Brendel and Beethoven

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slofstra
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Brendel and Beethoven

Post by slofstra » Mon Jan 20, 2014 10:13 am

Since there are now a few bargain priced Brendel/ Beethoven sonata sets available, I wonder if someone would care to lay out the general chronology of Brendel's recordings of Beethoven's piano words, as well as an indication of how he fared with each release.

And if we can throw in some information on his Schubert recordings that would ice the cake.

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Re: Brendel and Beethoven

Post by John F » Mon Jan 20, 2014 10:37 am

You're asking for a lot of work, out of the blue. Brendel recorded all the Beethoven sonatas three times, the five concertos more often than that, as well as quite a few individual recordings, across a career of 50 years. His Schubert discography is pretty imposing as well. What particularly would you like to know?
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Re: Brendel and Beethoven

Post by Chalkperson » Mon Jan 20, 2014 10:57 am

His second set, on Philips (Analog) is my favourite.
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Re: Brendel and Beethoven

Post by slofstra » Mon Jan 20, 2014 10:58 am

John F wrote:You're asking for a lot of work, out of the blue. Brendel recorded all the Beethoven sonatas three times, the five concertos more often than that, as well as quite a few individual recordings, across a career of 50 years. His Schubert discography is pretty imposing as well. What particularly would you like to know?
I'm looking for opinions, not a researched discography.

For example, for each set of the three Beethoven sonatas, I need only the approximate year recorded and the label as a reference point, and the valuable part is a brief assessment of quality of recording and performance.

For Schubert, similar kind of information, except of course the sonatas aren't generally released as entire sets. Still I know he recorded groups of Schubert's piano works at one time.

I don't know any of this well enough to quote out of my head, but I thought that some people here do. If not, then I can do some of the preliminary research myself, if that would help.

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Re: Brendel and Beethoven

Post by ContrapunctusIX » Mon Jan 20, 2014 1:22 pm

The three Brendel Beethoven sets are as follows:

Vox - 1960s
Philips - 1970s
Philips - 1990s

The Vox set is the least fussy and mannered of the three, but is also poorly recorded (or perhaps the transfer to CD is bad; regardless, the sound is harsh and metallic and fatiguing to listen to.) Some of his interpretations also smack of youthful impetuosity, and not necessarily in a good way.

Unless you are a big Brendel fan, the 90s set I'm afraid is a big letdown. His playing on this set is extremely finicky and mannered, his notes rather clipped and tone unrounded and abrupt, and the recorded sound harsh and full of glare, typical of early digital.

The 70s set to my ears has the best combination of sound and performance. I've heard about two-thirds of the performances from that cycle (including all the key sonatas) and they're very good, without being my absolute favorites. I found the Late sonatas fared especially well.

I know less about his recorded Schubert, having not heard any of his Vox recordings, though I've heard a good deal of his Philips recordings; the digital recordings of Schubert's 1822-1828 piano works, and his 1970s recordings of the last 3 sonatas, and I'm a fan of his interpretations. I think an intellectual of Brendel's type is better suited for Schubert than Beethoven, and I find his sound works quite well in this repertoire. That said I still prefer Kempff and Pollini to Brendel in Schubert, but I think Brendel is nevertheless far superior to the Schiffs and Uchidas of the world.

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Re: Brendel and Beethoven

Post by Lance » Mon Jan 20, 2014 3:47 pm

Cannot offer too much detail on the Brendel legacy at this moment. I have all of his Vox recordings. Of them all, his Schubert is the most amazing music to come out of his fingers. He had just come off studying with Edwin Fischer, himself a great Schubertist. The Vox Impromptus are among the best I've ever heard. There is a warmth and gorgeous tone quality (superb pianos!) with excellent acoustics. That and Fischer's recordings are my favs of the Impromptus. But we are talking about Beethoven, eh? Suffice to say I also have all of Brendel's Philips recordings of Schubert, but they were not of the same quality interpretively as the Vox.

The transition to Philips found me NOT to like Brendel as much as in the Vox recordings in general. If I recall, even Brendel has stated that he thought his Vox Schubert recordings came off exceedingly well. Regarding Beethoven, the recordings on Vox are of variable quality ... too bad they were not recorded as well as his Schubert, but the more youthful Brendel brings something special to even the Beethoven works. But I missed certain sensitivies in either edition of the Philips Beethoven sonatas and decided not to acquire either the early- or later editions of the complete sets. I may consider now the 1970s set on Philips.

Probably my favourite Philips recordings of Brendel are the two CDs he did of just sets of VARIATIONS [426.272 and 432.093], and Beethoven is included in the later disc.
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Re: Brendel and Beethoven

Post by Seán » Mon Jan 20, 2014 4:49 pm

I have Brendel's early seventies cycle and it is very good indeed.
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Re: Brendel and Beethoven

Post by Lance » Mon Jan 20, 2014 5:26 pm

Thank you for this recommendation, Seán!
Seán wrote:I have Brendel's early seventies cycle and it is very good indeed.
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Re: Brendel and Beethoven

Post by Mookalafalas » Mon Jan 20, 2014 8:02 pm

There is a 30-some disc box of all of his stuff on vox available for a little less than $70 (I got it for that from CDimports a couple of months ago). I think it's great, personally. No doubt the recording quality is better on his later stuff, in absolute terms, but I've yet to hear a disc that I thought problematic. He "disavowed" his early recordings, but I almost wonder if that may have been done by the request of his new label.
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Re: Brendel and Beethoven

Post by jbuck919 » Mon Jan 20, 2014 8:24 pm

Mookalafalas wrote:There is a 30-some disc box of all of his stuff on vox available for a little less than $70 (I got it for that from CDimports a couple of months ago). I think it's great, personally. No doubt the recording quality is better on his later stuff, in absolute terms, but I've yet to hear a disc that I thought problematic. He "disavowed" his early recordings, but I almost wonder if that may have been done by the request of his new label.
Though I am in general a Brendel fan, he is (was, since he's retired now) an uneven performer, as some of the comments here already indicate. His avoidance of much of the transcendental repertory even calls into question the level of his prevailing virtuosity. Decades ago, I heard a radio broadcast of a live performance of him playing the Haydn Sonata no. 62 in E-flat Hob. XVI:52, a piece which I once learned myself, though not to the level of the lovely Andras Schiff performance which follows. I could not believe my ears, because, well, it was awful, full of note mistakes that might be made by a flustered high school pianist. I had to pull the car over to give it my full attention in order to believe my ears.


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Re: Brendel and Beethoven

Post by ContrapunctusIX » Mon Jan 20, 2014 9:50 pm

I should have made it more apparent in my comments that while I prefer the second of his three Beethoven cycles, there at least a dozen other cycles I would recommend ahead of it.
Last edited by ContrapunctusIX on Mon Jan 20, 2014 10:37 pm, edited 1 time in total.

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Re: Brendel and Beethoven

Post by Chalkperson » Mon Jan 20, 2014 10:10 pm

slofstra wrote:
John F wrote:You're asking for a lot of work, out of the blue. Brendel recorded all the Beethoven sonatas three times, the five concertos more often than that, as well as quite a few individual recordings, across a career of 50 years. His Schubert discography is pretty imposing as well. What particularly would you like to know?
I'm looking for opinions, not a researched discography.

For example, for each set of the three Beethoven sonatas, I need only the approximate year recorded and the label as a reference point, and the valuable part is a brief assessment of quality of recording and performance.

For Schubert, similar kind of information, except of course the sonatas aren't generally released as entire sets. Still I know he recorded groups of Schubert's piano works at one time.

I don't know any of this well enough to quote out of my head, but I thought that some people here do. If not, then I can do some of the preliminary research myself, if that would help.
Beethoven

http://www.amazon.com/s/ref=nb_sb_noss_ ... +beethoven

Schubert

http://www.amazon.com/s/ref=nb_sb_noss_ ... l+schubert

His Website has this...

http://www.alfredbrendel.com/completerecordings.php

His Haydn and Bach is exemplary, even if he only made one Bach disc.
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Re: Brendel and Beethoven

Post by slofstra » Thu Jan 23, 2014 10:53 am

ContrapunctusIX wrote:I should have made it more apparent in my comments that while I prefer the second of his three Beethoven cycles, there at least a dozen other cycles I would recommend ahead of it.
A dozen? Wow, that is surprising to me. Maybe, I shouldn't purchase any of these bargain Brendel sets. (When I have some time, I'm going to try to recapitulate what is available just to clarify which set is which.)
In a drill down on the Appassionata which I undertook as an exercise some years ago, his playing was almost identical to Kempff. (Not sure now if it was the mono or stereo Kempff.) They are definitely birds of a feather, measured and understated. At the other end of the scale are players like Yves Nat and Claudio Arrau, who I think are more kinetic and less cerebral in their playing.
But I've not heard anyone play the slow movement of the Hammerklavier the way Brendel plays it. He is a master of the long slow melodic line, and perhaps that is why so many like his Schubert, as the late Schubert sonatas are full of long melodic lines.

So, which dozen are better?

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Re: Brendel and Beethoven

Post by ContrapunctusIX » Thu Jan 23, 2014 11:33 am

slofstra wrote:
ContrapunctusIX wrote:I should have made it more apparent in my comments that while I prefer the second of his three Beethoven cycles, there at least a dozen other cycles I would recommend ahead of it.
So, which dozen are better?
Gulda x 2 (Decca, Amadeo)
Backhaus x 2 (Decca, mono & stereo)
Kempff x 2 (DG, mono & stereo)
Frank (Music & Arts)
Arrau (Philips)
Schnabel (EMI)
Gilels (DG-not quite complete)
Kovacevich (EMI)
Barenboim (EMI)
Badura-Skoda (Gramola)

I'd add Serkin but he only recorded about 20 of the sonatas for Columbia.

I will say, Brendel does have his moments, and as you have alluded to they generally come in the slow movements. Overall though, I find his clipped tone, somewhat mannered playing and moderate tempi aren't terribly apt for Beethoven, at least to my ears. These problems are much more apparent on the digital set than his earlier traversals, either on Philips or Vox. Incidentally, my favorite Beethoven from Brendel would be his digital Diabellis and his standalone disc of Bagatelles.

I adore his Schubert though. I just found this set, which compiles all of the recordings from his analog Philips Schubert survey. Again he is in superior form here as compared to his later digital remakes.

http://www.amazon.com/Brendel-spielt-Sc ... t+schubert
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Re: Brendel and Beethoven

Post by slofstra » Thu Jan 23, 2014 12:52 pm

ContrapunctusIX wrote:
slofstra wrote:
ContrapunctusIX wrote:I should have made it more apparent in my comments that while I prefer the second of his three Beethoven cycles, there at least a dozen other cycles I would recommend ahead of it.
So, which dozen are better?
Gulda x 2 (Decca, Amadeo)
Backhaus x 2 (Decca, mono & stereo)
Kempff x 2 (DG, mono & stereo)
Frank (Music & Arts)
Arrau (Philips)
Schnabel (EMI)
Gilels (DG-not quite complete)
Kovacevich (EMI)
Barenboim (EMI)
Badura-Skoda (Gramola)

I'd add Serkin but he only recorded about 20 of the sonatas for Columbia.

I will say, Brendel does have his moments, and as you have alluded to they generally come in the slow movements. Overall though, I find his clipped tone, somewhat mannered playing and moderate tempi aren't terribly apt for Beethoven, at least to my ears. These problems are much more apparent on the digital set than his earlier traversals, either on Philips or Vox. Incidentally, my favorite Beethoven from Brendel would be his digital Diabellis and his standalone disc of Bagatelles.

I adore his Schubert though. I just found this set, which compiles all of the recordings from his analog Philips Schubert survey. Again he is in superior form here as compared to his later digital remakes.

http://www.amazon.com/Brendel-spielt-Sc ... t+schubert
So, from your list, I concur with Kempff, Arrau, Schnabel (with whom I had an aha moment some years ago) and Gilels. The other Beethoven sonata sets I have not heard with the exception of Barenboim. I find him less than fluid on some of the faster movements. Great on stuff like the Moonlight, and also his performance of the concertoes with Klemperer rank among my favourites. Am I wrong in putting him in a second tier?

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Re: Brendel and Beethoven

Post by ContrapunctusIX » Thu Jan 23, 2014 1:07 pm

slofstra wrote:
ContrapunctusIX wrote:
slofstra wrote:
ContrapunctusIX wrote:I should have made it more apparent in my comments that while I prefer the second of his three Beethoven cycles, there at least a dozen other cycles I would recommend ahead of it.
So, which dozen are better?
Gulda x 2 (Decca, Amadeo)
Backhaus x 2 (Decca, mono & stereo)
Kempff x 2 (DG, mono & stereo)
Frank (Music & Arts)
Arrau (Philips)
Schnabel (EMI)
Gilels (DG-not quite complete)
Kovacevich (EMI)
Barenboim (EMI)
Badura-Skoda (Gramola)

I'd add Serkin but he only recorded about 20 of the sonatas for Columbia.

I will say, Brendel does have his moments, and as you have alluded to they generally come in the slow movements. Overall though, I find his clipped tone, somewhat mannered playing and moderate tempi aren't terribly apt for Beethoven, at least to my ears. These problems are much more apparent on the digital set than his earlier traversals, either on Philips or Vox. Incidentally, my favorite Beethoven from Brendel would be his digital Diabellis and his standalone disc of Bagatelles.

I adore his Schubert though. I just found this set, which compiles all of the recordings from his analog Philips Schubert survey. Again he is in superior form here as compared to his later digital remakes.

http://www.amazon.com/Brendel-spielt-Sc ... t+schubert
So, from your list, I concur with Kempff, Arrau, Schnabel (with whom I had an aha moment some years ago) and Gilels. The other Beethoven sonata sets I have not heard with the exception of Barenboim. I find him less than fluid on some of the faster movements. Great on stuff like the Moonlight, and also his performance of the concertoes with Klemperer rank among my favourites. Am I wrong in putting him in a second tier?
I went back and forth on including him, he's right on the cusp. Seeing as I've actually listed a baker's dozen rather than an actual dozen, I think I'll drop him.

On a side note, of the sets I mentioned which you've not heard, I'd strongly recommend the Frank cycle before you outlay cash on one of the Brendel boxes - particularly since you like the Schnabel. I'd say the same about Gulda's 50s Decca set, but it's OOP and costs a fortune at the moment.
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Re: Brendel and Beethoven

Post by slofstra » Fri Jan 24, 2014 9:35 am

ContrapunctusIX wrote:
slofstra wrote:
ContrapunctusIX wrote:
slofstra wrote:
ContrapunctusIX wrote:I should have made it more apparent in my comments that while I prefer the second of his three Beethoven cycles, there at least a dozen other cycles I would recommend ahead of it.
So, which dozen are better?
Gulda x 2 (Decca, Amadeo)
Backhaus x 2 (Decca, mono & stereo)
Kempff x 2 (DG, mono & stereo)
Frank (Music & Arts)
Arrau (Philips)
Schnabel (EMI)
Gilels (DG-not quite complete)
Kovacevich (EMI)
Barenboim (EMI)
Badura-Skoda (Gramola)

I'd add Serkin but he only recorded about 20 of the sonatas for Columbia.

I will say, Brendel does have his moments, and as you have alluded to they generally come in the slow movements. Overall though, I find his clipped tone, somewhat mannered playing and moderate tempi aren't terribly apt for Beethoven, at least to my ears. These problems are much more apparent on the digital set than his earlier traversals, either on Philips or Vox. Incidentally, my favorite Beethoven from Brendel would be his digital Diabellis and his standalone disc of Bagatelles.

I adore his Schubert though. I just found this set, which compiles all of the recordings from his analog Philips Schubert survey. Again he is in superior form here as compared to his later digital remakes.

http://www.amazon.com/Brendel-spielt-Sc ... t+schubert
So, from your list, I concur with Kempff, Arrau, Schnabel (with whom I had an aha moment some years ago) and Gilels. The other Beethoven sonata sets I have not heard with the exception of Barenboim. I find him less than fluid on some of the faster movements. Great on stuff like the Moonlight, and also his performance of the concertoes with Klemperer rank among my favourites. Am I wrong in putting him in a second tier?
I went back and forth on including him, he's right on the cusp. Seeing as I've actually listed a baker's dozen rather than an actual dozen, I think I'll drop him.

On a side note, of the sets I mentioned which you've not heard, I'd strongly recommend the Frank cycle before you outlay cash on one of the Brendel boxes - particularly since you like the Schnabel. I'd say the same about Gulda's 50s Decca set, but it's OOP and costs a fortune at the moment.
The Claude Frank cycle does sound very intriguing. One amazon reviewer indicates that his style is similar to Schnabel's but "without the excessive rubato and missed notes". At around $60 it's not a bargain price, but does represent good value. I take it Music & Arts does a good job at resurrecting older recordings like this one?

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Re: Brendel and Beethoven

Post by ContrapunctusIX » Fri Jan 24, 2014 11:01 am

slofstra wrote: The Claude Frank cycle does sound very intriguing. One amazon reviewer indicates that his style is similar to Schnabel's but "without the excessive rubato and missed notes". At around $60 it's not a bargain price, but does represent good value. I take it Music & Arts does a good job at resurrecting older recordings like this one?
So long as you don't require pristine digital sound recorded yesterday, the Frank set sounds very good. These performances date from the late 1960s and the piano tone, while somewhat close, is well captured. The reviewer you mentioned who likened it to Schnabel in better sound (and sans the occassional missed note) is spot on.

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Re: Brendel and Beethoven

Post by Holden Fourth » Fri Jan 24, 2014 3:34 pm

slofstra wrote:
ContrapunctusIX wrote:I should have made it more apparent in my comments that while I prefer the second of his three Beethoven cycles, there at least a dozen other cycles I would recommend ahead of it.

But I've not heard anyone play the slow movement of the Hammerklavier the way Brendel plays it. He is a master of the long slow melodic line, and perhaps that is why so many like his Schubert, as the late Schubert sonatas are full of long melodic lines.

So, which dozen are better?
I heard Brendel play Op 106 live in the early 70s and my experience matches yours. You could have heard a pin drop in the sudience. However, can I also suggest that you also listen to Solomon and Sokolov who do an even better job in my opinion.

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