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Just Discovered a Great Beethoven Piano Sonata Cycle!


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I didn't see a mention here via search, so I'm giving an enthusiastic shout out for the in-progress Beethoven piano sonata cycle by Russian pianist Igor Tchetuev on the Cora Mitis label. Both the artist and the label were new to me, but I am blown away by the performance and the sound. They have currently released 6 discs in the series, and they are available as DSD or PCM downloads via Primephonic (worldwide it appears) or as SACD's (Amazon seems to have them).

 

The performances are (to my ear at least) an ideal mix of virtuosity, power, emotion, grace and melodic flow. He is playing a Fazioli instead of the standard Steinway D, and the recording perfectly captures the character of the instrument. The recording itself is fabulous, a good balance between the ambience and mood of a hall perspective and the timbre & presence of a stage perspective.

 

The recordings are done in DSD via Meitner & Pyramix gear by who I believe to be a couple of the Dutch engineers that also do work for PentaTone.

 

Since I don't have a DSD DAC nor the AUI software to optimally transcode the DSD files to PCM, I purchased the 24/96 FLAC versions (nice cost savings, too).

 

I have either heard or won various parts of the Arrau, Ashkenazy or EMI/Barenboim recordings, and the Tchetuev's are my new favorites, even without the fabulous sonics.

 

More expensive than picking up a reissue box of the older stuff, but the sound and playing are wonderful. I also like the variety of the Fazioli instrument as well. The harmonic richness and openness of the bass registers is sumptuous.

 

Very highly recommended.

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I have a couple of the albums (one on SACD and another as a hi-res download from PrimePhonic) and i wholeheartedly agree--engaging, thoughtful interpretations coupled with state-of-the-art sound quality. I'm anxiously waiting to hear what he does with the late sonatas.

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I heard several CDs from this cycle. Sorry to be in contrast to previous posts, but I was not able to find anything interesting except very fine sound quality. Maybe because I am long time admirer of Beethoven cycle and have 20 or 30 full sets, starting from Artur Schnabel (in two different masterings) and so on to modern times.

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Unfortunately I must agree with AnotherSpin. I did listen to the free snippets and what I heard is a good middle of the road version, but nothing outstanding from a performance point of view. I have no doubt that this is excellent from a SQ perspective.

 

Now the obvious question is what would I recommend instead. And the answer isn't as simple. The 32 sonatas span Beethoven's entire life, from easy going early works that could have been Mozart or Haydn, to the beauty of the romantic Appassionata, Waldstein, Pathetique etc middle works, to the extreme complexities of the late works that are literally from a different planet.

 

I don't think a single cycle can cover them all adequately.

 

Some things to check out, if we focus on recent highres releases are:

 

http://www.eclassical.com/labels/bis/beethoven-the-complete-piano-sonatas.html

 

Brautigam's recent cycle is outstanding and the best on fortepiano to my ears. Am I saying that one should only listen to Fortepiano instead of a modern Steinway? No absolutely not, but it gives a very interesting perceptive on how Beethoven would have heard (if he wouldn't have been deaf for a big part of his adult life) these works. You'll get all nine volumes which include many other of his piano works for the price of less than 3 of the DSD downloads above.

 

Another outstanding recent release as the famous late sonatas, played extraordinarily well by the young Russian Igor Levit, and available on 24/96 on Sony.

 

http://www.qobuz.com/fr-fr/album/beethoven-the-late-piano-sonatas-igor-levit/0886443958906

 

Two other highres cycles that are available are Kodama and the most recent Pollini recording. I haven't heard either of them but haven't been a big fan of Kodama on other stuff and personally think that Pollini probably isn't in his best days any more, that said, I've seen positive reviews in both cycles.

 

If we start discussing non highres, we get into a topic that entire books have been written about, and names like Brendel, Kempff, Schnabel, Arrau etc need to be mentioned.

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I obviously recommended the Brautigam cycle on eclassical given that they are BIS recordings. I just saw by chance that the same full Brautigam cycle is available in redbook for less than €20 at Qobuz. Given that the highres versions at eclassical are mainly 24/44, you really need to think whether you want to spend 200% more on that (note that the sound great though).

 

In any case at that price it would be a sin not to check it out. Just listen if you can live with the sound of a fortepiano first before buying.

 

I really wonder if somebody in Qobuz' pricing team screwed up, nearly 11h of excellent recently recorded music for the price of 2 regular albums is a really amazing deal.

 

http://www.qobuz.com/fr-fr/album/beethoven-the-complete-piano-sonatas-ronald-brautigam/7318599920009

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Thanks. I am a naïf in this area. Richard Goode is my go to guy, with a smattering of others.

 

I bought Goode after reading extremely positive reviews many years ago. By some reason I never liked this set very much...

 

I will not tell what is my fav, sorry...) It is exactly what I want to do - to get as many different sets as I can afford without getting mad from too many alternatives. And I can not select even two or three which I prefer over the most. My preference would change from day to day, from my mood, physical condition or even season of the year. It also changes in time, couple of years ago I would listen set X often, and next year I will listen set Y or Z.

 

Musicophile provided good guidance. Brautigam' set is excellent from recent ones. Referring back to non-hires sets, additionally to those mentioned by Musicophile I would add O'Conor, Kovacevich, Annie Fischer, but options are too many here.

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My favorites are Barenboim's mid-1980s cycle for the mid to late sonatas and Brendel's last cycle for all. Biss's Appassionata on EMI is great, but I haven't heard his recent recordings on his own label.

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Thank you all for your recommendations. As a collector of vinyl, I have a few complete sets of the Beethoven sonatas - Schnabel mono LP's made from the original 78's, early Barenboim on EMI, middle Brendel on Philips, Backhaus on Decca, Malcolm Bilson on L'Oiseau Lyre (fortepiano), the mostly complete set by Ashkenazy on Decca. I bought the Richard Goode set on CD, just because it was Richard Goode.

 

However, I have what I hope is an interesting anecdote. When I was in college some 50 years ago, we had a fellow who was a year behind us living across the hall. He had a piano in his room and would play what I remember as the complete Beethoven piano sonatas in order, over a few days. Coming into college I knew the tunes of some of the really famous ones, but he introduced me to many others. He became pretty well known mostly for playing the fortepiano. I just checked and saw an extensive discography, but no Beethoven piano sonatas. About 20 years ago he returned to the university as a professor of music. His name is Robert Levin. Our school is generally not known for performance majors in music, more for academic and some composition. Levin is a relatively rare example, though one year ahead of me was William Christie, who has done a lot of work in early music, particularly in France. John Adams, the composer, was two years behind me. The most famous music grads were probably Yo-Yo Ma, who graduated in 1976 and Leonard Bernstein who graduated in 1939.

 

Larry

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