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Great recordings / performances of Beethoven / Chopin pieces?


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Hey all,


I wasn't "raised" on Classical music, and I'd like to pick up a CD or two. Specifically I'd like piano-only recordings of Beethoven (the "hits"), as well as the popular Chopin pieces. As my taste matures, I'll venture off into the more esoteric territory.


I'm looking for solo piano performances recorded with great fidelity. Some of the tracks I'm looking for are below:


Piano Sonata #14

Piano Sonata #8

Fur Elise

Piano Concerto #3


Any recommendations are appreciated.


All the best,



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I have the Emil Gilels recording of the Beethoven sontatas 8 & 14. It is an excellent recording. I happened to be listening to it yesterday because I'm playing the second movement of #8 on Sunday morning for a prelude at church.


I have the Claudio Arrau recordings of the Chopin concertos, which I enjoy very much, though I wish I still had my early mono LP recording of Gilels from back in the 1950s.


There are also many other excellent recordings of these works, due to their popularity with listeners and performers alike.


"Fur Elise" is given serious attention by recording artists less often because like the rest of the bagatelles it is mainly seen as a teaching piece rather than performance repertoire. If you want a really excellent recording you could look for a collection of the bagatelles. It also appears in collections of "piano favorites" by various composers, though the degree of excellence in performance and recording may not be as high.


In general with well-known classical works there are more choices than you can even read through on a site like Amazon. In general I shop by record label rather than by performer.


I look to the Naxos label if I want a lot of bang for the buck. Most of their recordings are very good. They utilize less well-known artists -- Eastern European orchestras, 2nd tier solosts, university professors. Excellent performers but not well known names. Oftentimes the performances are excellent, though there are a few duds. I haven't noticed any technical flaws in the recordings.


The major classical labels -- Deutche Grammophon, Sony, Phillips, London, some others -- all issue recordings that are of uniformly high quality. There are people who will pick some of them apart but usually these are the kinds of listeners who have five recordings of the Beethoven symphonies because they like to hear the stylistic differences between orchestras and conductors.


If you like classical piano you might also enjoy the piano trios by Beethoven and others. These are often overlooked gems of classical music that combine the intimacy of solo piano with the musical depth of a trio. They are a joy to listen to, and if you decide to learn to play them, they are of comparable difficulty to the sonatas. You'll have to make friends with a violinist and a cellist, though. I have the Beau Arts Trio recording of the Beethoven trios, and also a recording of the Schumann trios.

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Thanks for the detailed reply Bartolomeo. That's exactly the kind of info I'm looking for. I listened to a few samples on Amazon, but with the audio compression, it's very difficult to tell whether the recordings are quality.


Thanks again,



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Arthur Rubinstein is a popular interpreter of both Beethoven and Chopin.


For a more 'deep' approach in Beethoven, you could check the classic recordings of Wilhelm Backhaus from the '50s. If you want better recording quality, Wilhelm Kempff has recorded the whole collection of sonatas, plus various extracts with the more famous works. Rudolf Serkin's recording of the last four sonatas are incredible.

Among the the younger pianists, I like Alexander Lonquich and Kristian Zimmerman a lot.


For Chopin, Rubinstein is very good - I also love the approach of Nikita Magaloff or Alfred Cortot. For the "Etudes" in particular, I'd recommend Maurizio Pollini - his technique is just mind-boggling. For the "Scherzi", I have a marvelous recording by Tamas Vasary.

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After reading Marino's post, I have one more thing to add.


Any of the great works that incorporate solo performances have had what one might call "defining" recordings made of them by the great soloists of the early to mid-20th century. Later recordings of any of these works have either been imitative of the "defining" recording or have departed from it. In either case, the classical music community (critics etc) view the new recording in the light of the "defining" recording.


Though more subtle, it's analogous to rock/pop songs made popular by a group. Any other recording ends up with the stigma of being a cover, and any attempt to re-record either in imitation of the original or in another artistic light, is unlikely to compete with the original recording, because it's already stuck in people's heads.


With classical music, oftentimes these "defining" recordings were made using very early recording technology. Pablo Casals' recording of Bach's suites for unaccompanied cello, made in the 1930s, is the best example of this. The recordings were made directly to 78 RPM shellac masters, and are still in print, available from no less than three separate record labels that have gone to great lengths to remaster them. The audio quality is a distraction to the modern listener, yet the problem remains that no cello player has been able to make a comparable performance of them. Yo-yo Ma has recorded them twice, but neither recording has been reviewed as favorably as Casals'. Janos Starker has recorded them five times, and I understand that the last of these is probably the most worthwhile modern performance.


With solo piano things aren't quite that mixed up but some of the early Gilels and Rubenstein recordings have achieved a degree of canonicalism that is similar to Casals' recording of the cello suites. It is one of the Gilels recordings that I alluded to in an earlier post, made in the 1950s and still available (amazon ASIN B00005YP9Q). The technical quality is very good, since technology came a long way between the 1930s and the 1950s, but it's perhaps not as good as the recordings of the 1970s and later that have come to define the standard for recording quality for classical music.

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I'll second Wilhelm Backhaus for Beethoven - especially for the sonatas.


For Chopin's Etudes, my favorite interpretation is by Abbey Simon. For the Ballads, Vladimir Ashkenazy does a nice job. For the Nocturnes, definitely Artur Rubenstein.

Reality is like the sun - you can block it out for a time but it ain't goin' away...
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For Chopin, check out anything performed by Lang Lang, 22-year old chinese prodigy that even has the great concert pianists confessing jealousy . .


"I can't describe him as a pianist, because you will only hear in my sentence the jealousy that I and all his colleagues feel," says Barenboim. "I'm sure he didn't show you, but you know, he has 11 fingers. He plays the piano like a cat with 11 fingers."


I would never normally use this expression about a classical pianist, but Lang Lang 'kicks arse' - musically and technically, this guy has raised the bar.


Seriously recommend buying his version of Rachmaninov's 3rd piano concerto - will send shivers up and down your spine repeatedly!



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