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An affordable piece of recording history
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.