For­mal­ly, Piano Sona­ta No. 23 in F Mi­nor, Op. 57, by Lud­wig van Beethoven. The name “Appassionata” was at­tached not by Lud­wig but by a mu­sic pub­lish­er ten years af­ter his death. But it’s stuck be­cause well, the mu­sic is re­al­ly pas­sion­ate; soft and in­ti­mate then loud and fast. It’s usu­al­ly the high­light of any con­cert where it’s per­formed. I heard some­one say on the ra­dio on­ce, about Beethoven: “Maybe not the best melodist or or­ches­tra­tor to have ev­er com­posed, but unique in cre­at­ing the feel­ing that each suc­ces­sive note is ab­so­lute­ly the on­ly one that could pos­si­bly have been chosen.” This is like that.

It’s al­so fa­mous for, per­haps apoc­ryphal­ly, hav­ing been loved by Lenin.

First page of the first movement of Beethoven’s Appassionata

Reg­u­lar read­ers will know that I’m a de­ranged au­dio­phile with lots of ex­pen­sive box­es down at one end of the liv­ing room. This kind of so­lo pi­ano mu­sic is one of the ul­ti­mate tests of high-end au­dio, and it’s a test the equip­ment re­li­ably fail­s. A lot of peo­ple, at this point in his­to­ry, have nev­er been in a room with a full-size con­cert grand be­ing played hard by some­one who’s good at it. You can’t imag­ine what it sounds like, the pi­ano can roar and growl and soar, you can feel the sound flow­ing around you. I’ve lis­tened to some of the world’s best au­dio sys­tem­s, in ag­gre­gate priced in the hun­dreds of thou­sand­s, and they don’t come close to the re­al thing. Hav­ing said that, a good record­ing of a good Beethoven sonata by a good per­former on a good stereo set­up can be ter­ri­fy­ing. In a good way, I mean.

Every fa­mous pi­anist you nev­er heard of has record­ed the Ap­pas­sion­a­ta, and the one I’ve lis­tened to most is an an­cient vinyl LP by Lazar Ber­man; wow, you can ac­tu­al­ly buy it on Ama­zon. If you’re the kind of per­son who would do such a thing we should sit down to­geth­er some evening with adult bev­er­ages and vin­tage vinyl.

I al­so have dig­i­tal ver­sions by Ashke­nazy, Bren­del, and Robert Sil­ver­man, all great, maybe Bren­del a lit­tle less so, and I’m com­plete­ly at a loss as to what to rec­om­mend. I fool­ish­ly typed ”best Ap­pas­sion­a­ta recording” in­to Google and stum­bled in­to a maze of twisty lit­tle piano-fanatic pas­sages, and now I think I’m go­ing to have to buy a record­ing of one of Svi­atoslav Richter’s 1960 live per­for­mances, ei­ther Moscow or Carnegie hal­l.

But for now I’m go­ing to stick with Clau­dio Ar­rau, be­cause I’ve nev­er heard a record­ing by him of any­thing that I didn’t think was great. This al­bum in­cludes the Moon­light and the Pathétique along with Ap­pas­sion­a­ta, which is re­al­ly a lot of ex­cel­lent mu­sic.

This is part of the Song of the Day se­ries (back­ground).

Links · Spo­ti­fy playlist. This record­ing on Ama­zon, iTunes, Spo­ti­fy. Here’s a love­ly live video of Ar­rau.


Comment feed for ongoing:Comments feed

From: Leonardo Herrera (Mar 23 2018, at 10:11)

You can't go wrong with Arrau, Horowitz or Rubinstein.


From: JLundell (Mar 23 2018, at 21:55)

Emil Gilels on DGG. Playing on the edge. Amazing.


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March 23, 2018
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