Compare: three extraordinary recordings.

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Compare: three extraordinary recordings.

The last two years, we have encountered three special, extraordinary recordings by three distincitve pianists, comparing the same repertory of various periods, performed on different instruments (authentic and new/er):

- In September 2012, the good pianist Paolo Giacometti released a thorough and demanding program with works by Ravel, performed on an Erard of the late 19th century and a Steinway Grand, on Channel (2 SACDs).

- In December 2012, Genuin released a superb double CD with Paul Badura-Skoda, performing the last Sonata in B flat (D.960) by Schubert, played on a Fortepiano Conrad Graf Grand of about 1826, a Steinway Grand and a Bosendorfer Imperial of 1923 (of the soloist's collection). On the first two instruments the First Movement of the Sonata is played with the repeats; on the Bosendorfer, it is played without them, so that the listeners can judge by themselves how the Sonata sounds on various instruments and with or without the repeats.

- About three months ago, Andras Schiff released an extraordinary, almost audacious double CD, on ECM, with the Diabelli Variations, performed on an original Franz Brodman Fortepiano of about 1820 and on a Bechstein of 1921!

Giacometti mentions that, while at home he has a Steinway, when, at his early years, he got to know authentic instruments, a new world of timbres and expressive potential was revealed to him. A "stimulating crossfertilisation", as he called it. The reason he chose the two instruments of his recording is because Ravel used to know both of them well (he performed on Steinway in public and he had an Erard at home).

Badura-Skoda states that he recorded Schubert's last Sonata on three instruments..."simply because of the uniqueness of this sonata. It transcends the nature of the piano: even the best instrument (played with authority) cannot give full justice to its meaning; but each one brings different facets to the fore", noting that the "authentic colourful sound of the excellent Conrad Graf Grand of Schubert's time might be historically the closest"...

Andras Schiff, in his imaginary interview (questions and answers) entitled "only from the pure source", he claims that a "good Steinway in the right hands is a marvellous piano, but not for everything. Haydn, Mozart, Beethoven and Schubert require more than power, brilliance and cool objectivity". He claims that the Bechstein, which was used by Backhaus and was Schnabel's preferred choice, "represents a long forgotten world", while with the Fortepiano, "we are right at the source. Vienna, 1820"..."On it the music sounds fresher, bolder and infinitely more subtle". He continues with some more intriguing and daring claims...

I just wanted to share the above information with our fellow-members with a view to showing that the truth might be one, but its facets are quite a few, and it is a true revelation to discover any new aspect of it. In case anyone of you have any thoughts, questions, views etc. you are most welcome.

Parla

RE: Compare: three extraordinary recordings.

Thanks Parla for bringing this thread to the forum.

Recently I acquired the Zenph playback recording of Glen Gould's 1955 Goldberg Variations. The digital piano chosen for the playback of this project is a professional Yamaha rather than the original Steinway that Gould himself used.

"The modern sound of the Zenph re-recording delivers the subtle shadings and nuance that Glenn Gould intended. Zenph engineers used a meticulously voiced Yamaha Disklavier Pro to approximate the sound of the Steinway Gould used in 1955." 

Glen Gould's Steinway would have sounded different from other Steinway's so it's very possible that the pro Yamaha could have been altered to closely mimic the original recorded Steinway. The recording itself is excellent so the idea that it is a different piano doesn't bother me. I also have the pragmatic sense to realize that Baldwin, Bösendorfer or Yamaha could make one of the best piano's that anyone would ever hear but that business models dictate affordability for most buyers. 

Friends of mine recently played a Horowitz Steinway Grand and mentioned that the action was severley different from anything they've ever experienced. Apparently Horowitz altered his piano's to the extreme but that makes sense seeing that nearly anyone today can identify a Horowitz recording as being Horowitz.

My general perception with regards towards pianos is that a quality built instrument is a quality instrument regardless of when or where it was made. The rest seems to evolve around the musician and what s/he prefers. Is it the European Steinway or the American Steinway for this appearance? Yes and of course if you can play a ‘Franz Brodman Fortepiano of about 1820’ and there's one available, then your certainly better off than most.

 

goofyfoot

RE: Compare: three extraordinary recordings.

Hello Parla

Quite interesting. I ordered the Backhaus, Beethoven piano sonatas last week. ( DECCA). Does this mean that he will be using the Bechstein for these recordings ?

Regards

Amfortas

RE: Compare: three extraordinary recordings.

Thanks, Goofyfoot, for your thorough post. Yes, I brought this thread to this forum to show the different layers of truth in the actual beauty of some of the greatest works of the "Piano" literature. Fortunately, some pianist go that far to even make comparative recordings of the same repertory.

Amfortas, I cannot confirm whether Backhaus used a Bechstein instrument for the Decca recordings of the Piano Sonatas by Beethoven. If the linear notes are thorough enough, the instrument used should be mentioned, but I cannot hold my breath, since the new "bargain" re-editions are cheap enough to provide "full service". Schiff, in the quite informative booklet of his very recent Double CD of the Diabelli-Variationen, mentions: "Wilhelm Backhaus played and recorded on this very piano..." Of course, the recordings of Beethoven Sonatas, on Decca, are not that old as 1921. So, he might have used a more "contemporary" one...

What is maybe more important is what Schiff claims in his imaginative interview, in the same booklet, where, in the question "Beethoven would have been delighted with a new Steinway. Do you agree?", he answers very clearly: "No, I don't. Never." He continues speculating that the great composer would put the following questions: "Why is the bass so plump and ponderous? Why is there no difference between the registers? Why is the pitch so sharp? Even "Why is everything so loud, I may be deaf, but are you all hard of hearing too?" To the possible answer from the modern audience that, nowadays, his music is "performed in huge auditoriums with two thousand seats and more", Beethoven would get furious and he would have replied: " You fools! Do you really mean that I've written my piano music for such gigantic venues? A piano sonata is not the Battle Symphony"!

Regards to all of you as ever,

Parla

 

RE: Compare: three extraordinary recordings.

Thanks Chris.

It could be that many pianists are choosing a different piano over a Bösendorfer because of the difficulties they present. Attack and articulation are generally less difficult to achieve with a Steinway. And then there's the price tag on a Bösendorfer.

I have a recording where Wilhelm Backhaus is playing a very early Baldwin. I'l dig out the CD and then post the details.

goofyfoot

RE: Compare: three extraordinary recordings.

Thanks for that info, Chris. I guess Schiff referred to Backhaus using Bechstein Pianos, not in the Decca recordings, but earlier in his life, mostly in concerts, taking into account that Schiff, in his recent recording of the Diabelli Variations, defends a Bechstein of the early 20s. (I'm not sure whether there are enough recordings of Bachaus from or around that period and how reliable they can be).

Parla

 

RE: Compare: three extraordinary recordings.

I believe Wilhelm Backhaus owned a Chappell & Co piano while he was in his late teens. An early photograph of him would support this hypothesis.

The Baldwin Piano Company paid for W.B. to play a Baldwin piano and used him in advertisements. However, he typically recorded with either a Bechstein, a Bösendorfer or a Steinway.

I'm nearly 100% certain that the Chopin Etudes he recorded, 4-5 January, 1928 were played on a Bechstein.

I'm having trouble finding the published list of pianos that were played on his early recordings.

goofyfoot

RE: Compare: three extraordinary recordings.

On Bechstein's website, they report that Schnabel's recordings of all the Beethoven sonatas, and Edwin Fischer's of Bach's 48, were played on a Bechstein piano. Also, apparently Kempff owned a Bechstein piano. I wonder whether it was used for his prewar recordings of most of the Beethoven sonatas. Incidentally, have any of these recordings been reissued on CD?

Wikipedia reports that Lipatti's Chopin and Beethoven recordings also were played on a Bechstein.  I don't know quite what to make of that - are there any Beethoven recordings? I don't know of any! And you would have thought that Bechstein would have noted Lipatti as one who chose a Bechsatein! 

Certainly though, before the Second World War, most or many German pianists regularly used Bechstein instruments. The Bechstein family's close ties with Hitler, together with the wartime destruction of their factory, and all its stock of matured timber, brought the company's fortune to a rapid close.

A pity that the variety of great pianos has shrunk to the extent that we now diuscuss the difference between German and American Steinways!

Chris

 

Chris A.Gnostic

RE: Compare: three extraordinary recordings.

True enough Chris, and keep in mind that all pianos at one time were made by hand. The Russians made excellent pianos for the home also. Most often, candle holders were mounted on either side of the music stand but everything was built so solid that the candle holders didn't create any unwanted noise.

I do believe that through industry, fine and inexpensive craft can be had but unfortunately they're few and far between. Some things however should only be done by hand and I'll include painting, sculpture and musical instruments to that list. That's just my obstinate opinion.

Did anyone find anything on the pianos used by Walter Geiseking, Clara Haskil or Maria Yudina? If you do please share, thanks!

 

goofyfoot

RE: Compare: three extraordinary recordings.

Goofyfoot,

I found several photographs of Haskil with a piano - in each case it was a Steinway.  Gieseking certainly played a Bechstein before the war: afterwards I can't find anything decisive, sorry! About Maria Yudina I'm afraid I know nothing!

Chris

Chris A.Gnostic

RE: Compare: three extraordinary recordings.

Thanks Chris,

I knew Clara Haskil primarily played a Steinway but I am stlll curious whether or not she owned something else.

Maria Yudina spent her life under Soviet suppression so it will be difficult to find information on her.

Geiseking and Bechstein, that makes total sense.

Glenn Gould kept his Chickering and from what I understand, preferred to play it while at home.

 

goofyfoot

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