Vienna Classics: Ludwig van Beethoven, Franz Schubert

Media Review / Listening Diary 2012-07-28


2012-07-28 — Original posting (on Blogger)
2013-07-05 — New standard layout applied
2014-11-02 — Re-posting as is (WordPress)
2016-06-27 — Brushed up for better readability

Beethoven: 6 Bagatelles, op.126

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Artur Schnabel:

Beethoven: Piano Works 11, Schnabel, CD, coverLudwig van Beethoven: Diabelli Variations, op.120; Bagatelles, op.126; Rondo a Capriccio, op.129

Artur Schnabel (Historical Recordings 1937)

Naxos historical 8.110765 (CD, mono); ℗ / © 2005
Beethoven: Piano Works 11, Schnabel, CD, UPC-A barcode
—Find CD(s) on amazon.com—


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Glenn Gould:

Beethoven: Variations opp.34 & 35, WoO 80; Bagatelles, Gould, CD, coverLudwig van Beethoven: Variations, opp.34 & 35; 32 Variations WoO 80; Bagatelles op.33 & 126

Glenn Gould (1974)

Sony classical SM2K 52 646 (2 CDs, stereo); ℗ 1970 – 1992 / © 1992
Beethoven: Variations opp.34 & 35, WoO 80; Bagatelles, Gould, CD, UPC-A barcode
—Find CD(s) on amazon.com—


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Vladimir Ashkenazy:

Beethoven: Piano concertos, vol.I, Ashkenazy, CD, coverLudwig van Beethoven: Piano Concertos Nr.1, 2, & 4; 6 Bagatelles op.126

Vladimir Ashkenazy, Zubin Mehta, Wiener Philharmoniker (1984)

Decca 468 558-2 (2 CDs, stereo); ℗ 1984 / © 2001
Beethoven: Piano concertos, vol.I, Ashkenazy, CD, UPC-A barcode
—Find CD(s) on amazon.com—


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Alfred Brendel (1964):

Beethoven: Variations, Bagatelles, Brendel, CD, coverLudwig van Beethoven: Diabelli-Variations, op.120; Bagatelles, opp.33, 119 & 126; Rondo a Capriccio, op.129; Rondo op.51/1; Andante Favori WoO 57; “Ziemlich lebhaft”, WoO 60

Alfred Brendel (1964)

VoxBox CDX-5112 (2 CDs, stereo); ℗ / © 1995
Beethoven: Variations, Bagatelles, Brendel, CD, UPC-A barcode
—Find CD(s) on amazon.com—


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Alfred Brendel (1985):

Beethoven: Für Elise, Eroica Variations, Bagatelles, Brendel, CD, coverLudwig van Beethoven: Variations, op.35; Bagatelles, op.126; 6 Ecossaises, WoO 83

Alfred Brendel (1985)

Decca (originally Philips; Amazon MP3 download, stereo, 173 – 230 kbps)
Beethoven: Für Elise, Eroica Variations, Bagatelles, Brendel, CD, UPC-A barcode
—Find CD(s) on amazon.com—


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Ronald Brautigam:

Beethoven: vol.10 - Für Elise, Bagatelles, Brautigam — CD, coverLudwig van Beethoven: “Für Elise”, The Complete Bagatelles — Bagatelles opp.33, 119, 126; Hess 57, 69, 73, 74; WoO 52 – 54, 56, 59 – 61, 61a

Ronald Brautigam (2010)

BIS Records, BIS-SACD-1882 (SACD); ℗ / © 2011
Beethoven: vol.10 - Für Elise, Bagatelles, Brautigam — CD, EAN-13 barcode
—Find CD(s) on amazon.com—


spacerQuick Comparison, Bagatelles, op.126

I now have six recordings of Beethoven’s 6 Bagatelles, op.126:

5 Versions on Modern Piano:

  • Artur Schnabel, in a historical mono-recording from 1937: rating 3.5 / 5 (for more comments see my upcoming comparison note on Beethoven’s “Eroica” variations op.35.
  • Glenn Gould (1974): rating 2.2 / 5; for more comments see again my upcoming comparison note on Beethoven’s “Eroica” variations op.35: Gould is a brilliant thinker / mind. However, I think Beethoven is not his particular strength. Maybe one should not compare his interpretation with others, as they really are his personal view on what he is reading in or would have done with Beethoven’s material. His performances are definitely interesting to listen to. However, at least here, he tends towards extreme articulation and tempi, especially exaggerating slower tempi, e.g., plain Adagio rather than Andante. Also, he does not attempt to present these pieces as a series of related compositions.
  • Alfred Brendel‘s early recording from 1964 (rating: 3.2 / 5) to me has sloppy articulation, isn’t quite satisfactory.
  • Vladimir Ashkenazy (rating: 3.2 / 5) is OK, but nothing special.
  • Alfred Brendel‘s newer recording from 1985 (rating: 4.0 / 5) to me is definitely better than his earlier one (see above), featuring a clearer, more detailed articulation, phrasing and agogics.

1 Version on Fortepiano:

  • Finally, Ronald Brautigam included the op.126 in volume 10 of his comprehensive recording of Beethoven’s keyboard works. As these Bagatelles are a late composition, he uses a fortepiano after Conrad Graf (1819), again built by Paul McNulty (2007). This instrument has maybe fewer colors in the sound than those by Walter & Sons, but they have more power / volume and are closer to the instruments that Beethoven used at the time of this composition (1823/24). I definitely prefer the sound of these fortepiani over the modern concert grand — rating overall: 5.0 / 5

Beethoven: 24 Variations on “Venni amore”, WoO 65

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Mikhail Pletnev:

Beethoven: Variations & Bagatelles, Pletnev, CD, coverLudwig van Beethoven: Variations WoO 63 – 65, 68, 70; Variations op.34; Rondos WoO 48, 49; 2 Rondos op.51; 6 Menuets WoO 10; Bagatelles opp.33 & 119; Bagatelles WoO 52 & 56; “Andante favori” WoO 57, Polonaise op.89

Mikhail Pletnev

DG 457 493-2 (2 CDs, stereo); ℗ 1997
Beethoven: Variations & Bagatelles, Pletnev, CD, UPC-A barcode
—Find CD(s) on amazon.com—


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Ronald Brautigam:

Beethoven: vol.12 - Venni amore, Variations, Brautigam — CD, coverLudwig van Beethoven: “Venni Amore”, Variations 1782 – 1795 — WoO 63 – 66, 68 – 70

Ronald Brautigam

BIS Records, BIS-SACD-1883 (SACD); ℗ / © 2012
Beethoven: vol.12 - Venni amore, Variations, Brautigam — CD, EAN-13 barcode
—Find CD(s) on amazon.com—


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Just a short remark on two recordings of Beethoven’s 24 Variations on the Arietta “Venni Amore” by Vincenzo Righini, WoO 65: one interpretation is included in Mikhail Pletnev’s collection of Variations and Bagatelles by Beethoven. The second one is the title piece in volume 12 of Ronald Brautigam’s ongoing project in which he wants to record all of Beethoven’s piano works. In this volume, Brautigam covers piano variations from 1782 – 1795 (i.e., works composed at the age of 12 up to 25).

Quick Comparison, Variations, WoO 65

My comments are short:

  • Mikhail Pletnev‘s playing is impeccable, with near-perfect technique, always controlled, yet very differentiated, subtle, maybe sometimes a bit “intellectual” rather than emotional or driven by intuition.
  • Ronald Brautigam is almost the “pure opposite”: he prefers faster tempi, is more intuitive / emotional, much more colorful. He has one very powerful assistant: his replica of a fortepiano by Walter & Sons (1805) built by Paul McNulty in 2008. I can’t resist raving about this instrument! The Walter fortepiani are simply the most beautiful keyboard instruments (for music from around 1800) that I have ever heard. It is impossible even remotely to come close to this singing, colorful sound with a modern concert grand. Hence: not a chance for Pletnev to beat this with all his pianistic artistry! Of course, it’s not just the fortepiano! It takes artists such as Brautigam, Andreas Staier, or Kristian Bezuidenhout to explore its full potential!

Ratings: Pletnev: 3.6 / 5 (25 tracks), Brautigam: 5.0 / 5 (single track).


Schubert: Symphony in B minor, D.759 / Symphony in C major, D.944

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There is a lot of confusion about the numbering of Schubert’s late symphonies:

  •  the “Unfinished” Symphony in B minor (D.759), used to be called Nr.8
  • it now became clear that the “lost” Nr.7 (“Gmunden-Gasteiner Sinfonie”) is identical to Nr.9 (the “Great” Symphony in C major, D.944)

With this, we now “lost” Symphony No.7. Therefore, given that the “Great” Symphony in C major was composed after the fragment in B minor (“Unfinished”), I’m trying to avoid numbering altogether, but rather refer to the associated numbers from the Deutsch catalog (“D” numbers).

  • (No.7:) “Unfinished” Symphony in B minor (D.759)
  • (Nr.8:) “Great” Symphony in C major (D.944)

Wilhelm Furtwängler:

Brahms: Symphony 3; Schubert: Symphony 8, Furtwängler, CD, coverFranz Schubert: Symphony in B minor, “Unfinished” (D.759)
Johannes Brahms: Symphony Nr.3

Wilhelm Furtwängler, Berliner Philharmoniker

DG 423 572-2 (CD, mono); ℗ 1976
Brahms: Symphony 3; Schubert: Symphony 8, Furtwängler, CD, UPC-A barcode
—Find CD(s) on amazon.com—


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Nikolaus Harnoncourt:

Schubert: The Symphonies, Harnoncourt, CD, coverFranz Schubert: The Symphonies

Nikolaus Harnoncourt, Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra

Teldec 4509-91184-2 (4 CDs, stereo); ℗ / © 1993
Schubert: The Symphonies, Harnoncourt, CD, UPC-A barcode
—Find CD(s) on amazon.com—


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Thomas Dausgaard:

Schubert: Symphonies 8 & 9, Dausgaard, CD, coverFranz Schubert: Symphony in B minor, “Unfinished” (D.759); Symphony in C, “Great” (D.944)

Thomas Dausgaard, The Swedish Chamber Orchestra Örebro

BIS Records, BIS-SACD-1656 (SACD); ℗ 2009 / © 2010
Schubert: Symphonies 8 & 9, Dausgaard, CD, EAN-13 barcode
—Find CD(s) on amazon.com—


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I’m planning on a more detailed comparison of my Schubert symphony recordings — essentially, I’m waiting for David Zinman’s live recording with the Zurich Tonhalle Orchestra. So, when I recently added Thomas Dausgaard‘s CD with the Symphony in B minor, “Unfinished” (D.759) and the symphony in C, “Great” (D.944), I just did a quick comparison of the recordings that I currently have.

There’s one big, big revelation on this new CD: the “Unfinished” Symphony in B minor (D.759). I currently have 3 recordings of this symphony, by Furtwängler (1952), Harnoncourt (1992), and now Dausgaard (2006).

Preliminary Comparison, Symphony in B minor, D.759

  • Wilhelm Furtwängler‘s interpretation is “loaded” with the romantic tradition, which probably viewed Schubert as mostly a composer of the Romantic period. Irrespective of the tempo annotations, Furtwängler is emphasizing the “tragic” aspect in this symphony (as if he was deploying its unfinished state!), taking extremely slow, heavy tempi (omitting the repeat of the exposition in the first movement) — this is the way most of the 20th century viewed and heard this symphony (I haven’t listened to my Böhm LP recording in many years, but it must be pretty close).
  • Nikolaus Harnoncourt is making serious efforts in “de-dusting the score”, by using a more historically informed approach, a fresher articulation, etc. However, he doesn’t quite succeed in freeing himself from the traditions: his tempi are more or less still what tradition dictated 20 years ago.
  • Thomas Dausgaard‘s interpretation is the first one which takes Schubert’s tempo annotations (Allegro moderato — Andante con moto) for their real value: many listeners may almost “fall out of bed” when they hear this for the first time. It’s an entirely different world, a different symphony. And it all makes sense (to me, at least): fascinating!

My preliminary ratings: Furtwängler 2.5 / 5, Harnoncourt 4.0 / 5, Dausgard 5.0 / 5.

Preliminary Comparison, Symphony in C major, D.944

In the “Great” Symphony in C (D.944), there isn’t such a pronounced tempo difference between Nikolaus Harnoncourt and Thomas Dausgaard (the tempi are comparable between the two recordings), though Thomas Dausgaard uses lighter articulation, more agogics and a smaller orchestra, the sound is more colorful

My preliminary rating: Harnoncourt 4.0 / 5, Dausgaard 5.0 / 5


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