Beethoven & the Pianists
The good news on the classical-music front is that the 32 Beethoven Piano Sonatas are still being played in concert and still being made available on CD recordings. In fact, interest in these cornerstones of the piano repertory has been renewed recently by the release on CD of two complete cycles, one old and one new. In 1991, the first complete cycle ever recorded—made for HMV in London between 1932 and 1935 by the Austrian pianist Artur Schnabel (1882-1951), a pupil of Theodor Leschetizky, who himself had studied with Beethoven’s pupil Carl Czerny—was reissued on eight CD’s.1 Then, only a few months ago, a complete cycle recorded over the past decade by the American pianist Richard Goode (b. 1943), a student of Nadia Reisenberg and Rudolf Serkin, was brought together in a boxed set of ten CD’s to wide acclaim.2 Indeed, not only has Goode’s cycle been acclaimed; it has even been found by at least one critic, Michael Kimmelman of the New York Times, to be superior to Schnabel’s.
Before going on to compare these two sets, however, I think it may be useful to begin with some elementary comments about the kinds of pianists who play the Beethoven sonatas, which of them they choose to play, and, above all, how they play them.
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