracks for £1.09. The sound quality is amazingly good for the period, very clear. The performances have met with almost universal acclaim for over 70 years. The fact that op.110 is not included is not a problem, as it is available as a separate download (a bit pricey though, at over £2!!)Very rewarding in every way
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on 8 January 2013
The reviewer who complained this is like listening to 78s actually got it right - these recordings are transferred from 78s, recorded between 1931 and 1935, and the first complete set of the Beethoven sonatas ever recorded (I don't know why No 31, Opus 110 is missing from this set - he certainly recorded it.) The sound is obviously not what we'd expect today - it's mono and fairly tinny - and the playing is not perfect either: there are fluffs and wrong notes which would have been re-done in a modern recording. Schnabel suffered from nerves in the studio - apparently he was note-perfect in concerts - and did not play at his best.

Nonetheless these performances are considered some of the greatest ever recorded - the phrasing, the tempos, the utter concentration and range of emotion remains exemplary and a continuing influence on pianists today. He provides a direct link to nineteenth century piano technique and style - he was taught by the celebrated teacher Theodor Leschetizky, who was taught by Czerny, who in turn was taught by Beethoven, and in his youth Schnabel knew Brahms and heard him play. Two quotations from Schnabel sum up his attitude: he once said that he only wanted to play 'music which is better than it could be performed', and, on another occasion, 'The notes I handle no better than many pianists. But the pauses between the notes--ah, that is where the art resides.'

Obviously you wouldn't want this as your only set of Beethoven sonatas - you'll want sound good enough to hear details of tone, touch and dynamic that are impossible to appreciate in these historic recordings, and for 'music better than it could be performed' like this you'll probably want to compare several different performances. And if you just want a recording of the 'Moonlight' or 'Pathetique' to play in the background while you do the housework, then this is definitely not for you.
But if you are a serious student of either Beethoven or the piano, this is indispensable, and at this price - it works out at less than 4p per sonata - irresistible too.

PS: I was reviewing the first MP3 issue of this, which was only £1.09, so my comments on the price are out of date (though it is still a bargain), and the missing Op 110 seems to be present in other versions of the set.
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on 29 November 2010
I can't hope to match the eloquence of the other reviewers but once you get used to the fact that the recordings are nearly 80 years old the brilliance of Schnabel's performance more than makes up for this. At this price you would be foolish not to buy this (I'm listening to this on my iPod as I write this.
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on 6 February 2013
These recordings were made in mono in the 1930s, so don't expect the quality of modern recordings. They are acceptable for playing from your iPad.
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on 30 September 2012
Schnabel certainly speeds his way through these sopnatas, but for me, the music is never given time to breathe. I don't think his technique is up to it either - there are too many smudged or fluffed passages.

AT this price, they're worth listening to as historical curiosities, but, sorry, they wouldn't be in my list of top ten performances.
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on 5 December 2014
The playing is great but the recording is of its time. Possibly recorded around the 1930's you can hear the background hiss of the recording medium. The recording levels are much lower as well so can sound a bit quiet on i-players and mobile phones. However, I consider the recording hiss as part of the atmosphere which really places the recording within its historical context.
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on 11 December 2012
I am not a pianist, but I enjoy listening to piano music, and this huge selection of sonatas "does the trick" for me. No doubt if you listen to this on expensive speakers you might find fault, but as background music on my laptop it is ideal and consequently if you want something 'in the background' then this is good value for money. I can recommend it,
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on 14 June 2012
These recordings provide a fascinating insight into how one of the great exponents of the piano approached the playing of the Beethoven sonatas. It is a pity that Sonata No 31 is missing, but for such a small outlay they are well worth purchasing.
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