Top 10 piano sonatas

Gramophone Wed 3rd June 2015

From Mozart to Prokofiev - 10 of the greatest piano sonatas in outstanding recordings

The recordings gathered below trace the evolution of the piano sonata from Mozart to Prokofiev. It is not, of course, an exhaustive guide to the piano sonata tradition, in fact it would be perfectly possible to make a Top 10 piano sonatas that only included those by the undoubted master of the genre, Beethoven. He is represented here by his Moonlight Sonata, though the Hammerklavier, Pathétique, Appassionata, or any number of the 32 he composed could easily have been included. And although the list ends with Prokofiev's Seventh Sonata there are plenty more 20th and 21st century sonatas to explore by composers as diverse as Boulez, Medtner, Hindemith and Sorabji. All of the recordings below are truly outstanding and offer perfect departure points for new voyages of discovery. 

Mozart Piano Sonata No 11

Daniel-Ben Pienaar pf

(Avie)

'As his performance of the Alla turca Sonata, K331, shows, technique isn’t allowed to edge ahead of emotional and intellectual depth. A much-mistreated piece emerges in a different light' Read review

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Haydn Piano Sonata No 62, HobXVI/52

Marc-André Hamelin pf

(Hyperion)

'These are astonishing performances, denying Stephen Kovacevich’s mischievous claim that Haydn’s music suggests that he should dine with the servants rather than the aristocrats.' Read review

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Beethoven Piano Sonata No 14, 'Moonlight'

Wilhelm Kempff pf

(DG)

'Kempff's performances of all the great named sonatas – the Pathétique, the Moonlight, the Waldstein, Les adieux, the Hammerklavier – are triumphs of communicative music-making.' Read review

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Schubert Piano Sonata No 21, D960

Sir András Schiff fp

(ECM New Series)

'In Schubert he has a claim to be considered sovereign among today’s players, carrying forward the reading and interpretation of him into areas that others have not fully explored.' Read review

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Chopin Piano Sonata No 2

Janina Fialkowska pf

(ATMA Classique)

'She is grand and imperious in the Second Sonata, storming the first movement’s climax in towering and heroic fashion, and her demonic pace and drive make a true Mephisto-scherzo of the second movement.' Read review

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Liszt Piano Sonata

Angela Hewitt pf

(Hyperion)

'Hewitt holds her own to such an extent that she makes you forget all about odious comparisons and listen instead to one of the great milestones in all music.' Read review

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Scriabin Piano Sonata No 2, 'Sonata-fantasy'

Yevgeny Sudbin pf

(BIS)

'All these performances are flecked with personal touches and brilliances above and beyond even Scriabin’s wildest demands.' Read review

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Rachmaninov Piano Sonata No 2

Nikolai Lugansky pf

(Naïve Ambroisie)

'The last pages (presto) of the finale, frequently marred by blurred detail, are here not only lucidly projected but quite thrilling, emblematic of the disc as a whole: Rachmaninov-playing of a very high order.' Read review

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Ives Piano Sonata No 2, 'Concord'

Marc-André Hamelin pf

(Hyperion)

'Hamelin’s performance of the Concord Sonata is in the truest sense transcendental, his facility allowing him a cool poetry and lyricism inaccessible to other, more strenuously employed pianists.' Read review

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Prokofiev Piano Sonata No 7

Boris Giltburg pf

(Orchid)

'Putting my head above a parapet, I have to say that these performances of Prokofiev’s three ‘War’ Sonatas eclipse all others on record' Read review

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