Top 10 piano sonatas (updated 2019)

Gramophone Wed 23rd January 2019

From Mozart to Prokofiev, here's a beginner's guide to 10 of the greatest piano sonatas ever written

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.

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Enjoy these recordings in our Top 10 Piano Sonatas playlist on Apple Music, Spotify or Qobuz, or use the player below:


Mozart Piano Sonata No 11

Mitsuko Uchida pf

(Decca/Philips)

'By common consent, Mitsuko Uchida is among the leading Mozart pianists of today, and her recorded series of the piano sonatas won critical acclaim as it appeared and finally Gramophone Awards in 1989 and 1991.'

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Haydn Piano Sonata No 62, HobXVI/52

Alfred Brendel pf

(Decca)

'Brendel reserves a special boldness for the E flat major Sonata. One could imagine Beethoven relishing this performance of it.'

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Beethoven Piano Sonata No 14, 'Moonlight'

Murray Perahia pf

(DG)

'One of the many problems presented by the meditative opening movement is that there is no ready-made solution to the question of the speed at which the music should move, other than that which the accomplished interpreter discovers for himself, be it Ignaz Friedman in one of the earliest of all recordings (Columbia, 2/27) or Murray Perahia today. Thus Solomon, in a famous HMV recording (10/54), takes nearly nine minutes over the movement, whereas Perahia, in his luminously voiced yet at the same time emotionally riven performance, takes a little over five.'

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Schubert Piano Sonata No 21, D960

Krystian Zimerman pf

(DG)

'Every element of these two sonatas has been thought out, considered; in the hands of a lesser artist the results could have been pernickety but instead they tend towards the transcendent.'

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Chopin Piano Sonata No 2

Murray Perahia pf

(Sony Classical)

'Try the central oases of calm in the Scherzo and Funeral March of the Second Sonata, or the quaver flow at the heart of the Third Sonata’s Largo, and you will hear a musical and technical ideal far removed from cloying decadence or excess.'

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Liszt Piano Sonata

Martha Argerich pf

(DG)

'The B minor Sonata is among the most dazzling ever perpetuated on disc.'

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Scriabin Piano Sonata No 2, 'Sonata-fantasy'

Yuja Wang pf

(DG)

'In Scriabin’s Second Sonata she is beautifully sensitive to the moods, whether tranquil and starlit or tempestuous, reflecting the composer’s love of the Baltic Sea.'

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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.'

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Ives Piano Sonata No 2, 'Concord'

Philip Mead pf

(Metier)

'Philip Mead’s performance is loud, rude and jammed with idiosyncratic corners. Charles Ives would have been hugely appreciative and admiring.'

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Prokofiev Piano Sonata No 7

Martha Argerich pf

(DG)

'Argerich’s command of Prokofiev is quite unlike anyone else’s, his compatriots included. The ineffable blend of driving power, disarming lyricism and formal balance she brings to the composer exude the sort of authority than can only be the result of conviction. The performance is thrilling from beginning to end.'

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