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Beethoven: Piano Sonatas No 21-23, 25, 27, 30-32 / Schnabel

Release Date: 09/07/2004 
Label:  Emi Great Recordings Of The Century Catalog #: 62881   Spars Code: ADD 
Composer:  Ludwig van Beethoven
Performer:  Artur Schnabel
Number of Discs: 2 
Recorded in: Mono 
Length: 2 Hours 33 Mins. 

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Notes and Editorial Reviews

‘One of the towering classics of the gramophone. These are virtuoso readings that demonstrate a blazing interpretative vision as well as a breathtaking manner of execution.’-- (Gramophone)

EMI Classics have been reissuing recordings in tranches via their flagship series, ‘Great Recordings of the Century’.

EMI has introduced music-lovers to many recording premieres over the years. Especially significant was Artur Schnabel making the first ever recording of the complete Beethoven sonatas. Schnabel’s recordings, made 1932-35 in Studio No. 3, Abbey Road, London, remain classics of the gramophone era. This double set is a compilation that EMI judge to be the finest of them. The label asserts that Schnabel’s recording
Read more of the 'Waldstein' is one of the greatest Beethoven recordings of all time and that his performances of the last three piano sonatas are “visionary readings”.

Artur Schnabel was born in 1882, in Lipnik, Moravia, a village on the Austrian-Polish border, then part of Austria. The family moved to Vienna when he was seven and as a child prodigy on the piano he studied privately with Hans Schmitt (1888-91) and with the renowned Polish pianist Theodor Leschetizky (1891-97). Schnabel is reputed to have known Brahms and had even studied with him. Although I am unsure just how accurate this information is, it is a pleasant thought. In 1900 he settled in Berlin, then a growing centre for music, making the city his home for thirty-three years. Between 1925 and 1933 he joined the faculty of the Berlin State Academy. Owing to the dangerous situation for European Jews with the advance of National Socialism in Germany, he left Berlin in 1933 and lived for a time in England and Italy. In 1938 he settled in the United States of America where he became a citizen in 1944. Schnabel died in 1951 at Axenstein, Switzerland.

In addition to his talents as a virtuoso pianist Schnabel was a renowned teacher, author and also a composer. He wrote in many genres, including three symphonies and a body of chamber and instrumental music. Biographer Mark Satola writes that between the years 1919 and 1924, when he withdrew from the concert hall, his composing activities were the happiest days of his life. Schnabel’s reputation principally rests on his dynamic and legendary interpretations and editions of the piano works of Beethoven. In January and February 1927, to mark the centenary of Beethoven’s death, he performed all of Beethoven's 32 piano sonatas at the Berlin Volksbühne; a feat that had not previously been undertaken. Between January and April 1933 he again performed the piano sonatas at the Berlin Philharmonie.

On the present issue the nine chosen piano sonatas are presented in chronological order. On the first disc Schnabel commences the programme with the ‘Waldstein’ from Beethoven’s middle period. One immediately feels the ‘electric’ atmosphere right from the opening bars. Tempestuousness is combined with serenity across the grandeur of the music. In the two movement Sonata No. 22 I was impressed with the machine gun-like staccato notes in the unusual opening menuetto. Schnabel leaves one feeling drained from the breathless nature of his playing in the allegretto. In the challenging ‘Appassionata’ Schnabel plays with imagination and high drama. In the final allegro ma non troppo - presto one can imagine being in the midst of a chilling and ferocious storm. The two movement Sonata No. 24 in F sharp major was evidently a favourite of Beethoven, and Schnabel is stunning, providing a reading of rapt intimacy in this concise score. Sometimes referred to as a ‘Sonatina’ the Sonata No. 25 is given an interpretation of fluidity and vivacity in the outer movements with a deep sadness in the central andante espressivo.

The second disc opens with the two movement Sonata No. 27 in E minor. Schnabel is dramatic and extrovert in the opening movement and the Mendelssohn-like allegretto is evocative of lullabies in a children’s nursery. In the Sonata No. 30 light work is made of the difficulties with the alternating quick and slow passages. The lengthy closing movement theme and variations is given a sublime and masterly interpretation. Schnabel is impressively calming in the opening movement of the Sonata No. 31 and sparkling and capricious in the short Schumannesque central movement. He admirably catches the deeply introspective character of the final movement. The release concludes with the two movement Sonata No. 32 which was Beethoven’s last work in the genre. Here Schnabel imperiously interprets both the vigorous and meditative moods of the score.

Notwithstanding the age of some of the original recordings I have not been unanimously impressed with the effectiveness of the remastering undertaken across some of the releases in the ‘Great Recordings of the Century’ series. The present recordings have been cleaned up extremely successfully and they sound remarkable for their seventy years. The interesting and informative notes from Bryce Morrison are of the highest quality and the booklet contains several marvellous photographs of Schnabel.

These interpretations are imperious and this is certainly one of the ‘Great Recordings of the Century’. Beethoven lovers and those who are fascinated by historical recordings from the greatest performers will be in their element with this issue.

-- Michael Cookson, MusicWeb International
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Works on This Recording

Sonata for Piano no 21 in C major, Op. 53 "Waldstein" by Ludwig van Beethoven
Performer:  Artur Schnabel (Piano)
Period: Classical 
Written: 1803-1804; Vienna, Austria 
Sonata for Piano no 22 in F major, Op. 54 by Ludwig van Beethoven
Performer:  Artur Schnabel (Piano)
Period: Classical 
Written: 1804; Vienna, Austria 
Sonata for Piano no 23 in F minor, Op. 57 "Appassionata" by Ludwig van Beethoven
Performer:  Artur Schnabel (Piano)
Period: Classical 
Written: 1804-1805; Vienna, Austria 
Sonata for Piano no 25 in G major, Op. 79 by Ludwig van Beethoven
Performer:  Artur Schnabel (Piano)
Period: Classical 
Written: 1809; Vienna, Austria 
Sonata for Piano no 27 in E minor, Op. 90 by Ludwig van Beethoven
Performer:  Artur Schnabel (Piano)
Period: Classical 
Written: 1814; Vienna, Austria 
Sonata for Piano no 30 in E major, Op. 109 by Ludwig van Beethoven
Performer:  Artur Schnabel (Piano)
Period: Classical 
Written: 1820; Vienna, Austria 
Sonata for Piano no 31 in A flat major, Op. 110 by Ludwig van Beethoven
Performer:  Artur Schnabel (Piano)
Period: Classical 
Written: 1821-1822; Vienna, Austria 
Sonata for Piano no 32 in C minor, Op. 111 by Ludwig van Beethoven
Performer:  Artur Schnabel (Piano)
Period: Classical 
Written: 1821-1822; Vienna, Austria 
Sonata for Piano no 24 in F sharp major, Op. 78 by Ludwig van Beethoven
Performer:  Artur Schnabel (Piano)
Period: Classical 
Written: 1809; Vienna, Austria 

Customer Reviews

Average Customer Review:  1 Customer Review )
 Cannot imagine it until you hear it. May 3, 2013 By Dr. Mitchell Gurk (Spencer, MA) See All My Reviews "(See also my notes on Serkin.) A comparison: P. Son 25, Op. 79. Schnabel first movement, 'presto alla tedesca', is as i am learning like many of his performances, headlong, breathless and very exciting for all that. Schnabel sounds like he is on the verge of losing control but somehow maintains it with a consistent thrilling near loss of balance. One pictures a stunting tight rope walker over Niagra Falls. His athletic approach makes this piece seem impossibly rushed and the performance superhuman. Pollini, however, is just as fast yet always with clarity and control. Rational and humane, similar to Serkin's approach as i have characterized it, tho no Serkin performance of Op. 79 is available for this review. Pollini achieves his musical rationalism at the expense of scant 6 seconds more time than Schnabel. Both present this joyous dance of abandon and innocence as if performed by Schroeder ala Charles Schulz. Pollini's dance is pure, Schnabel's nearly mad, insane, manic and for that more frightening, less gay. Pollini's is the definitive performance of this group. Kovacevich is 25% slower, languid and hardly 'presto' at all, rather more in the manner of a grand promenade. Beautiful bell-like sonics and sweet persistence of the friendly theme in moderato do not make up for loss of the expected exhuberance. K's best i think is his Waldstein: essential. O'Conor's assertive playing in this one, measured and careful, is even more slowly paced, in which Beethoven's happy G-major dance comes to us very gently, as a cheerful solace. O'Conor finds an ambience of sadness for this piece. Is this irony, complexity, poetry or misreading?" Report Abuse
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