Beethoven: Works for Piano & Cello, Comparison Summary


2017-08-14 — Original posting (opp.5/1, 5/2, and 69 only, so far)
2017-08-21 — Added the Sonata for Piano and Horn or Cello, op.17


Beethoven’s Works for Piano and Cello

In a series of blog entries, I’m comparing the recordings of the works for cello and piano by Ludwig van Beethoven (1770 – 1827) in my music collection, tackling one composition per blog posting. First, the “proper” Sonatas for Cello and Piano:

Other works for cello & piano

  • Sonata for Piano and Horn or Cello in F, op.17 (covers the horn version as well, but that is not considered in this summary)
  • 12 Variations in G major, WoO 45, on a theme from the oratorio “Judas Maccabaeus” by G.F. Handel (to be done)
  • 7 Variations in E♭ major, WoO 46, on “Bei Männern, welche Liebe fühlen” from the opera “The Magic Flute” by W.A. Mozart (to be done)
  • 12 Variations in F major, op.66, on “Ein Mädchen oder Weibchen” from the opera “The Magic Flute” by W.A. Mozart (to be done)

In this note I would like to summarize the results of the above postings, this time focusing on artist rather than individual compositions; at the bottom of this text you find a table that collects all of my ratings. Please keep in mind that a) these are just my personal ratings, and b) the criteria in comparing performances of music that has been composed 200 years ago can’t be entirely objective: the composer’s notation only provides a rough skeleton defining how the music was intended to sound; most artists don’t (or can’t) resort to period instruments — and even if we were really able to reproduce the original sound (which we can only approximate now), we cannot reproduce the human perception at the time of the composition, as our ears & brain are heavily biased by the music performed today!

The Artists & Their Recordings

For details on the actual CDs / recordings please select the appropriate blog postings from the list above; full CD details are typically given on the first sonata (sorted as shown above) for a given CD or CD set. The sections below are sorted by the last name of the cellist; the following artists are featured here:

Note: the average ratings and the rating counts are of course based only on the reviews / sonatas done so far, as per the list above.



Beethoven: Cello sonatas, Casals, Schulhof/Cortot/Horszowski, CD cover

Pablo Casals & Mieczysław Horszowski, Otto Schulhof

  • 1930 – 1939: Allegro / The Great Performers, CDO 4005 (2 CDs, mono)
    Beethoven: The Sonatas for Cello & Piano; Variations WoO 46; Minuet in G, WoO 10/2
  • Average rating (8 ratings): 2.50


Beethoven: Cello sonatas, Fournier, Schnabel, CD cover

Pierre Fournier & Artur Schnabel

  • 1947 – 1948: Andromeda, ANDRCD 5108 (2 CDs, mono)
    Beethoven: The Sonatas for Cello & Piano; Schubert: 6 Moments Musicaux op.94, D.780
  • Average rating (8 ratings): 2.88


Beethoven: Cello sonatas, Fournier, Gulda, CD cover

Pierre Fournier & Friedrich Gulda

  • 1959: IDG 00289 477 6266 (2 CDs, stereo)
    Beethoven: The Sonatas for Cello & Piano; Variations WoO 45, 46, op.66
  • Average rating (8 ratings): 3.38


Beethoven: Cello sonatas, Fournier, Kempff, CD cover

Pierre Fournier & Wilhelm Kempff

  • 1965: DG 453 013-2 (2 CDs, stereo)
    Beethoven: The Sonatas for Cello & Piano; Variations WoO 45, 46, op.66
  • Average rating (8 ratings): 2.00


Beethoven: Cello sonatas, Harrell, Ashkenazy, CD cover

Lynn Harrell & Vladimir Ashkenazy

  • 1987: Decca / London 417 628-2 (2 CDs, stereo)
    Beethoven: The Sonatas for Cello & Piano
  • Average rating (10 ratings): 2.00


Beethoven: Cello sonatas, Isserlis, Levin, CD cover

Steven Isserlis & Robert Levin

  • 2012: hyperion CDA67981/2 (2 CDs, stereo)
    Beethoven: The Sonatas for Cello & Piano, incl. op.17; Variations WoO 45, 46, op.66
  • Average rating (10 ratings): 4.90


Beethoven: Cello sonatas, Maisky, Argerich, CD cover

Mischa Maisky & Martha Argerich

  • 1991 / 1993: DG 453 748-2 (2 CDs, stereo)
    Beethoven: The Sonatas for Cello & Piano; Variations WoO 45, 46, op.66
  • Average rating (11 ratings): 3.91


Beethoven: Cello sonatas, Perényi, Schiff, CD cover

Miklós Perény & András Schiff

  • 2004: ECM New Series 1819/20 (2 CDs, stereo)
    Beethoven: The Sonatas for Cello & Piano, incl. op.17; Variations WoO 45, 46, op.66
  • Average rating (10 ratings): 4.20


Beethoven: Cello Sonatas — Queyras, Melnikov; CD cover

Jean-Guihen Queyras & Alexander Melnikov

  • 2013: Harmonia mundi HMC 902183.84 (2 CDs, stereo)
    Beethoven: The Sonatas for Cello & Piano; Variations WoO 45, 46, op.66
  • Average rating (8 ratings): 5.00


Beethoven: Cello sonatas, Rostropovitch, Richter, CD cover

Mstislav Rostropovitch & Svjatoslav Richter

  • 1961 – 1963: Philips 412 256-2 (2 CDs, stereo)
    Beethoven: The Sonatas for Cello & Piano
  • Average rating (8 ratings): 3.13


Beethoven: cello sonatas, Wispelwey, Komen, CD cover

Pieter Wispelwey & Paul Komen

  • 1991: Channel Classics CCS3592 (2 CDs, stereo)
    Beethoven: The Sonatas for Cello & Piano
  • Average rating (10 ratings): 3.60


Beethoven: cello sonatas, Wispelwey, Lazic, CD cover

Pieter Wispelwey and Dejan Lazić

  • 2004: Channel Classics CCS SA 22605 (2 CDs, stereo)
    Beethoven: The Sonatas for Cello & Piano; Variations WoO 45, 46, op.66
  • Average rating (10 ratings): 5.00

Summary Table

In the table below I’m summarizing the results of my iTunes ratings (*, **, **, ****, *****). Keep in mind that these ratings are subjective, though I have tried my best to avoid underrating specific recordings, e.g.,

  • by listening to slower recordings first (after a fast recording, a slow interpretation may often sound “clumsy”);
  • by revisiting recordings where I felt insecure in my judgement in the first pass;
  • later in the comparison, I sometimes would also listen to those recordings first which I anticipate to be worse than others — not in order to confirm a prejudice, but because after a good one, a bad recording may sound even worse;
  • by avoiding directly confronting “classic” recordings with newer, “historically informed” performances, or recordings with period instruments.

The table below can be seen as direct comparison: all recordings in this discussion are covering all works for piano and cello sonatas (the horn version of op.17 is not included here).Beethoven, Cello sonatas, ratings, comparison table / summary

The fact that some artists only received top five-star ratings is partly due to the limitations in the iTunes rating options (one integer numbers only per track), with obvious limitations in the differentiation.

Explanations

In general, I used the rating levels as follows:

  • ***** = top rating, my favorite recording(s)
  • **** = excellent recording
  • *** = good recording, often a typical “classic” recording
  • ** = dominated by features / attributes that I dislike, or with “moderate deficiencies”
  • * = major objections, or recordings that are against the composer’s (perceived) intent, etc.

Despite the lack of rating differentiation, the above summary should (at least for artists represented by a complete collection of all sonatas) be relatively safe against occasional mis-ratings due to confrontation with the “wrong” contenders, due to variations in my own “receptivity” etc., thanks to the sheer number of the ratings which should average out occasional, minor mis-judgements. That said, there is of course no guarantee that anyone will agree with the above results…


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